The Well-traveled smartphone
25 Best Travel Apps
Travel today is easy. Pick a destination, book a flight on Kayak and be on your way. It’s also easy to order dinner on Seamless and eat in front of your TV, but what’s the fun in that? Good travel is a great location. Great travel is a great location and being prepared. And we’re not just talking about packing a bag and scoring cheap airfare.
The supercomputers in our pockets are the best thing to happen to travel since online travel booking and roller bags. But they’re only as useful as we make them, which means spending a minute or two to get your app game in order. We don’t condone app clutter (delete and the cloud are your new friends), but the right travel apps can make any kind of jaunt, from a weekend ramble in Montana to a two-week trek across Basque Country, a more rewarding experience. These 25 apps may not be the end-all manifest of travel tools, but they’ve certainly made our own travel easier and better. Consider them a good place to start.
– Additional contribution by Tucker Bowe
Best Booking App: Hipmunk is blowing up, and not just because of their cutesy mascot. The service aggregates available flights and hotel rooms just as well as your typical travel app (Kayak, Expedia, and so on), if not better — but what really sets Hipmunk apart from the old guard is its clean, intuitive interface. Instead of being bombarded with numbers and acronyms, your flight options are laid out in a neat, comprehensible timetable; similarly, you can select hotels from a map rather than a list.
Another booking apps that we have grown to love is Skiplagged. Available for both iOS and Android, the app is great for finding affordable flights.
Best E-Travel Assistant App: Should you find yourself globetrotting more than usual in the next few months, you’ll want to keep your itineraries organized. Ditch the Google Docs, because TripIt can do it all more quickly and with less eye fatigue. Simply forward confirmation emails you receive from your ticket providers (like the ones you got from Hipmunk, if you’re following our advice) to a designated email address, and the app will automatically load them into a travel schedule that you can tweak at will. TripIt can also log your hotel accommodations, and will notify you of any changes made to your itinerary (flight delays, seating changes, etc.). And unlike a human travel agent, it won’t silently resent you for fiddling with things.
We also recommend Clarice. Along with telling the app where you want to go, you can tell it your budget; from there, the app will suggest things to do, or places to visit, nearby.
Best Airport Waiting App: Airport Lounge access rules and policies are about as easy to comprehend as quantum mechanics. Loungebuddy takes the guesswork out of the process for travel experts and newbies alike. Input your flight, any status you might have and credit cards to see if you’re qualified to access a lounge for free. Even if you aren’t, the app can also share insight into the costs for entering lounges in over 500 of the busiest airports of the world and even let you browse the amenities they have.
One good alternative is Priority Pass, which is touted as having “world’s largest independent airport lounge access program.” The free app has access to over 900 lounges all over the country, and allows globetrotting users to rate and save their favorite lounges — and discover new ones.
Best App for Walking Cities: At its heart, Sidekix is a navigation app, designed to get you from A to B by foot. It also encourages exploration by telling you the best local spots to grab coffee, see a show or simply window shop. If you’re looking for something to do in a single area, or multiple things to do along your walk, the app will suggest activities or places to stop. The app works in many cities across the UK, Europe and the USA.
Best Sun Protection App: Some people burn more easily than others when outside. The app shows you the UV forecast for the area you’re in; that way you know when it’s “safe” to go outside. Most of it is admittedly common sense: don’t go outside unprotected in the middle of the day. But UVLens also has a cool feature that analyzes your own skin type, and tells you how long you personally should spend outside. And since it’s location based (it operates according to your zip code) it’s perfect for self monitoring your family during summer vacations.
Best Parking Assistant App: Parking in a new city isn’t fun. It’s always hard to find a spot. Sometimes you don’t have change. And unless you’re in a parking garage, you need to restock the meter every few hours. Parkmobile makes this easy. You can pay through the app — so, no need for loose change — and extend your parking time from anywhere. It also helps you find the nearest open spot. (This app only works in US cities.)
Best Traffic-Avoidance App: Like Google Maps, Waze is a navigation app: it gives you turn-by-turn directions. But the real beauty of Waze is its crowdsourced traffic reports. Yes, actual people share what the traffic’s really like in a specific area. If the road’s congested, Waze will find you an alternative route. No AM-radio listening required.
Best Cheap Rental Car App: Ever since Napster, peer-to-peer concepts have been “disrupting” the world. RelayRides bring the idea to the rental car world, allowing car owners to list their vehicles for travelers to rent. Like Airbnb, plenty of measures are included to make both parties feel safe: listers and renters are fully insured and renters get 24/7 roadside assistance and support. Car owners can also set their rental prices (which typically run far lower than rental car companies) and approve users on a case-by-case basis.
Best Pet Owner App: Travel is usually a source of guilt for most pet owners, who are forced to board their furry friends. DogVacay is a new service that connects dog owners with a network of insured dog sitters. Use it to browse, review and connect with potential sitters in person before taking off. The peace of mind continues while you’re away: sitters can provide daily photo and video “pupdates” to show just how much your pooch is living it up in your absence.
Best Language Barrier-Breaking App: A recent update to Google’s free translating app has drastically improved its voice translation capabilities, allowing users to carry out conversations using the phone as an interpreter better than ever before. Like other apps already on the market (and on this list), you can now also use Google Translate to read signs, menus and other typography written in a foreign tongue. It’s still no Babel Fish yet, but it definitely beats waving your hands around like an idiot.
Best Mass Transit App: Subway, bus, bike, train, streetcar, ferry, light rail, Uber — the Transit App makes it easy to see every transportation option available to you and help you pick the fastest route. It currently works in 87 metro areas and trumps competing services with its intuitive UI and the ability to view real-time info, such as tracking bus locations (where available). You can even view schedules and route itineraries offline.
