The smartphone is the modern-day travel agent. From the palm of your hand, you can book flights, plan accommodations, and even reserve a seat at a seaside restaurant using nothing more than your smartphone.
While many of us have canceled our travel plans this year due to restrictions on travel, there’s no time like the present to stay home and plan your next vacation. Our hand-picked travel apps for iOS or Android can help you enjoy an organized, stress-free vacation that’s all about relaxing and having an amazing time.
Booking a trip and getting around
Finding the most affordable flight and hotel and making sure you’ll have plenty of spending cash during your trip can be a little tough. Check out these travel-booking apps to be a master planner. Once your trip is booked, you can use the best flight-tracking apps to make sure traveling is as seamless as possible. You’ll also need some directions once you’ve arrived to make sure you get to your hotel and see everything that you want to see, so we’ve included apps for that too.
Airport travel, especially within the United States, can be a confusing and daunting experience. MyTSA, a U.S. government-sponsored app, demystifies all the rules you need to follow in order to avoid a staredown and possible delays by security agents who are trying to do their jobs. Discover which items you can bring with you through the security checkpoint and onto the aircraft, request live assistance from the Transportation Safety Administration, check how historically busy your chosen airport will be on a given day, check crowd-sourced security wait times and offer your own estimates, check for delays and current weather conditions, and find out how to access and sign up for TSA PreCheck to get you through security in a jiffy.
Flights, hotels, rental cars — Skyscanner has got you covered. The app searches for the most affordable and best options via its travel partners. Similar to Google Flights, you can see the cheapest dates to fly, and you can also get alerts when prices change. If you’re not sure where exactly you want to go, Skyscanner offers a category that lets you explore “Top Deals” from your nearest airport, as well as a curated list of destinations at affordable prices. You can now monitor your bookings with status updates in Trips and move booked flights from one trip to another in the Trips tab. This lets you move things around without losing your saved details.
For many, Kayak has been the go-to trip planning destination for quite a while — and for good reason. Like Skyscanner, Kayak searches across various travel sites for rental cars, hotels, and flights. Kayak often has exclusive deals you won’t find on other sites, and you can set price alerts and use Price Forecast to see whether you should buy now or wait. Kayak also acts as a trip planner, offering up important details at a glance like your hotel confirmation number or gate number. You can also access these details in real-time, and on devices such as the Apple Watch. The app now suggests hotels at launch, and can even pinpoint results if you’re traveling with kids, while the car search now supports addresses.
If you’re really looking to get the cheapest possible price for a plane ticket, you need to download the award-winning Hopper. Like Kayak and Skyscanner, you can look at the cheapest dates to fly, but Hopper prides itself on telling you when to buy your tickets via push notifications. The company claims it can save you up to 40% on your next flight by analyzing and tracking billions of flights. The user interface is simple, and Hopper says you can book a flight in 60 seconds or less. You can now set a watch for a specific hotel you want to stay in instead of setting a watch for the entire city where it’s located.
Whether it’s legal in the city you’re visiting or not, Airbnb is a household name. The app undercuts hotels by offering far cheaper prices and a more authentic experience by allowing you to stay with a local, or in their home. The app also offers a feature called Trips, which offers Experiences to choose from during your stay — these are curated events you can partake in with local guides. Eventually, the app will become an all-in-one travel app that lets you plan your day, book a car, and more.
Did your Airbnb plans fall through? Did your flights get delayed at your layover? You never know what will happen with your booking, and Hotel Tonight is a reliable service that thrives on last-minute deals. The company partners with hotels to offer discounts on empty rooms, and you’ll be able to book one in under 10 seconds. You also get 24/7 customer service from the Hotel Tonight team, in case something goes awry. The app has launched a Daily Drop feature that offers a super economical deal for the day. You can also book multiple rooms in a single go and broadcast that info via group chat.
