Let’s face it, we live in an electronic world and it shows no signs of abating. Because of this, more and more apps are hitting the online markets every day, either for smartphones or tablets. As a traveler used to having information at your fingertips, it becomes frustrating sitting in an airport and wondering why your plane’s late or wishing you had something to read but the bookstore prices are just too high.
I feel your pain.
Being part of the travel industry as a writer, I’ve discovered along the way a number of apps that have lightened the load, so to speak.
10. Any app put out by a tourism board. When I was in Dublin just over a year ago, the Dublin Tourism Council was introducing their app for smartphones. My son downloaded it while we stood there (at a cost of €3.99, it was a bargain, IMHO) and we tried it out. This is one of the coolest apps you could find anywhere and its premise is great for a city as walkable as Dublin. The app works with your GPS and helps you figure out where you are in the city. But then, it goes a step further by letting you know if there are any tourist attractions near you, as well as give you the ability to walk there, as though you’re looking at a map – it moves with you. This app takes it a step further and gives coupons. At the time, this was unheard of but now, more and more tourism offices are offering them – some are free, some cost a token amount.
9. Airline apps. Check-in for your flight, never lose a boarding pass again and do some airfare shopping on most airline apps. I’m not talking about the sites that search several airlines, I’m talking about the apps for each airline like Delta, Southwest, American and others. These are best once you’ve bought your ticket and don’t want to sit with your finger over the keyboard waiting for that exact second it’s 24 hours ahead of your take-off. We all have lives we’d like to live… These can be found in all the app markets and are usually free. This is a suggestion that works best for those loyal to one or two airlines. With so many airlines out there offering an app, don’t bog your phone down with ten of them. Feature I love? It tracks my miles…
8. All Subway app. Rental cars are expensive so if I can get away with using public transportation to get around, I’m using it. This is an app I could have used several times in the last year or so. All Subway has the usage maps of nearly 150 cities with more coming as time progresses. The cost is minimal, 99 cents, but it can sure save a headache when times are tough in a strange city. I could have used this when I was in San Francisco last year. Great public transportation, difficult figure out.
7. Wi-Fi Finder for iPhone. Available for both Android and iPhone, this is an app whose time has come. Being a stranger in a strange city, this free app helps when people need it most. Airports charge an obscene amount for Wi-Fi access (Really? Just $20 for 24 hours? Okay, let me roll out my sleeping bag so I can get EVERY MINUTE of that 24 hours) and a McDonald’s isn’t always around every corner. Shows both paid and free wi-fi spots for travelers but the company confirms every site so getting a new on their app takes a few weeks.
6. FourSquare. This is my favorite of all the apps, not just because it offers FourSquare only discounts and coupons but because it gives away BADGES and mayorships; you know, bragging rights. This app offers tips from other travelers in a Twitter-like setting, short but sweet, and photos can be uploaded. It doesn’t offer maps or GPS-like information but it gives one a pretty heady feeling to be told they are now the Mayor of a site. More fun than useful but I can remember a feeling of pride, once, when I checked in at the airport in Atlanta and was given a “Swarm Badge” because at least 50 other people had checked in there that day.
5. National Parks App. National Parks are some of the best-kept secrets from travelers. The discounts are in abundance and these are nice trips on which to take the kids. Hiking trails are the focus on this app and while it’s free for Androids, I might have seen a cost of $4.99 for iPhones somewhere. They obligingly offer QR codes from their website so you can get to their apps in a hurry. This is a must have if you’re planning a vacation around the National Park Service.
4. SitorSquat. If you’ve ever traveled at all and needed a bathroom in a hurry, this is the app for you! SitorSquat‘s premise is simple-you need a bathroom, they want to help you find one. With a login, you can add bathrooms as well as rate them. If there’s a really bad one, let your fellow travelers know. Completely free.
3. FlightAware. How many times have you been sitting in an airport, your plane is late and when you try to ask an airline employee for a status you get snark and know even less than when you walked up to the employee? FlightAware is an app that changes the game… Free across a variety of devices, including the iPad and Blackberries (oh, the bane of my existence), integrated with Nexrad Weather, you can learn at a moment’s notice just WHY your plane is late and where it is NOW.
2. GateGuru. OMG, who of us hasn’t found ourselves hurriedly wandering an airport looking for something, even a hot cup of coffee or a sandwich, between flights? By having the GateGuru app on your phone, find what you’re looking for and get back to your gate. Use with FlightAware so you can know if you really have time to order a cup of tea at Starbucks with a line a mile long… This app also works with TripIt and Kayak and allows users to give a review of a shop or store, saving you the anxiety of wondering if it’s even worth it to wait or move on? Has information on over 120 airports and gives points like FourSquare, allowing you to compete with your Facebook friends for “King/Queen of the Airport”. Fun AND useful! Might be a free app – I was looking in the Android Store on my laptop not a device and I couldn’t see a price anywhere.
1. Skype. This is also the number one app for travelers as chosen by Frommer’s and I couldn’t agree more it should be number 1. Particularly when you’re traveling in another country, staying in touch back home can get expensive and frustrating, due to time differences. When my son and I were in Ireland, we used Skype to stay in touch with my husband/his dad. The time difference was just right for us contacting each other at the end of our day – the beginning of his – and with WiFi available in many places in Dublin, we even took my laptop with us to some local pubs to share the experience with him. It made for some interesting reactions from the locals to learn there were two Americans (whom they love) on the computer talking all the way across “the pond” to another American. It’s not they aren’t tech savvy (they ARE), it was just a surprise to them to have someone eating a sandwich while talking to the family back home. If you have a phone with the ability to go international (SIM cards can be bought there to turn your phone into a “Ireland” phone) put the app on your cell and save on International Internet Rates (which can get REALLY expensive).
So, these are my favorite apps to take with me when I’m traveling to keep me in the know, no matter where I land. Do you have a favorite app or two or three? Share your thoughts in the comments section.