Best Pocket Weatherman App: Plan all you want, but Mother Nature has her own damn schedule. With Dark Sky, you can at least keep close tabs. Using its own proprietary forecast system, Dark Sky gives you a 24-hour forecast for every day in the upcoming week. (Not just the current day. Step back, Yahoo.) You get the temperature, humidity, dew point, air pressure and visibility — and when there’s a storm a-brewin’, Dark Sky will notify you of its exact time of impact, as well as how severe it might be.
TripAdvisor Offline City Guides
Best Tour Guide App: One important step to take when travel-readying your phone is making sure you’re not screwed every time you can’t find service. TripAdvisor’s City Guides are fully functional offline, removing the risk of getting lost on the Paris Metro with no idea where to eat; it’s TripAdvisor, so you can count on insightful (albeit totally dry) crowdsourced reviews.
Best Map App: Google Maps is good for more than just hastily looking up directions when you’re late for something. It can save maps of specific areas for offline use, a godsend for travelers who will be frequenting just a few key spots abroad. In conjunction with TripAdvisor, Google Maps is perfect for planning excursions; plus, chances are you know how to use it. (Unless you’re using Apple’s map app. Don’t do that to yourself.)
Best Captain’s Log App: Here’s a journal you don’t have to hide in a locked drawer or under your bed; it’s a simple, passcode-protected journaling app for iOS and Mac. Day One is especially great for travel journaling because it does little things that crippling jetlag might otherwise complicate. Each entry you make is automatically location stamped, and adding travel photos to an entry is quick and easy. Entries can be organized by tags, and quickly located through a timeline and a calendar. If you’d prefer to pen entries by keyboard, the iOS and Mac versions have the same capabilities and sync fully.
Best Casual Blog App: Blogs and journals are a commitment. (That includes Day One; nothing’s more shameful than a barren calendar.) If you’ve got a story or two, but owning a whole travelogue just isn’t for you, let Storehouse step in. Like Squarespace, it allows the unsavvy to jump a hurdle in producing online work: inspired travelers can, with full control over layout, publish a single travel story with high-quality photos and gifs.
Best Selfish Yelp App: The tagline (“bookmark your favorite places”) says most here, but not all. In addition to bookmarking locations, Rego organizes bookmarks into filters, allowing users to keep must-visit locations separate from mere curiosities. You can also add notes and photos in order to remember why you bookmarked a certain location in the first place. If you have downtime during a trip abroad, pull up your list of curiosities on Rego and see what’s closest. It’s like Yelp — except you decide what pops up, because you are no slave to the masses, dammit.
Best Podcast App: Lengthy flights and road rambles are the greatest excuse to disconnect from the world and catch up on podcasts.* Pocket Casts is the simplest and most powerful podcast app we’ve encountered so far. It downloads new episodes of podcasts you’ve subscribed to in the background, whether or not you’ve even opened the app. It can also do the unthinkable: sync between iOS and Android.
*Might we suggest: Common Sense, The Nerdist, Topics Ted Talks, 60-Second Science, This American Life, Grantland, Alton Brown, Stuff You Should Know.
Best Cab-Calling App:Uber has blown up for good reason. A fast, reliable car service app with a ubiquitous network of certified, user-rated drivers right at your fingertips — hands down, this beats the common yellow cab. What’s more, you’ll know what you’re paying before you hail. Granted, Uber is but one of many rideshare apps, and, while it’s certainly the most popular, more price-wary riders may want to weigh their options.
Hailo is a solid competitor, though it’s available in fewer cities worldwide. For stateside rideshares, Lyft has a pretty strong selection of cities and formidable prices, but they’re cloyingly cute (their cars have fuzzy pink mustaches stuck on to their grilles). Alternatively, there’s Sidecar, which pits its drivers against each other in a something of a reverse auction; drivers in your area are notified of your destination, they name their prices, and you get your pick.
Best Procrastination App: Not everyone plans trips down to the last letter. With HotelTonight, you can literally wait until the last minute to book a hotel room. The app aggregates a bevy of unbooked hotel rooms in your area offered at ludicrous discounts for last-minute bookers to snatch up. If risk is your thrill, HotelTonight can deliver great reward.
Best Data-Tracking App: All this app-related preparation would be for nothing if your international data charges bankrupt you. Onavo tracks your phone’s regular and roaming data usage, app by app, letting you conserve battery life — and more importantly, it calculates what effect that will have on your bill.
Best App for Keeping in Touch: You know this one. It’s the one Facebook bought for $19 billion. Here’s the secret to its success: it allows for quick, simple instant text and photo messaging across borders. (That includes tech borders; WhatsApp allows for instant messaging between iOS and Android users too.) This makes it useful not just for staying in the social loop, but for keeping in contact with homebound friends and family, and for communicating with anyone you may be traveling with.
Best Group Management App: Like WhatsApp, WeChat allows for instant messaging between iOS and Android users, making it an asset for travel groups. But it does WhatsApp one better with the inclusion of a walkie talkie function, as well as Skype-like video chatting.
Best Pocket Translator App: Street signs and storefronts. Brochures, maps, and directions. Warning signs and travel advisories. All are essential for navigation, but useless if you can’t understand them. This is where CamDictionary comes in: simply photograph a piece of text you don’t understand, and the app will translate it for you. It recognizes up to 16 languages, including non-Romanized languages like Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean, and Japanese, with word explanations from the Collins Dictionary.