Author Archives: Katie Malczyk

Let Google be your holiday travel tour guide

When it comes to travel, I’m a planner. I’m content to spend weeks preparing the perfect holiday getaway: deciding on the ideal destination, finding the cheapest flights and sniffing out the best accommodations. I’ve been dreaming about a trip to Greece next year, and—true story—I’ve already got a spreadsheet to compare potential destinations, organized by flight length and hotel perks.

But the thing I don’t like to do is plot out the nitty-gritty details. I want to visit the important museums and landmarks, but I don’t want to write up a daily itinerary ahead of time. I’m a vegetarian, so I need to find veggie-friendly restaurants, but I’d prefer to stumble upon a good local spot than plan in advance. And, since I don’t speak Greek, I want to be able to navigate transportation options without having to stop and ask people for help all the time.

So I’ve come to rely on some useful Google tools to make my trips work for the way I like to travel. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Let Maps do the talking

Getting dropped into a new city is disorienting, and all the more so when you need to ask for help but don’t know how to pronounce the name of the place you’re trying to get to. Google Maps now has a fix for this: When you’ve got a place name up in Maps, just press the new little speaker button next to it, and it will speak out a place's name and address in the local lingo. And if you want to continue the conversation, Google Maps will quickly link you to the Google Translate app.

gif of Google Translate feature in Google Maps

Let your phone be your guidebook

New cities are full of new buildings, new foods and even new foliage. But I don’t want to just see these things; I want to learn more about them. That’s where Google Lens comes in as my know-it-all tour guide and interpreter. It can translate a menu, tell me about the landmark I’m standing in front of or identify a tree I’ve never seen before. So whenever I think, “I wonder what that building is for,” I can just use my camera to get an answer in real time. 

using Google Lens to identify a flower

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

Get translation help on the go

The Google Assistant’s real-time translation feature, interpreter mode, is now available on Android and iOS phones worldwide, enabling you to have a conversation with someone speaking a foreign language. So if I say, “Hey Google, be my Greek translator,” I can easily communicate with, say, a restaurant server who doesn’t speak English. Interpreter mode works across 44 languages, and it features different ways to communicate suited to your situation: you can type using a keyboard for quiet environments, or manually select what language to speak.

gif of Google Assistant interpreter mode

Use your voice to get things done

Typing is fine, but talking is easier, especially when I’m on vacation and want to make everything as simple as possible. The Google Assistant makes it faster to find what I’m looking for and plan what’s next, like weather forecasts, reminders and wake-up alarms. It can also help me with conversions, like “Hey Google, how much is 20 Euros in pounds?”

Using Google Assistant to answer questions

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

Take pics, then chill

When I’m in a new place, my camera is always out. But sorting through all those pictures is the opposite of relaxing. So I offload that work onto Google Photos: It backs up my photos for free and lets me search for things in them . And when I want to see all the photos my partner has taken, I can create an album that we can both add photos to. And Photos will remind me of our vacation in the future, too, with story-style highlights at the top of the app.

photo of leafy old town street

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

Look up

I live in a big city, which means I don’t get to see the stars much. Traveling somewhere a little less built up means I can hone my Pixel 4 astrophotography skills. It’s easy to use something stable, like a wall, as a makeshift tripod, and then just let the camera do its thing.

a stone tower at night with a starry sky in the background

Photo credit: DDay

Vacation unplugged

As useful as my phone is, I try to be mindful about putting it down and ignoring it as much as I can. And that goes double for when I’m on vacation. Android phones have a whole assortment of Digital Wellbeing features to help you disconnect. My favorite is definitely flip to shhh: Just place your phone screen-side down and it silences notifications until you pick it back up.

someone sitting on a boat at sunset watching the shoreline

Photo credit: Joao Nogueira

Source: Google LatLong


“Clapping back” at racial stereotypes in a new book

Elijah Lawal just published his first book, but he’s been writing since he was 10 years old. Back when he was a kid, he wrote a story about a boy who ran away from home—and eventually became the president of Panama. His new book, published in the U.K. earlier this year, has very little to do with his imaginative works of little-kid fiction, but it came from a similar refusal to accept things the way they are. 

Elijah, who works in communications in Google’s London office, just wrote “The Clapback: Your Guide to Calling Out Racist Stereotypes.” He says it’s his attempt to debunk harmful stereotypes aimed at the Black community, and to give people the tools to respond when they are faced with such myths. 

Each chapter introduces a stereotype, explains its origins and shows why it’s harmful. “If there's a stereotype that Black people can't swim, and if I believe that false stereotype, then it means I'm very unlikely to go swimming,” he explains. “It means I’m very unlikely to take my kids swimming. That feeling is passed on to them, and they're very unlikely to take their kids swimming. Then before you know it there's not enough Black representation in Olympic swimming.”

Elijah certainly wasn’t drawn to writing for the glamour factor. “Writing a book is hard, lonely and often boring,” he acknowledges in his writing. He worked on the book every weekend for three full years, because he felt compelled to help others. “I just felt that I've been blessed with this knowledge, and so I've got to try and share it with other people,” he says. “I thought the best way to do it was with a book.”

Elijah Lawal poses with his book

Trying to get the book published was equally unglamorous. With a full first draft in hand, he started pitching his book to literary agents, trying to find the one who would represent his work to publishing houses. The rejections immediately poured in—so much so that Elijah had to change his way of thinking about them. A former colleague convinced him to think of it like he was seeking rejections instead of acceptances, and make it like a game. “Trick yourself into believing that the aim is to get 100 rejections,” Elijah recalls learning. “Then when you get rejected 100 times, go for 200 rejections.” 

Eighty rejections in, and more than a year later, Elijah finally got the response he’d been hoping for. In fact, he got three agency acceptances in quick succession. When the first one appeared in his inbox at the end of a long workday, he got up from his desk, ducked into the nearest meeting room and did a little dance. The hardest part was over, and the agent he chose helped find a publisher. 

In fact, things went so smoothly from there that he’s already got ideas brewing for two or three more books. “I kind of pictured this as a trilogy, so: debunking racial stereotypes, then debunking gender stereotypes, and then debunking religious stereotypes," he says. And a fellow Googler gave him the idea of turning “The Clapback” into a kids’ book, an idea he’s also considering.

The project has broadened Elijah’s horizons both personally and professionally. When he started working on the book, he was in a job that didn’t require much writing. Committing himself to a regular writing practice not only filled a creative void in his life, but also helped him be more creative at work.

And his colleagues have loved the result. “The reception of the book has helped me realize how willing people are to engage on this issue internally at Google—I’m amazed by how many people have been so supportive,” he says. “That’s been one of the joys of having this published.”