The first time I went abroad, it was the spring of 2010 and I was going to Paris. It was an unforgettable trip. I experienced lots of new things for the very first time, and capturing every moment with me was my old Nokia phone, capable of snapping low resolution photos of my first adventure, but not much else.
Six years later, I’ve journeyed 15 other countries (and counting), and my new-and-improved phone has been with me every step of the way. A smartphone is an indispensable tool to the modern traveler — not only has the photo quality been upgraded, negating the need to lug bulky camera equipment around, but because it can be loaded with dozens of helpful travel apps to streamline your experience.
I’ve grown to depend on a few keys apps — some well known, some new and promising — in all of my travel experiences, and these are the apps I’d most recommend to anyone looking for help when globetrotting.
It’s a safe bet to say that the majority of trips start with booking flight tickets. It’s also a safe bet to say that booking a flight can be one of the most expensive parts of travelling, and finding deals on the right airfare can make or break a traveler’s budget.
Kayak. It’s not a new player on the scene, but after trying many of its competitors I always come back to Kayak. It allows you to compare ticket prices across various travel sites, and you can sign up for alerts when there is a drop in airfare. You can also book hotels and rental cars with it, but my experience chiefly comes from booking flights. Kayak’s iPad application is very well designed and easy to use, which is just one more reason why I love it and keep coming back.
JetRadar. Another good-looking service that will search airlines and travel agencies to try and find you the absolute best deal. JetRadar boasts multi-currency support, a great advanced search function, and a way to share your flight details with family and friends, so they’ll be able to know where you are in the world, and when, making it easier to stay in touch while you’re away.
Hopper. Hopper is unique because it analyzes trends and patterns in flight ticket sales, and then predicts when the best and cheapest time to purchase your tickets will be. One of my favorite features is the ability to search without choosing a destination. You can enter point A and spontaneously choose your point B on a whim — plus, it will help you do this as cheaply as possible.
Hopper knows when to fly
Searguru. A well-known travel site(acquired by TripAdvisor), Seatguru provides maps of different planes, along with photos and reviews for any airline you happen to be taking. It can help you pick the best place to sit, so you start your trip off right. This app also provide real-time flight status alerts, and has a search engine for flight fares powered by TripAdvisor.
When you get to your destination, I suggest forgetting about the taxi in lieu of a more local alternative — one your phone can help you find. There are more convenient and cheaper ways to make your way through a new city, and they’re all available at the tap of your touch screen.
Uber. If you haven’t heard of Uber, you’re missing out on one of the best examples of sharing economy. It’s basically a cab booking application, but instead of hiring taxis, you hire local drivers to take you around. The application will tell you how much the journey is going to cost before you even slide into the back seat, and your credit card is charged automatically when you reach the destination, meaning there is no fumbling with foreign currencies.
The app also allows users to select type of the car they want, so you can cruise in a clunker or get picked up in style by a premium Mercedes. One of the most interesting features is Uber Pool, a mode which gives you opportunity to share the ride and split the cost with other people headed to the same destination.
There is an alternative app, called Lyft . The concept is similar, cannot recommend since have never used lit.
After you land, but before you get to go exploring, the next step in traveling is usually finding a place to drop your bags and sleep at night. Here are a few of the apps I’ve found useful in finding a temporary home-away-from-home.
The Hipmunk . This app searches hotels, flights, and cars, and allows you to bundle all three together as a package. Although I mostly use it for searching hotels, I find one of the most interesting features is that it will also search alternative accommodation providers, such as local Airbnbs and local hostels, allowing you to choose a place to stay that fits your budget and comfort level.
If you’re strapped for time and you want the help of experts, contacting the HappyStay team and mentioning you need the best price is a great way to delegate to the experts. HappyStay searches many providers, such as Expedia, Booking.com, and TripAdvisor, to cover all of the possible hotels, and find price variances between sites.
Using a service like HappyStay can save you up from 7 to 15 hours of hotel search time, and will provide you with custom-tailored suggestions. They also search alternative providers such as Airbnb or HomeAway for the best price and lodging for you.
Airbnb. I was recommended this app by a 70-year-old man in Echo Park in Los Angeles — he was an AirBnb host, and offered up his apartment to rent, then and there with a discount. If you don’t happen to run into an old man in a park, this app lets you rent out local homes or apartments in the city of your choice, which is great if you’re looking for a longer stay, or just want something different from cheesy hotel art or shared hostel bathrooms. While it isn’t always cheaper than hotels, and finding a good listing can take time, it’s well worth it. (Keep in mind the price is listed on the app is is not final — Airbnb can tack on cleaning fees, city taxes, and service fees.)
Google maps. The Maps app has worked perfectly for all the countries I have ever visited, and can be used for navigation, whether you’re walking, driving, or taking public transport. The only shortcoming that the app has is weak support of offline mode — you can download small maps, but turn-by-turn directions rely on an internet connection, so it can be a quick way to burn up data.
Osmand. If you’re not looking to spend a ton on roaming fees and extra data, I recommend a closer look at the Osmand Maps app. It’s free, and easily caches maps for offline use, making it easy to navigate any city, even when you’re not close to wifi. It also supports many open-source map vendors, like OpenStreetMap and others.
Unfortunately there is not an all-in-one application that I’ve found to search for the best place to grab grub in foreign cities. However, in my travel experiences I’ve found a few that will deliver the goods when your stomach starts grumbling.
Google Maps. That’s right, this app is the Swiss army knife of city navigation — it offers up a little bit of everything. You can use a simple search to find nearby places to eat, and then get directions to them. However, it is sometimes sparing on reviews.
Yelp is especially great for American cities, and the app can filter your restaurant choices by style of cuisine, neighborhood, price range, and even tell you whether that pizzeria you’re eyeing is open late.
Foursquare. With a tagline like “the ultimate city guide in your pocket” it’s not surprising that I’ve found Foursquare to have the biggest database of the three. It will suggest local restaurants. It will give you tips and reviews, and even translate them to your chosen language. It’s so good, it will find you a cozy cafe, even on a little island in Mediterranean sea.
I often look for local events in any given city I happen to be visiting for more than a few days. I think that visiting local events offers up a unique chance to explore the local community and culture, talk to new people, and better understand how they live — that’s something you won’t get from any tourist destination. Sites like meetup.com, eventbrite.com, and even Facebook events can be a good start. Make sure your current location is changed, otherwise you might see not relevant events.
Plansify. If you have any questions regarding the place you’re about to visit, go to Plansify, which is absolutely stacked with travel experts, ready to talk and answer all your questions about the local scene. It’s as easy as signing up and scheduling a Skype call to put you in touch with some of the most experienced travelers in the world.
Google maps timeline. When I said Maps was the Swiss Army knife of applications, I meant it. The timeline feature, when activated, records location data as you trot across the globe. You can always delete events or even dates ranges if you want, but I would recommending keeping them, since it’s always interesting to look back at where you’ve visited in the past.
Timeline remembers every attraction and restaurant you visit, or how many hours you were hiking and how difficult your trail was. It can even attach photos you’ve taken during the trip.
Wifimap. According to the 2016 Pyramid of Needs, we as a society have become dependent upon 24/7 internet access. If you’re out and about, and need a Wi-Fi hotspot on the double, this app is for you. It caches a map of all the Wi-Fi spots close by — a must have if traveling abroad. Even better, the map is still available even cellular data is disabled.
What are your favorite traveling tools? Please share your experience in the comments.
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