Once considered merely an optional travel luxury, smart phones have become an essential tool for any trip. Even if you prefer to “disconnect” while on vacation, there is no denying the practical advantages provided by modern technology. Travellers no longer need to rely on unwieldy, outdated guidebooks for information or maps, and thousands of reviews at your fingertips essentially provide word-of-mouth recommendations without having to make small talk with every Estonian backpacker you run into. Here are some of the most useful apps to download before your next trip:
PackPoint – This handy packing app can help narrow your focus and organize your packing list to make sure you take everything you need without redundancies (that 3rd pair of underwear) or overpacking (toothpaste). It even uses destination and climate data to provide specific recommendations.
SkyScanner / Google Flights / Kayak / Expedia / Hopper – Ok, I’m cheating a bit here, but the point is that you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one app or website when looking for flights. Yes, there will be many duplicate results, but more often than you’d expect they come up with different alternatives, and prices also fluctuate to a surprising degree. Hopper rarely provides the best option but it does use historical data and forecasting algorithms to predict the best time to purchase your flights.
AirHelp – Every country has specific rules regarding passenger compensation in the case of overbooked, delayed or cancelled flights. However, the vast majority of passengers have no idea what those rules are or what they are entitled to, meaning airlines are rarely forced to comply. AirHelp provides all the details and helps you initiate the process, although they can’t do much about those back spasms you got while sleeping on the floor at Pearson International.
Google Maps – Many people already use this app, although many don’t realize just how effective it can be while travelling. The public transportation directions are constantly improving and the ability to download map areas for offline use means you don’t have to worry about having wifi or phone data to navigate. Plus, those who are a little more tech-savvy can actually use the My Maps feature to create their own specialized versions that include personal points of interest.
CityMapper – This slick app takes all the available public transport options and condenses them into a fast, effective travel planning tool. It will even provide prices and allow you to compare alternatives.
TripCase – Planning a trip can be time-consuming and confusing and even once you have worked out all your flights, hotels and transportation, keeping track of them can be a nightmare. Apps like TripCase help you organize everything into your calendar for easy reference and monitoring without judging you for booking the Toy Story theme room even though you aren’t travelling with children.
Sidekix – This steadily expanding database offers destination advice, attraction reviews and itinerary suggestions for a wide variety of cities all over the world. The best part, however, is that it also includes all of this useful info in handy map form and provides detailed walking directions to help you plan your excursions and ensure you won’t miss a single novelty snow globe retailer.
HotelTonight – Obsessive planners who book their hotels months in advance won’t find this particularly useful but if you’re one of the “fly by the seat of your pants” types, this app can help you find big discounts on last-minute rooms, or at least help you minimize the number of nights spent sleeping on dodgy park benches.
Google Translate – Those of us who hail from Western Canada aren’t accustomed to language barriers but in much of the world even the simplest communication can prove tricky (such as Alabama). Google Translate has been getting faster and more accurate all the time, and using the terrific photo feature in foreign grocery stores can mean the difference between sprucing up your baguette with some delicious butter or ruining it with a lump of cooking lard.
TrailWallet – This a great app for tracking your cash and helping you keep your spending in check while on the road. It is fast and efficient and can be used to plan your budget, monitor your spending or summarize things after the fact. Nice features like average daily spending and individual categories make it easy to understand where all the money went and help you plan more accurately the next time around, although we found it to be very little help when it came to making smart decisions regarding additional rounds at the pub.
Dean Johnston is the author of three travel books, including Roam: The 9 Greatest Trips on Earth. He is still in Lago de Atitlán battling scorpions on a daily basis, but there is still plenty to read at routinelynomadic.com.