A long long time ago (about 15 years ago) in the dark ages of travel, people had to go to bookstores to buy maps, drive to travel agencies to get airline tickets, and physically walk into hotels to find out the price of a room.
It all seems pretty barbaric now that almost every person has a smartphone.
We really don’t even need to talk to anyone or wait for stores to open. Travel plans can all be done online, maps magically appear and show us where we are. It’s no longer necessary to go to a photo lab to share photos with our friends.
Our phones are the single most important travel tool we possess and there are plenty of apps that make things easier than ever. Here are my favorites.
One of my new favorite apps, Trip It, organizes your travel automatically by scouring your email and discovering your airline tickets, car rentals and hotel reservations. Keeping track of flight times, hotel addresses and confirmation numbers can be difficult if you travel a lot, but this handy app puts all your bookings together, ordered by date, and organized in a folder. You don’t even need an internet connection to pull up your data. Everything is there at your fingertips with departure times, confirmation numbers and if you have internet, you can see flight changes and even check in with many airlines.
Google maps is great for helping you plan your driving route, but what if you’re flying around to multiple destinations and want to track how many miles you’re traveling and see your land and air routes? Tripline does the trick. Create a new trip and click each destination on your itinerary and this app will plot it on a map and allow you to share it with your friends or fellow travelers. You can also add dates and additional details if you wish. You have to have internet to access it, but you can take a screenshot if you think you’ll be without data.
Most of us have probably used these apps at home, but they can be very useful in other countries as well. Dishonest cab drivers become a thing of the past and there’s no surprise fees at the end of the ride. I’ve used Uber and Lyft in countries where I didn’t speak the local language and the experience was nearly seamless. I use both apps to compare fares and find the least expensive or most convenient ride. Ride sharing is a popular option in busy places like New York, where the price to share with someone else going the same direction might cut your cost in half.
I’ve been using this booking engine for years and it’s rarely let me down on being the cheapest way of finding an airline ticket. Skyscanner is a third-party app, so it sends you a link to second party websites like Expedia as well as directly to the airlines. The site doesn’t take responsibility for its recommendations, so read the user reviews if the price seems too good to be true. Being flexible on departure dates and using nearby airports can sometimes make a huge difference in price. You can also select multiple destinations and one-way options to find interesting stopovers and lower prices.
Google maps is almost always my default map if I have internet. However, if I’m somewhere without data (which happens more often than it should) MAPS.ME is there to rescue me from being hopelessly lost. You can download the region where you’re going to be visiting before you arrive and use the map to find cities, gas stations and hotels while offline. Many users do not realize that GPS on your phone works without data or cell phone service. The same is true with Google maps, but one has to download the map first so you can see exactly where your little blue dot (you) is in relation to the rest of the world. MAPS.ME eliminates the uncertainty by downloading the map before you arrive. The only downside is that since you’re not using data, traffic and road closures aren’t figured into your ETA.
I use this website for almost all of my hotel bookings. You can search for rooms by city and sort by price, popularity, ratings, stars and distance from landmarks or the city center. Best of all, after 10 bookings, you become eligible for a free one night stay valued at the average price you paid for your previous nights. Hotels.com has a good customer support line if you run into problems along the way. In more unusual destinations, you might be better off with bookings.com, which seems to have more listings in places off the beaten path, occasional cheaper prices, and offers a discount for first-time bookings.
I have video cameras, remote door locks and lots of gadgets in my home that allow me to have control over who comes in and out as well as monitor any unusual activity that occurs on my property. Apps that give you control over your place from the other side of the world not only give you peace of mind, but also let you keep an eye on deliveries or let repair people have access without you having to be there. Popular options are Nest cameras and thermostats, Ring video doorbells and August door locks.
This magical app can translate any language into English or vice versa. If you have internet access, you can use the voice translator by pushing a button. Google will then play your sentence translated into the other language. You can actually have a conversation this way. You can also type in phrases and have them translated into Chinese, Arabic, Russian or other alphabets. The most amazing feature of this app is that it actually converts text to English, so you can read signs and menus by just holding your phone in front of whatever you’re trying to read.
This Apple function allows you to send photos to your traveling partner or other nearby people with the push of a button. Airdrop works without internet access or phone service, allowing you to share anywhere, and it's one of the fastest ways to exchange photos and videos. The photos are automatically downloaded, so that you don’t have to save them like when they're sent in texts.
An alternative to traditional hotels, Airbnb allows users to rent rooms, houses, boats, windmills, or even teepees from various hosts around the world. This is a great option if you’re looking for a unique experience or want to stay with locals. Both hosts and guests are reviewed so you have a pretty good idea what you’re getting into before you arrive. There’s options to rent just a room or an entire home if you prefer.
What happens if you ask a few million people their favorite restaurants, hotels and things to do, add the results, and then list them by city? That’s what TripAdvisor does, and it’s not nearly as whiny as Yelp reviews. Reviews are sorted by date and tabulated into nifty graphs. It’s a great place to start if you’re visiting a city, or just want to see what there is to do around where you’re staying.