Accessible by computer or smart phone, a Google search is one of my favorite travel companions (except for some humans, of course). Beyond researching destinations, tours, attractions, hotels and transportation, you can use the Google search engine in a variety of ways. Here are some shortcuts:
Check weather: You’re preparing for a trip to Zagreb, Croatia, and don’t know what to pack. Enter the name of the city and “weather” in the Google search box, and you will get the current temperature and forecast for the next four days along with the links to relevant weather sites.
Book a flight: If you simply enter a string like “Flights from your departure city to your destination city” (e.g. Flights from NYC to Chicago), you’ll get a menu of flights between the two cities. Alternatively, you can use airport codes. If you click the flight box that appears, you can expand and refine the search. This function, once available only for domestic flights, now works globally.
Track a flight: Your teenage daughter is going to the Florida Panhandle for spring break. You want to know if her plane landed. Enter the airline code and the flight number (for example, AA209) and the first result will show flight stats with the exact time the plane departed and landed.
Translate: You received a hotel confirmation from Paris in French or want to translate text or a whole Web page from French to English (or 50 other languages), go to translate.google.com.
Map it: You can get a map and virtual tour of where you’re headed by going to maps.google.com. Enter your street destination in the search box to bring up a map. To find restaurants or parking, add either word after the destination in the search box.
Road trip directions: Simply type “From the address of your departure to the address of your destination” (for example, from 225 Lexington Avenue, NYC to 85 Broadway, NYC) and you’ll get both driving directions and a map, as well as the distance and amount of time your trip will take.
Convert money: You aren’t sure how much that Italian wallet costs in U.S. dollars. Enter the amount in the country’s currency in the search box, followed by “into dollars,” for example, (60 euros into dollars).
Check the time: You have to call your office and aren’t sure what time it is back home. Enter “time in” and the city name in the search box (time in London), and you will have the answer.
Convert metrics: You’re driving through a small town in Spain, and your gas tank is almost empty. You ask someone for directions to the nearest gas station and learn it’s 40 kilometers away. Enter the number of kilometers plus “in miles” in the search box (40 km in miles).
Happening now: If you find yourself in the midst of a disaster or mob scene, get fast information by clicking “realtime” in the drop-down menu and putting the name of city in the search box. You get Twitter updates and links to news. Or go to google.com/realtime.
[An earlier version of this article appeared in The Chicago Tribune on March 9, 2011.]