National Geographic Traveler
All travel, All the time

April 2006
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Travels with iPod
By Andrew Nelson    Photo by Catherine Karnow
Photo: on the road with iPod in San Francisco
Travelers are using their MP3 players to enrich their experiences.

Ubiquitous MP3 players have altered the way we travel.

lectronic devices such as BlackBerrys and Treos changed business trips. Now MP3 portable music players—most notably the industry's standard-bearer, Apple's iPod—are fast doing the same for leisure excursions. Aside from bringing Dean Martin along to "Mambo Italiano" on a trip to Capri, travelers can now download everything from an unabridged copy of The Da Vinci Code for beachside listening, to an audio tour of Pompeii. Here are nine ways to use your iPod while on the road: 

1. Grab a Playlist
It's no secret that there are millions of songs available at Apple's iTunes and other sites. But busy travelers can also download entire playlists—preselected soundtracks keyed to a certain mood or genre—for their wanderings. Listeners can even find preassembled hits from all sorts of celebrities (on iTunes), such as Jackie Chan's favorite Chinese rock ditties or Aussie Nicole Kidman's selects for that trip to the Outback. 

2. Match a Book to Your Destination
It's not just classical music in your earbuds; it's the classics themselves. Audio books, many unabridged, are available at such sites as iTunes and, both with extensive libraries of fiction and nonfiction offerings. If you're visiting the English countryside, take along Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice ($28, Heading to Bangalore, you can bone up on the subcontinent's booming economy by toting Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat ($19, iTunes). 

3. Pack a Professional Traveler 
Guidebooks have also gone audio. Voyagers wanting professional travel guides and tours can find an ever-growing list: everything from $15 for an hour-long walk-through of Florence at to a $30 wine region tour by David Hyde Pierce called Sonoma Uncorked at to $12 offbeat sidewalk tours of New York and Paris at

4. Follow the News Back Home
Newspapers and magazines are also available for listening in your hotel bed or at the pool. The website features weekday audio editions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal ($13 for a month's subscription) downloadable to your player, as well as magazines such as the New Yorker and Forbes ($13 and $9 per month). There's a catch for receiving your daily dose of journalism, however. You'll have to bring your laptop with you to link to the website or rely on a computer at your destination. 

5. Record the Sounds of Your Journey
The dominant music player in the market may be the iPod, but it has a key disadvantage: It doesn't come with a sound-recording device built-in. If you want to capture the hubbub of a Parisian flea market or barking sea lions at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, you'll want to take another MP3 player, such as the iRiver. Otherwise, iPod users will need to purchase an accessory recording device—available at online emporia such as or (starting at about $20).

6. Take a Podcast Tour
Increasingly popular, podcasts are handcrafted radio-like shows or pre-recorded audio segments you can download and listen to on your MP3 player. Thousands of podcasts exist on just about every destination. Most of them are free and can be found on destination sites, online news outlets, and music stores such as iTunes. Recent additions to iTunes' podcast section, for example, included segments about the San Diego Zoo's monkey enclosure, the Texas city-island of Galveston, and Chicago's Millennium Park. It's not just travel's big guys who make podcasts either. Ordinary people are recording their own opinions and observations about their trips. Type in the words "Los Angeles" in iTunes' podcast section and L.A.-bound travelers will find a host of opinions about the best of Southern California, including Foodcast, a show about Los Angeles restaurants. Some podcasts have gained a minor cult following. For example, some 1,000 listeners follow Californian Chris Christensen's Amateur Traveler series, a mix of personal adventures, travel news, and helpful tips.

7. Store Those Snaps
You can use your MP3 player as a portable hard drive and download and store digital photos, freeing up your camera's memory card. You'll need an iPod with video display to view the photos, but most new MP3 players without a video screen can hold your photos until trip's end. Make sure you have the appropriate cable, a compatible camera, and the necessary software (if you want to display your photos) installed on your MP3. Some players may require uploading via a computer.

8. Take Your Housewives with You
Last October, Apple released its fifth-generation iPod, capable of downloading and displaying video. The shows currently available are limited (think Adam-12 reruns), but expect the number of titles to grow exponentially. Soon you'll be able to tuck a whole season of Desperate Housewives or Lost into your shirt pocket. This may defeat the purpose of escaping from civilization, but it's handy to have when you're enduring a flight delay to your own tropical island destination. 

9. Toss Your Paper Maps
Travel geeks are quickly discovering other uses for iPod's image display capabilities. For example, the new website allows visitors to download 23 international transit maps from Berlin to Washington, D.C. The information, stored on your device, is available to you when you need it. There's also a $10 application (for Mac users) called PodQuest that lets you download driving directions from Google, Yahoo, MapQuest, and other mapping sites right to your video iPod.

What's next for MP3 players? Ubiquity, no doubt, as the world's favorite tech toy grows more road savvy. Hilton Hotels have begun phasing out their old clocks in favor of new models in which you can dock your iPod. Toto, a Japanese toilet company, has just embedded an MP3 player in one of its models; a pit stop in Tokyo may never be the same. And now even that low-tech icon, the Swiss army knife, is no longer immune. A new version shipped last November with an MP3 player in it, too.

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