When you're away, digital technology can makes things easier. Same as when you're at home or in the office...only different.
Programs for your laptop and apps for your tablet or smartphone can go a long way to bridging distance, whether you're heading for the hills in the summer or snowbirding in the winter. Here are 10 of the best that I've used and that have been recommended by others.
All of these products are free, with some free for basic service along with providing optional paid versions for enhanced service. Each of these products is available for all popular platforms--Windows PCs, Apple desktops and laptops, iPads, iPhones, and Android portable devices, and many are available for Linux machines, BlackBerrys, Nokias, Windows Phones, and other devices.
Dropbox. This file-sharing service is the greatest thing since the invention of the transistor. Well, not quite. It's one of many such services but is the best.
On the road, if you've previously saved your files to the Dropbox area of your hard drive, you can access and work on them from anywhere. Dropbox is also a great remote backup service. And you can use it to share files or collaborate on work with others.
Google Maps. This is the best free mapping service out there. Whether you use it on your PC or Mac to plan out your trip or on your portable device to get you there, Google Maps provides consistently high quality if not always perfect content.
One of my biggest beefs with my otherwise happy experience of Google Maps is the whacked-out results it sometimes returns from queries. Type in "Whole Foods Market" and a particular city and it may return you a pretzel store, pharmacy, or art museum.
Evernote. This is the best note-taking app out there. Among other things, you can create an itinerary on your laptop, sync it to your smartphone or tablet, and have easy access to addresses you can quickly get directions to or phone numbers you can quickly call.
You can also use it to take notes on your smartphone or tablet, whether typed or spoken using voice recognition, then transfer those notes in various ways to your computer or to others.
The Weather Channel. This is the best weather website and app. It doesn't make you upgrade to a paid version to get complete results, and it offers great ease of use and flexibility.
You can display today's, tomorrow's, hourly, five-day (most useful), and 10-day forecasts, and it displays the most relevant information-- high and low temperature and chance of precipitation--right up front. Its alerts can tip you off to warnings about tornadoes, hurricanes, heavy snow, floods, and other severe weather.
TripAdvisor. This is both a website (www.tripadvisor.com) and an app for getting information about where you plan to travel or where you happen to be. Its claim to fame is that most of the content about hotels, restaurants, and the like is provided not by professional travel writers but by fellow travelers.
Because of the problem of positive fake reviews planted by companies and negative fake reviews planted by competitors, TripAdvisor periodically blocks specific hotels and other travel services for "suspicious" activity.
Yelp. This is TripAdvisor's biggest competition, though there's no reason you can't use both. Yelp publishes reviews the moment they're uploaded, while TripAdvisor's reviews must be approved.
Both can help you find hotels and restaurants. Only TripAdvisor can find flights or vacation packages, and Yelp is good with nightclubs and bars.
AroundMe. This is a service for the spontaneous. You use its app on your smartphone or tablet to find a hotel, restaurant, theater, parking lot, bank, dry cleaner, doctor, dentist, hospital, or similar service, well, right around you.
HearPlanet. This service provides audio tours of popular tourist sites, preventing you from having to take your eyes off what you're seeing. Much of the information is from Wikipedia, the free user-generated Web encyclopedia.
GasBuddy. This is your solution if you're desperately in need of a gas station to avoid running out, or if you're simply looking to save money by finding the least expensive gas station near you.
RepairPal. This is the app to use if your car breaks down on the road. It can not only find you a nearby mechanic, it can also give you an estimate for the work. RepairPal guarantees the mechanics in its database, but only those who have a "Top Shop" logo next to their names.