Besides starting with the same letter, what do traveling and technology have in common? Unless you’re completely off the grid and have somehow managed to cut yourself off from the new electronic gadgets or mobile devices introduced since the turn of the century, you know the two are becoming more and more interconnected. Even though a smartphone may still not be able to physically transport you from one place to another, there’s not much it cannot do to help travelers with their myriad needs.
At the intersection of travel and technology lies the travel app. Simply put, an “app” is a mini-application, or program, that’s designed to perform a specialized function on a mobile device like a smartphone or iPad. The bottom line is that they are fun to play around with and can even be addicting. Some people I know collect them like baseball cards; and when you consider that more than 10 billion apps have been downloaded in the past three years, they are nothing short of revolutionary. Learning how to use these apps can keep you quite busy and amused during a flight delay (just make sure you have enough battery life). Learning which of the 17,000-plus travel apps to choose from is another matter altogether.
Travel apps are ideal for globetrotting executives as well as weekend warriors exploring their own backyards. The best ones help you locate hidden gems, communicate with knowledgeable locals and add some fun to your overall trip. There are even apps that can genuinely make your travels a little easier.
The most popular apps allow you to do anything you can do online or with a guidebook but more quickly and easily and without the need for a computer. Some can replace the need for maps by telling you exactly where you are and how to get where you need to go. Apps can also help you search for flights, book a hotel and make restaurant recommendations. They can even translate your spoken words instantly into other languages.
Finally, some tips on selecting apps. While you’re traveling, you usually want information right away, so make sure the app’s interface is simple and intuitive. If it’s not clear and concise, don’t bother getting it or wasting your money. Also, remember that the information from travel apps can usually be obtained from other sources, so the apps that are really valuable are those that make getting that information quick and easy. Have fun finding your favorites but be careful not to get too carried away. To simplify your search, here are some of the more useful and successful apps in the market today.
And don’t forget, our own GT app lets you search our archives, read the current issue, bookmark your favorites and more.
Lonely Planet City Guides
For travelers looking to get the most out of visiting a new city, nothing replaces a good guidebook to help navigate all the hotspots and must-sees. The downside, of course, is that they’re often bulky and inconvenient to lug around. The Lonely Planet City Guide apps eliminate the need to carry all that extra weight by putting most of the important information on your mobile device. Better yet, it does something a guidebook can’t. The app pulls up a map based on your GPS location and shows you points of interest and where they are located so you can find them easily. At press time, Lonely Planet’s inventory consists of 75 titles, including 58 City Guides and 17 Phrasebooks. $5.99 per city.
Named “Best Travel App” by Business Week in 2009, TripCase aggregates and organizes all your travel details and sends them directly to your iPhone. Not only does it give you your latest flight status information, it alerts you to any gate changes, security wait times, baggage claim information, car rental information and even a description of the hotel you booked, along with photos of the property. And if you’re in danger of missing a plane, it will suggest alternate flights. Better yet, it will even do the same for anyone else you designate, like your spouse, boss or important client. Free.
Even the most seasoned traveler sometimes forgets a phone charger or extra shirt. Packing Pro keeps a list of must-dos and must-brings for any type of trip you might take. You can customize your lists or choose from an assortment of templates tailored to women or men, kids (and how many), where you’re going and for how long. $2.99.
and it intelligently collates and organizes all your flight, hotel and car rental reservations (no matter where they were booked) and syncs them directly to your iPhone. Free.
When you don’t know how to find a local forecast while on the road, it helps to have a decent weather app. Accuweather is one of the most popular and apparently more reliable apps available. It includes 15-day local forecasts, 15 hours of hourly forecasts and forecast videos and can store up to 15 locations. Free (with ads); $0.99 (without ads).
If you’ve ever wandered around a city aimlessly looking for an ATM or someplace good to eat, then this is the app for you. It uses your GPS location to find all the essential places around you including banks, hospitals, gas stations, restaurants, stores and much more. It lists them with the address and then provides directions on how to get there. You can also tour famous attractions, hotels and restaurants in 360-degree panoramic views to help you plan your itinerary before you leave home. Free.
Not sure where to eat or what’s near your hotel? Urbanspoon helps you find a restaurant by cuisine, neighborhood and price range; or you can filter your search to include only the most popular local eateries. If you have an iPad with 3G access, you can also obtain more detailed information about each restaurant, including photos, menus and critic reviews. Free.
Once you find the restaurant you want, you can book it on OpenTable. The app lets you make reservations at more than 15,000 restaurants in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, if you become an OpenTable member, you can earn Dining Rewards Points redeemable for Dining Cheques good at any participating restaurant. Another nice feature is that OpenTable can send reservation confirmations to your dining companions via email. Free.
Miss a flight? Need to stay an extra day? Don’t want to leave? The Hotel Tonight app can take care of last-minute hotel reservations. In exclusive partnerships with hotels in select cities, the app offers one-night-only deals for up to 70 percent off at top properties in New York; Chicago; Boston; Chicago; Miami; Washington, D.C.; and Hollywood (with more cities coming soon). Free.
This app gathers subway maps of more than 100 international cities into one convenient location. As the name suggests, AllSubway is an extensive database of the subway systems the producers have determined to be most important. As with most technologies, it is evolving and adding more cities on a regular basis. You can also find several specialized apps (such as Paris Metro) that provide more detailed information about specific subway lines. $0.99.
Unlike most language apps, Lingolook does not require an expensive data connection to work abroad. Its clean, animated flash cards of more than 300 key words and phrases can even be spoken aloud just by tapping the screen. Lingolook is sold in five languages (Spanish, Italian, French, Japanese, Chinese) with Hindi and German coming later this summer. $4.99.
There are dozens of converter apps available for everything from temperature and distance to bra sizes. Most are about the same and work fine. But HIConverter is one of only a few to include all the important units travelers need to access. Features include currency exchange rates, clothing and shoe sizes, and a tip calculator that takes tax into account. $0.99.
JetSet: A Game for Airports
Are you one of those business travelers who plays solitaire or Sudoku on your smartphone after you’ve finished all the newspapers? Well, here’s another game you can try. You play a frazzled TSA worker trying to process passengers as they stack up in the inspection line and your superiors pelt you with a barrage of never-ending, loony rule changes. Violate TSA mandates or civil liberties and you lose. Cool feature: If you play this in an airport, it detects your location and doles out site-specific digital “souvenirs” for exemplary play, such as hot wings in Buffalo or pork barrels at Dulles. $0.99.
When you’re making a hotel reservation, Room 77 lets you find out detailed information about room view, size and layout so you can request one most suited to your needs and desires. Room 77 also helps you decide by providing expert advice on some of the best guestrooms within a hotel. Free.
Adventure tour operator Explore Worldwide recently conducted a study to find the most underrated travel experiences around the world. The operator analyzed more than 350 lesser-known destinations and experiences across more than 130 countries, ranking them based on how high its Trip Advisor score fared against how many people actually reviewed the activity and how many Google searches the experience received.
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