With Booking.com, you can find the best hotel deals at a moment’s notice, or in advance. The handy hotel comparison feature lets you compare features and prices, with over 135 million reviews from other users to help you choose your accommodation. Hotels, motels, B&Bs, and luxury apartments for your next trip are all bookable in seconds, with paperless confirmation, no booking or credit card fees, and 24/7 support from the Booking.com team.
Active in around 65 countries and more than 600 cities, Uber is the global king of ridesharing apps. The app pioneered on-demand services, and it can be particularly handy when you’re abroad. You can quickly request a car directly within the app after perusing an assortment of differing vehicle rates and fare quotes. Afterward, you can connect with your personal driver, track the approaching car’s location, and securely pay your fare using a credit card — no cash needed. Rather than trying to find a taxi or a taxi stand, just bring one straight to you. Uber is constantly updating its app to improve features like trip sharing, ride selection, and tipping.
Google Maps is widely regarded as the best navigation app around. It offers directions for travel by car, on public transit, on foot, by cab, or by bicycle. You’ll find it fairly reliable in offering up local public transportation options in many countries, and you can also download specific areas for offline use. You can also use Maps to find out when places like museums or restaurants close, and check to see how busy a place is in real time, as well as using the app to find local restaurants, bars, and attractions. You can even search for hotels by features like free Wi-Fi, pet-friendly, or air-conditioned, for example. You can now view and manage all your favorite places from the Your Places page.
With a growing list of countries under its belt, Citymapper is one of the best tools to find and use public transportation. It connects with a few ridesharing services, offers the fastest way to arrive at your destination, and best of all, lets you check out subway and train times offline for a number of cities. You can subscribe to specific train or bus lines, and the app can even alert you when you need to get off the bus, which is handy when you’re riding for the first time in a new country. The app now features a SuperRouter that lets you view floating brands like cycles, scooters, mopeds, car sharing with full travel times — including walking and availability. A wheelchair-accessible section is now available for some locations.
Preparation and finding places
There’s always something we forget to do before a trip, whether it’s failing to pack suntan lotion or change some currency. Take a look at these apps to keep you on track. Looking for a spot for lunch? Have some extra time and want to check out another museum? Scroll down for apps that offer up things to do and the best-rated places to eat during your stay.
Making a checklist of everything you need to pack can be useful, but what if one’s already made for you? Packpoint looks at the weather forecast for the dates and location of your trip. It will also ask you to select activities you may participate in during your trip, like a meeting for business, a swim at a pool, or a fancy dinner. It will then offer up a list of items you should pack based on these activities, along with general items you’d need on any trip. You can remove items you don’t think are necessary, as well as share lists with others, in case your friends need some help, too. You can now hide or tap and hold to re-order items on your list.
While it’s not the prettiest app, XE Currency is one of the more robust currency converter apps available for both iOS and Android. It’s constantly being updated and offers live exchange rates for “every world currency and precious metals.” What’s neat is that it can store the most recent rates so you can access them if your device is offline. Also neat is Siri shortcut support.
Traveling to the U.S.? Mobile Passport lets you skip the regular line to enter the country and is officially authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. All you need to do to skip long lines is download this app and add your passport information — you can do this quickly by scanning it with your phone’s camera. Mobile Passport is accepted at 27 airports in the U.S., so we’d recommend checking ahead of time to see if your airport supports the app. A premium version is available for $15 per year and offers the convenience of a digital scanner and secure storage of your passports.
TripIt organizes all your travel plans in one place — just email your confirmations to them and they’ll create a master itinerary that syncs to your calendar and can be shared with your travel buddies. You can even store your travel documents in the app. Upgrade to Pro for $49 per year and you’ll enjoy additional features like flight alerts, terminal notifications, and seat tracker, which notifies you if better seats become available, as well as updates on security wait times and searchable airport maps with walking directions.
TripAdvisor is a catch-all app when it comes to travel. You can quickly peruse millions of reviews, opinions, videos, and photos pertaining to just about anything related to your trip — bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and more. You can use TripAdvisor’s Near Me function to find well-reviewed places close by, but the best feature the app has to offer is the number of countries it supports — it’s just about everywhere, making it a necessary guide for every traveler. You can also ask specific travel questions in the app’s forums or add your own reviews in a similar fashion to Yelp. New updates let you access your personal travel feed, find friends and get expert advice, and save travel ideas for the future.
