[Traveling Tales] Plan Your Next Vacation With Google Destinations 

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.”
– Anais Nin

The last few days have ushered in the pitter-patter of rain like cats nimbly playing on our roof, while the sun has chosen to haphazardly break through the clouds, reveling down onto our atmosphere and warming the land bits by bit.  Yes, you guessed it – Spring is just around the corner and we just had some “real weather” in Southern California, providing a fresh layer of powder in the mountains and a stunning ‘Super Bloom’ out in the middle of Desert Valley. Over the last few days, we’ve been itching to plan another quick weekend getaway similar to the Sequoias and it’s gotten me all antsy with anticipation for another adventure in the great outdoors.

The more I travel, the more I realize that though we can all enjoy a vacation -between determining the destination, booking the room, exploring extracurricular activities in the area and finding some fabulous food options- planning them certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  With the assistance of any number of websites that coagulate travel data across the hotel and transportation markets like Travelocity, CheapTickets and Kayak, a host of easibly maliable and managable mobile apps, and my uncanny ability to have way too many tabs open and organized in my browser window, it’s gotten a wee bit easier.  But let’s face it, it’s still not streamlined – so leave it to the geniuses at Google to revolutionize the online travel game.

Just yesterday morning, Google announced a new component to its mobile vertical – Google Destinations.  It’s an easy, breezy one stop shop of a vacation application that’s sure to take the stress out of your search and get you into some fun on the double. As the worlds premiere online search engine, Google claims that in the last few years it’s seen a 50% increase in travel related questions and queries generating on the site. After putting their heads together, they coagulates the metadata from Google Flights and Hotel Search to provide instant travel relief in the form of easy to browse itineraries and quick buy bookings from reputable sites.  If you haven’t taken Google Flights for a spin, I’ll be honest – you’re missing out.  The algorithms they’ve developed do a wonderful job of forecasting the best times for flights, not to mention it’ll link you with any number of other travel providers.

Unlike many other large internet travel providers like Kayak, Air BnB and Cheaptickets which offer multiple ways to access their data, Google Destinations is only available on your mobile device.  Though this move could be construed as an attempt to drive traffic to their mobile site, maybe it’s also a silent hint that we should be prepared for a mobile app from Google Labs.  Either way, though, I’m into it -.  If you want to take it for a spin yourself, grab that smart phone and let’s play along.

First, head to your native Google or Google Chrome app (and if you don’t have either, I would recommend downloading them immediately.) And now, let’s just dream a little and plan a hypothetical dream vacation. From tinkering around this morning, it looks like you can either use a State from the United States or a Country from around the world, paired with the word “destinations” – meaning queries like “California destinations”, “Canada destinations”, “Italy destinations” and the like.  Now, the real fun begins!

Once you have your general location in mind, there are three ways to manipulate the data.  First, you can filter by date – and if you don’t know the exact dates you want to travel, the ‘Flexible Dates’ let’s you just pick the months you’re considering.  Next, you can refine your search by the type of activity; or you can even include the keywords in your search with hobby terms + [Location] + “Destination”, like “California Surfing”, “Colorado Hiking” or  “Spain Skiing.”  If you don’t know what you want, let Google do some thinking for you and choose from the options are as below.  And last, but certainly not least – you can adjust the end price which takes into account 7 nights away; as of now, it’s only available for 1 or 2 travelers.

If you click through to your dream spot from the first search, you’ll be presented with a window with two tabs. ‘Explore’ gives a little bit of background on the area – including the most sought after locations in the area, various itineraries based on past searches, a birds eye view of the topography and annual meteorology of the area letting you know when the best time of year to go is and a variety of additional locations to enjoy based on your search.  Currently, Google only has itineraries for roughly 201 locations but I’m sure that number will increase exponentially with the use of the application.

If you don’t have your phone handy, don’t have a destination in mind or simply would rather watch someone else do it – take a gander at the video below.

