BY SARA J. WELCH
You use your phone to check the weather, read Yelp reviews of restaurants, navigate with Google Maps, and get rides from Lyft or Uber. You probably know about Airbnb, even if you haven’t tried it. But these are just the low-hanging fruit of travel apps. Did you know there are other apps that can save you time and money on the road, help you meet locals, and even remind you to pack your slippers? Best of all, they’re free! Read on to learn more.
Skyscanner, Kayak, and Hopper
These apps use data from various travel sites to help you choose the best options for flights, hotels, and rental cars, and often have exclusive deals you won’t find on other sites. See the cheapest dates to fly, get alerts when prices go down, and browse deals from specific airports to help you decide where to go. Hopper is especially helpful for budget travelers—its “push” notifications alerting you when to buy your tickets can save you up to 40 percent on your next flight, the company claims.
Tell this app where and when you’re going, how many nights you’re staying, and whether it’s for business or leisure, and PackPoint will check the forecast in that location and create a list of everything you might need to bring, including easy-to-forget items like earplugs and an eye mask. For international trips, it even reminds you to bring vaccination records, local currency, and power adapters. Check off each item as you pack it and swipe to remove any you don’t need.
Like an automated travel agent, this app organizes all the details of your trip. Just forward the email confirmations for your flights, hotel room, rental car, and so on to firstname.lastname@example.org, and TripIt will build an itinerary for you. It gives you a calendar view with a schedule for each day and provides directions. You can also search for local restaurants and activities and store all the information in one place.
Guides by Lonely Planet
Planning a trip to a city you’ve never visited? Download a free guide before you get there, and you won’t have to use up data once you arrive. Brought to you by the folks behind the famous Lonely Planet backpacker guides, this app is chock-full of offbeat and low-cost suggestions for places to eat, sleep, shop, and sightsee in your city of choice. There’s a wide variety of guides available, including to places you may not have even heard of—like Chisinău (Moldova), Fukuoka (Japan), and Suva (Fiji).
The next time you get stuck at the airport because of a layover or cancellation, GateGuru might become your new best friend. Use it to consult a map of the terminals, read reviews of airport restaurants, and find estimated wait times for security checkpoints.
Great for road trips, this app will locate nearby filling stations, eliminating the worry of running out of gas on the highway. It lists approximate prices, too, so you can choose the cheaper stations. Only available in the United States and Canada.
A lifesaver when you need a room at the last minute, this app works with its hotel partners to offer you great deals on rooms available the same day. A quick search in mid-May located several Manhattan hotel rooms for just $109 to $129 for a Saturday-night stay at well-known properties, including Aloft, Courtyard by Marriott, and Sheraton. US and European destinations are well represented, but Hotel Tonight is less robust for trips in Latin America or Asia.
This safety-minded app was developed in response to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. Using GPS, it informs you of the security level in the area you’re visiting, and in some destinations, such as New York and Los Angeles, it can find you the fastest route to the nearest police station and let you call local authorities with the push of a button.
This app locates free WiFi hot spots in more than 50 countries, from Argentina to Indonesia to Serbia to Vietnam. It can store the hot spots locally on your device so you don’t need to be connected to the Internet to find them.
What do you say after hola? If you’ve ever wanted to speak to the locals in their lingo, Memrise will help you learn key phrases in over 90 languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu. You can also find out more about the culture of the place you’re visiting with courses like modern Japanese literature and Western European history.
Instantly calculate how much that international cup of java will cost you, whether the price is in rubles, shekels, or renminbi. OANDA can incorporate typical fees, like for credit cards (3 percent) or ATMs (2 percent), into the conversion.
A must for overseas trips, this app enables you to translate over 100 languages just by typing. With the instant camera feature (available in 30 languages), you can point your camera at a street sign, menu, or other foreign-language text and watch the words turn into English automatically. The microphone feature lets you translate speech and also reads translated text out loud so you don’t have to worry about your waiter not understanding your terrible accent. You can also download a translator file that will let you keep translating when you’re offline.
GPS navigation combined with real-time data from other drivers makes this app exceptionally accurate for avoiding accidents, construction projects, and other traffic holdups. Although Waze is now owned by Google, many drivers continue using it because its data hasn’t been integrated into Google Maps.
No need to run up long-distance charges or buy a special phone chip for dialing internationally with this app. WhatsApp uses WiFi, not phone lines, to keep you in touch with family and friends back home, and features end-to-end encryption to make sure your texts, voicemails, photos, and videos don’t fall into the wrong hands. (Tip: Make sure to download the app and input your contacts before you leave home!) DW
Sara J. Welch recently used the ReserveAmerica app to plan her family’s annual camping trip.
Ask an Ace: “For flights, I search first on Kayak or Skyscanner to get an idea of prices, but once I’ve decided to book, I actually prefer the official airline apps. Delta and United are two of my favorites, because if you have frequent flier awards or upgrades available, or if you just want a seat with more legroom, they let you manage all that right from your phone.”
–Kristy Hall, corporate travel consultant, ALTOUR, New York, NY
Ask an Ace:
“For personal travel, my three go-to apps are Kayak for searching flights, GateGuru to help me find the best food options in the airport, and of course Google Maps, which I use to create and save my own maps of specific destinations before I go.”
–Sara Kosyk, product manager, Tauck River Cruising, Wilton, CT