How to leverage your smartphone for business trips

Planning and handling all of the details of business trips can be a chore. Here's how to use your smartphone to make it easier.

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From the moment you're told you must make a trip, the planning process begins. There are flights and accommodations to arrange just for starters, then you must track the upcoming flight for unexpected changes. Once at the destination you have to worry about transportation and other details. Lucky for you your smartphone can step in to handle it all if you follow these guidelines.

Planes and hotels

If you handle your own transportation arrangements there are apps for your phone to make finding and booking flights a breeze. Major airlines have apps that can do this while interfacing with frequent flyer programs. Other apps like Skyscanner and Expedia can find flights on any airline that meet the required schedule and at the best price.

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Skyscanner

There are apps that can find hotel accommodations the same way. Hotels.com and Trivago search for hotels that meet requirements -- such as free Wi-Fi -- and present pricing available for rooms. It is common to find pricing that is greatly reduced compared to those quoted by hotels.

Kayak is a great app than can handle flights, hotels, and car rentals and is a good place to start the booking process.

With the flight and hotel booked, it's a good idea to accumulate details about the itinerary in one place. TripIT Pro is the perfect app to do that. It scrapes flight and hotel information from confirmation emails and accurately puts the details into the trip database. It presents it in a single screen on the phone for handy reference. You can enter meeting schedules and venues in the app. All itinerary venues -- airports, hotel, and meetings spots -- appear with small maps for reference that can be used for navigation in the destination city.

There is a free version of TripIT but the paid Pro version continually tracks flight information for you. It notifies you in real time about flight delays and gate changes.

Transportation

Once on the ground at the destination your phone can handle all transportation needs with available apps. Major car rental outlets have apps to book a car, and as mentioned Kayak can do it. If your intention is to skip the rental and use cabs or public transportation that can also be handled.

Big cab companies in large cities usually have apps that can call a cab and handle the payment. Uber is present in many major metropolitan areas and its service is totally handled by phone. The app uses location services to determine where you are and shows how many Uber cars are in your immediate area. You can often have a Uber car show up in minutes, and since you entered your destination when you "called" the car, the driver already has that on his phone with navigation information. No haggling about price nor how to get to your destination.

If you are driving on the trip be aware that many cities allow parking meter payments by smartphone. Parkmobile and PayByPhone are two of the biggest in many cities. Once you get the appropriate app for your destination city you set up an account tied to a credit card. When you park the car you enter in the parking zone (indicated on the meter) and start the meter. The app can notify you via text message or email when your time is about to expire. You can extend the time on the meter right from the phone. Most apps can guide you back to the parking spot via integrated mapping.

Planning on taking public transportation whenever possible? Many transit authorities have apps that show maps and bus/ train schedules. Plan in advance your likely routes around town and you'll find it much easier going.

On the ground

If you are walking around the city don't forget about Google Maps. You are likely familiar with using it for driving routes, but it can give clear walking routes that make getting lost in an unfamiliar area a thing of the past.

If you're in a country that uses a language you're not familiar with, Google Translate may be all you need. It can handle translating casual conversations instantaneously, and it's free. There are quite a few translation apps in the app store that can handle more sophisticated translation that are worth checking out if you expect your needs will be more than Google Translate can handle. The iTranslate Voice Pro is a nice app that lets both parties speak into the phone and presents the conversation so both parties can understand.

When out and about in foreign countries, Google Translate now lets you snap a photo of a street sign to see it in English.

If you will be eating out, apps like OpenTable can help find a good restaurant and book a reservation for you. If you want to dine in your hotel room, you don't need to stick with typical room service fair.

Apps like Eat24 and GrubHub can show you every restaurant that delivers to your hotel. Full menus are presented and placing an order takes only a few taps. Payment, even the tip, is handled in the app.

The one thing you'll be doing on a business trip is tracking expenses for reimbursement. There are a number of apps that do this well, and make it easy to do. The most sophisticated apps (eg Expensify) will snap a photo of a receipt and enter it into your virtual expense report. Simply tag the entry to the proper expense category and you're done. Once in the habit of doing this as you go, your expense report is ready to submit to accounting as soon as you get back home.

The personal assistant

The smartphone can be a solid personal assistant when properly utilized. Many time-consuming tasks involved in planning, booking, and tracking itineraries can be handled in a quick and easy way.

One final tip may improve the relationship with your clients or colleagues you will be meeting during your trip. The night before your first meeting, perhaps in the hotel while preparing for it, use Google Maps or equivalent and zoom in on the meeting site. Get the building name and use Wikipedia to find an interesting fact about it.

If there's nothing, look at the map and do the same for other buildings around the meeting site. Chances are you'll run into such an item, historical fact is best, that you can casually drop while conversing with the clients or colleagues. This will impress these folks, especially those native to the city. It doesn't sound like much, but this can tip things in your favor if they are sitting on the fence about any pitch you might be making.

These methods of leveraging the smartphone for trips are not likely the only ones. If you have a good way of using the smartphone when you travel, share it in the comments. We can all benefit from good tips that have been proven in the field.

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