Yelp has officially become the Yellow Pages of restaurants and bars, and its use extends not just to the U.S., but all around the world. Its most powerful feature is the sheer number of reviews housed in the app — it’s an excellent resource for when you’re looking to hit some of the best spots in the country you’re visiting. Yelp also offers hours of operation, a phone number for listings, and sometimes even a menu, so you can be as prepared as possible before heading out.
Language and day-to-day apps
If you’re traveling to a country where your native tongue isn’t the official language, you may as well pack a few of the best language apps to translate on the go or brush up on your language skills. We also have a handful of miscellaneous apps you may find useful during your time abroad.
If you need to get online fast without an expensive cellular connection, WiFi Map is the place to go for worldwide information. This app shows you the nearest free hotspots complete with passwords and user comments. The app offers full map navigation to get you to the right place and lets you filter your search and test for connection speed. A network scan checks for intruders. There are even offline maps for travelers and a VPN (with the pro version) for secure, anonymous connections. You can also add new Wi-Fi connections yourself to help other travelers in your location.
Google Translate remains just as remarkable as it was upon its debut. The app provides translations, which are now more conversational thanks to machine learning, between more than 100 different languages, allowing you to listen to translations out loud and translate dictation and your own handwriting on the screen. You can star your favorite words or phrases for offline access, or view dictionary results for a single word or phrase, or use Siri Shortcuts on iOS 12 for bilingual conversations. Look for more regional options for speech in English (U.S., U.K., Australia, and India), Bengali (Bangladesh and India), French (France and Canada), and Spanish (Mexico and Spain).
If you’ve booked your trip months ahead of time, try tackling the country’s language in Duolingo. It offers beginner-level courses, but it’s also a great tool for those looking to brush up on a language. You can also chat with bots in select languages, which can be particularly helpful when you’re trying to learn the phrases you’re likely to use the most abroad. You can take placement tests to move up to tougher sections. Leaderboards get you into that competitive spirit with fellow users.
Memrise has more languages than Duolingo, and the app also uses mnemonics to help you memorize words and phrases. You can view video clips of native speakers the first time you try a new word or phrase, which allows you to hear local pronunciation. Swipe to listen to more audio and compare different pronunciations. The company says the app adapts to your learning style over time, and there’s a pro version that lets you unlock even more features, such as an offline mode.
If you’re traveling through multiple countries in a short period, it can be a little tricky to keep track of the time. Circa, an iOS-only app, is a beautiful and simple time zone tracker that lets you check what time it is where you are, and where you’re heading. You can also add your home time, in case you want to keep in touch with people back home. The app will show times that overlap when both parties should be awake. Circa can also work offline, letting you add cities mid-flight and the app also now supports iCloud calendars. The calendar ring lets you visualize your availability, or keep swiping to find a convenient time slot. You can also use the app on the Apple Watch.
WhatsApp has more than a billion users, and it’s highly likely you’ll run into someone abroad that uses the service. Having the app installed before heading on your trip can be useful in case you make new friends and need a quick way to chat with them either alone or in a group. You can also download and send stickers to liven up your chats, or require Face ID or Touch ID to unlock the app. WhatsApp is also an easy way to keep in touch with people back home. You’ll still need a data connection or Wi-Fi to be able to send messages.
On your travels, you may find that certain countries block select websites, like Facebook and Google. Or perhaps you want to watch some TV from back home. One way to get around these problems is to use a VPN, or a virtual private network. It’s also a good idea to use a VPN whenever you connect to public or hotel Wi-Fi networks to protect your privacy. Nord VPN is our favorite VPN service, thanks to its thousands of servers across the globe. It costs $12 per month, but there’s a free 7- day trial and you can frequently get it cheaper via a promotion — and it works on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Now you can choose your own DNS server address, while servers in specialty categories are organized by country and city.
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