[Tech Tuesday] 5 Tips and Tricks for the iPhone 5S

Though I wouldn’t say I have a hard time with being wrong, I certainly enjoy being right a lot more frequently – and when it comes to technology, I’ve always felt that I’ve had a keen eye for the latest and greatest toys and gadgets.  For the last five years in Los Angeles, I’ve bounced between LG and HTC Smart Phones – but have consistently run into problems with the OS restarting, and that’s in addition to my contacts being deleted (on multiple occasions).  For the last two years, I’ve been a had an HTC Rezound and what I once found novel, amazing and innovative was suddenly slow, redundant and poorly integrated – especially when compared to my daily use on my former deactivated iPhone 4s that I was using as a Wirelessly enabled PDA.

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The fact of the matter is that I’m a heavy duty phone user with quick paws and a curious mind, and my Droid simply wasn’t cutting it anymore for my everyday inquiries. For all the reasons and times that I defended my Android in all of it’s customizable glory, the truth is that in the five years that I’ve owned a smart phone I’ve never once decided to root my Droid; in retrospect, I did jailbreak an iPhone or two.  So, when I had the chance to upgrade my phone plan early with Verizon two weeks ago I more than jumped at the chance for something different.  Since then, I’ve managed to migrate from an avid Android activist to a full on iPhone enthusiast – equipped with simple screen shots, emoticons and voice commands.

To make the transition as smooth as possible,  I’ve been scavenging the internet in search of the latest, greatest and most amazing tips and tricks for the 5s and, admittedly, I’ve had a blast doing it.  Without further ado, here are a few of my favorite hacks!

5 Tricks + Tips for the iPhone 5s

      1. Camera: Burst Mode 

There are 3 ways to enter ‘Burst Mode’ – press and hold the shutter key, or either of the volume keys on your phone for a succession of snaps,saved as a burst.  The phone will pick the best of the group to display, but you have to option of browsing through all of them.

      2. Slide iMessages Left for Time-Stamp

For a cleaner look, the time-stamp was eliminated from the standard text message view – however, if you want to reveal what time you sent your last message, simply slide the screen to the left.

      3. Enable Airdrop for Easy File Sharing

When you get to your home screen, slide up for the ‘Toggle’ bar and second from bottom you’ll see a line for ‘Airdrop’ –  you can enable this for your contacts, or anyone in the room with an Apple device.  As a bonus, Airdrop works exceptionally well with the Apple TV device – presenting your iPhone screen on whatever device the ATV is plugged in to.

      4. Customized Alert Vibrations

Not that this was in any way necessary (IMO, at least), but with iOS7 we now have the ability to set customized text, email and alert vibrations – that way, even if your phone’s on silent you’ll be aware of important calls, reminders and meetings.   The phone comes with some standard ones – like ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘S.O.S.’, and below this you have the ability to create your own:  SETTINGS > SOUNDS | Select the Alert | VIBRATION | CREATE NEW VIBRATION

      5. Add an Emoji Keyboard

Okay, granted this isn’t anything novel for past iPhone users – but as an Android user, I was completely amped to finally use some emoticons on Twitter, Instagram and in my text messages.  As with all things iPhone, additional keyboards are easy to add.  Go to the App Store to download something that strikes your fancy, then head to: SETTINGS > GENERAL >  KEYBOARD > KEYBOARDS > ADD NEW KEYBOARD

Last, but not least – I leave you with my new favorite late night habit: Fun with Siri.    Back in the day, when Apple updated their Desktop OS – they’d embed bits of code for the heavy duty computer users to discover that came to be known as ‘Easter Eggs‘ In case you’re not aware, Apple Easter Eggs are to adults what Candy Easter Eggs are to little kids – fun, exciting, and hidden in the most amusing locations.  Unfortunately for tried and true Apple computer fanatics like myself, Steve Jobs did away with the Easter Egg back with OS 9. Thankfully, there are still engineers out in Cupertino that held onto the creative, human aspect of the job and it shows in the most amusing of ways – for example, SIRI.  When I was scavenging the interwebs in search of new and awesome things to do with my 5s, I stumbled upon an amazing Reddit thread with some amazing questions for the

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