These ten apps enrich any trip either by avoiding/mitigating hassles or simply setting the stage for serendipitous memories. A few of the apps are indispensable in everyday life, too.
Note: Trip planning or itinerary-based apps (e.g. TripAdvisor, packing guides, Trip-It, etc.) are not included here. All below are free unless noted and all but one are available for both Android and iPhone.
1. What’s App Messaging, calling and photo/video sharing services are all here working off either your data or Wi-Fi connection. In addition to travel, I use it nearly daily to keep in touch with family living abroad and occasionally for international calls. Of course, both sender and receiver must have it installed so make sure your intended receiver is on board.
2. Uber You know this one – the ride sharing service. Uber has a stronger international presence so it got the nod over Lyft but domestically both are reliable. I have used Uber in Europe without a snag.
3. Hotel Tonight I love anything that adds flexibility to a trip and this does the job. It is the perfect solution for last-minute hotel reservations and often at discounted rates. This is what you need for the unplanned overnight or an extra night or two.
4. XE Currency This category has a lot of options, but this app gets my vote. I’ve used it for years and find the user interface easy to use.The constant rate update lets you know the latest in currency exchange. The historical charts are informative, especially for less stable currencies.
On a related note, Amount ($0.99) is a very extensive conversion app for anything that’s measurable. Scientific conversions aside, I find it helpful for clothing/shoe sizes, cooking measurements/temperatures, the metric system, etc. It does have currency exchange ability but in my opinion not as user-friendly as XE. Note that a newer version, Amount Pack, is available for $1.99, but it is simply the same information repackaged in two apps. Available for iPhone only.
5. Postagram What’s better than receiving a postcard from an exotic locale? Sending one without the hassle. Postagram is an ingenious app that turns your best travel photography into snail-mail post cards. No stamps, no finding the mail box, no forgetting to mail in country X and finding the card at the bottom of your pocketbook in country Y. Charge of $0.99 per card mailed (to credit card) is SO worth it.
6. Viator Viator is part of Trip Advisor, so they bring scale to their offerings. I’m big on spur-of-the moment and this app will give you instant access to tours/activities in hundreds of destinations on seven continents (OK, going to Antarctica wouldn’t be last-minute). It offers sharing opportunities – great for transfers to/from airport/train stations, etc. You pay with the app, and they send the vouchers – easy/peasy. There are some off-beat choices: work off all that delicious Florentine food with The Florence Run, a morning jogging tour on back streets (ending with breakfast). Viator is a very good ‘hip pocket’ app.
7. Google Maps Google Maps is the default for mapping services, even though sometimes imperfect. The breath of this app – from navigation to recommendations/details on destinations to offline and indoor maps and their famous street views – makes this my favorite for navigation. A March, 2016 update adds a dedicated ride service tab where you can compare prices and pickup times of various services – Uber, Hailo, etc.
8. Lounge Buddy This is great for those of us (ahem, me) who get to airports early but loathe waiting at the gate. It gives you the skinny on nearby lounges taking into account your elite status/credit card holdings. Most lounges allow walk-ins for a fee and certain credit cards will garner discounts. Lounge Buddy also synchs with travel itinerary apps TripIt and Concur or input your travel info manually. With that, refreshments/snacks in peace and quiet (and complimentary Wifi) are steps away from your gate. What better way to kick-off a trip?
9. Google Translate Google, again, is the lead dog here; their technologies are the backbone of other translation devices. The camera feature allows you to immediately translate 26 languages (I love this for menus ANYWHERE); there’s voice translation in 40 languages and a finger drawing feature helpful for language characters. You can save translations for later use, great for when Wifi is not available.
10. Dark Sky iPhone only This weather app ($3.99) certainly goes beyond the Weather Channel in its snazzy interface and graphics. PC Magazine’s review last summer was glowing. An admitted weather junkie, the super-accurate, hyper-local forecasting speaks to me. Want to know if it’s going to rain on your parade? This will help you decide whether to take the umbrella.
We all have our favorites – please share yours in the comments below!