You’ve packed your iPod with new music and a couple of audio books to enjoy on your big summer vacation. Time to toss it in the carry-on and continue rounding up all the other travel accessories, right?
Wrong. You can use your iPod to do more than distract you on a long flight. With the right resources on-board, that iPod may just take the place of a hired tour guide, a pocket full of driving directions, or even a printed guidebook.
When Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine relaunched their website earlier this month, they also launched the first of a planned series of free “Audio Casts” for travelers. The initial installment, which can be downloaded as an MP3 file and transferred to your iPod, focuses on Las Vegas.
The 30-minute program is well produced, with a variety of behind-the-scenes interviews with Vegas showgirls, poker players, and a requisite Elvis impersonator. The show’s two hosts, Adrien Glover and Jim Luce, even visit with performers in Cirque du Soleil’s newest and most ambitious stage show, KÀ.
Budget Travel plans to eventually syndicate the show as a podcast. (You can sign up on the Budget Travel site to receive an email alert when the syndication feed is up and running.) The show’s next episode will cover Quebec City in Canada.
Walk This Way
Budget Travel’s audio program is only the latest in a series of travel-related audio to become available online. A number of companies sell audio walking tours in MP3 format, which can be taken on the road using portable audio players like Apple’s line of iPods.
Some of the slickest audio tours are produced by a company called Soundwalk. Based out of New York City, the company offers over a dozen New York neighborhood tours, as well as tours covering parts of France and India. Listeners are treated to knowledgeable narrations, mixed with atmospheric music and sound effects, for an almost cinematic experience. Each tour runs just under an hour, with MP3 versions available directly from the company’s website for $12.95.
Audio tours by AudioTreks cover cities in the United States and the United Kingdom, including the tourist hotspots of New Orleans, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Tours sell for $14.00 and include approximately an hour of audio. Each AudioTrek tour also includes a printable PDF file with a map of the tour’s route.
BlueBrolly currently sells five London walking tours, including Shakespeare and Jack the Ripper-themed tours. Each tour sells for £4.99—approximately $9.00—and includes between 50 and 60 minutes of audio.
Travelers to New Zealand will want to check out the DayOut website. The site charges US$5.80 for a subscription, which includes access to over 100 audio tracks covering most of New Zealand. Subscribers also get access to maps, photos, and printable travel guides of the islands.
Several non-commercial sites provide free audio tours. The free tours range quite a bit in quality, but it’s hard to complain when you consider the price.
PodGuides.net has several free audio tours, mostly of off-the-beaten-path European destinations like Kent, England and Ghent, Belgium. PodGuides’ tours include a map to guide you to each stop. For owners of the iPod Photo, tours also include pictures of the various attractions, which display as you listen to corresponding tracks. If you are interested in creating an audio guide on your own, PodGuides also accepts submissions.
One of the other standout free offerings is a tour of the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, available from PodTrip. The museum is located in Burlingame, California, just outside of San Francisco and features the world’s only comprehensive Pez collection, including every dispenser ever made. The tour is narrated by the museum’s enthusiastic curator, Gary Doss. By showing their MP3 player when purchasing a ticket, visitors to the museum can take advantage of a special discount of 15% off the regular adult admission price.
Travel Audio Blogs and Podcasts
In addition to destination guides, there are several podcasts and audio blogs that might be of interest to travelers. These programs range from short amateur segments to professionally produced radio shows.
The Travel World Radio Show, produced in Canada, is broadcast on a number of talk radio stations throughout North America. Archives of the weekly hour-long show are also available as MP3 files, which can be downloaded from the show’s website. The show covers a wide array of destinations, with recent episodes on cities such as New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Toronto.
A fashion focused website called Fashiontribes.com also produces a weekly travel-focused audio blog. The segment, called Travel Bug, leans toward more trendy destinations, both domestic and abroad.
A variety of podcasts cater to travelers. To see if your next destination has a podcast dedicated to it, check any of the podcast directories, such as Digital Podcast and Podcast.Net. There you will find podcasts for a number of destinations, including Las Vegas, Orlando, and New York City.
Some podcasters have begun calling their informal walking tours “sound seeing.” A search for the terms on Google or the collaborative bookmarking site del.icio.us may turn up some hidden gems.
Directions and Text Guides
Fumbling around with a map can be a dead giveaway to locals that you are a tourist. The same can not be said for fumbling around with an iPod. A Mac OS X program called PodQuest may not eliminate your need for a map entirely, but it will allow you to download text directions from most major mapping sites so they can be read on your iPod’s screen.
In addition to the audio guides above, newer text-based travel guides are also available. These guides take advantage of a new feature for displaying text, called Notes, which is available on select iPod models, starting with the third-generation iPods and the iPod mini.
For pizza fans, piPod is a guide to the best pizza joints in New York City. The guide is compiled by the pizza connoisseurs who run Slice, a New York-based blog devoted to the pizza pie.
Those destined for Seattle should download the Seattle Weekly newspaper’s iPod restaurant guide. The exhaustive guide includes information on over 700 restaurants, broken down by neighborhood, cuisine, and price.
Travelers might also consider creating their own iPod text guides. The Make Magazine blog recently ran a guide to creating your own Notes. Combine the tutorial with text copied from various travel websites and you can create your own customized travel guides that fit onto your iPod and into your pocket—perfect for traveling.
Even if you’re stuck at home this summer, you may still want to explore the online travel-related offerings presented above. Armchair travelers too can enjoy the world vicariously through their iPods.
Matt Vance ( www.minezone.org ) is a technology consultant, manager, and freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.