It seems as if there are as many ‘best travel apps‘ lists as there are travelers…….probably because there are hundreds (if not thousands) of smartphone apps in the ‘travel’ category.
There are dozens that perform the exact same function, and some small detail will make some users love it and others hate it. Some are really more geared to ‘local’ use, such as various local ‘guides’, Yelp!, and AroundMe (but they’re also great for when you’re in a new city). For our list we tried to stay focused on those that are designed to help you while you are actually traveling, and stuck to ones we’ve used and like.
Keeping it all organized:
As someone who travels frequently, the one smartphone app I consider essential is TripIt Pro. Gone are the days of printing out pages of confirmations for my flights, hotels, and car rentals….now I have it all in one very convenient app, easily accessible with just a few taps.
The free version is a great tool for any traveler — it keeps track of all the various confirmations and itineraries, syncs your travel plans to your calendar of choice, lets you share your trip itinerary and details with others via email or social media, gives you quick-tap access to airport info and maps, and even stores your important travel documents securely in your profile.
However the ad-free Pro version (less than $5 monthly) offers numerous benefits that far outweigh the cost, such as push notifications for events such as flight delays, schedule changes and gate reassignments — this feature alone has saved me from missing flights many times — but the benefits don’t stop there. Pro users also have quick access with just a tap to Alternate Flights with open seats in the event that your original flight gets delayed or cancelled, making it easy to rebook before your fellow passengers are even aware of the problem. Add to that a Points Tracker that lets you keep track of all your various mileage/points/rewards programs (and even notify you when your points or rewards are about to expire), a Flight Refund tracking feature that continually monitors the fare changes on your flight and notifies you if the fare goes down (to the extent that, less any change fees, it’s worth your time to claim a refund, so you can call your airline or travel agent), a Seat Tracker that will notify you if an unavailable seat that you want becomes available, and VIP benefits with several travel partners, such as LoungeBuddy, Hertz, and CLEAR.
At the Airport
With dozens of choices for live tracking of flights it can be challenging to choose a favorite. One standout in this field is FlightView, a free app that also allows you to forward your itinerary to avoid manually entering your flight details and offers several push-notification options ($1 gets you the ad-free version, $4 for the ‘elite’ version gets you arrival/departure boards, helpful when you don’t know the flight number for someone you’re picking up).
Unless you’re in and out of airports so often that you know them like your own neighborhood, you’ll find GateGuru indispensable. With a tap you can view the airport map at your connecting airport or destination, find the closest club lounge, and search all the amenities for the terminal you’re in or the entire airport. When your layover is long enough for a drink or a meal or maybe some souvenir shopping, use GateGuru to find what you need and read user reviews to choose the best spot.
If your layovers tend be be long and you don’t mind paying for airport lounge access then be sure to download LoungeBuddy, where you’ll find information on lounges near your gate, along with their hours of operation, amenities offered, cost of entry (with some discounts available) and other helpful tips for accessing lounges.
AND a recently-added but already-indispensable app is Mobile Passport, available for both iPhone and Android, that saves you TONS of time getting through customs when you return to the U.S. — note that you’ll still need to carry your actual passport, but it eliminates the need to fill in those paper forms and stand in line waiting to have your photo taken…..just snap a selfie, tick off the questions, and skip the long lines.
On the Road:
No more arm-waving, hollering, or whistling (or wondering where all the taxis are) with ride-hailing smartphone apps such as Uber, Lyft, Hailo, and (my personal fave) Curb, all of which summon a driver with just a few taps and allow you to pay via the app (so you don’t have to worry about having cash on you). If you’re one of those travelers who’s wary of controversial private services like Uber and Lyft, then go with Hailo or Curb, both of which work strictly with licensed and insured professional taxi companies. Savvy travelers use more than one, helpful in cities where one may have inadequate driver coverage.
Using a rental car instead? Save money by opting out of that pricey GPS add-on and just use the built-in driving directions in either Google Maps or, for iPhone users only, the built-in [Apple] Maps app. Both offer turn-by-turn spoken navigation enabling you to get to your destination without the distraction of looking at your phone or paper maps, but be sure to have your phone’s car charger with you, because while they use only a small amount of your cellular data plan, both are battery-drainers when in use. Tip: Load up your destination over wifi before leaving your hotel and avoid any data use altogether.
And if you’re driving in an unfamiliar city, finding a nearby gas station is a snap with GasBuddy, which lists stations and current gas prices in order of distance or price.
Not sure where you’ll wind up for the night? Make your last-minute room reservations using apps from BookingNow or Hotel Tonight, both offer great deals on rooms that would otherwise go unsold, both allow you to search, read reviews and view photos, and book directly in the app.
International roaming rates can be high if you’re not using any country-specific calling plan from your carrier, but a few apps can help – Skype has an “Unlimited World Calling” plan that lets you call mobile and landlines for free (although you must be on wifi to use the app), and iPlum, which allows you to get a US-based phone number (whether or not you already have one) for folks to call you on when you’re out of the US, and very low outbound calling rates (using their app also requires wifi)….here’s a great answer on Quora that explains how to use iPlum to reduce or eliminate roaming charges.
I admit to using Google Translate more than any other app, but I do make an effort to learn some basic phrases in the language of whichever country I’m headed off to, and for that it’s hard to beat Duolingo and it’s companion app, TinyCards (both are free!).
After reviewing and testing hundreds of great smartphone apps suggested by our community — including apps for translation, currency exchange, connecting with locals, and guidebooks — these apps were debated and voted on by our moderators and editors and deemed to be the Best “Travel” Smartphone apps.
What smartphone travel apps do you use? Share your favorites!