Optimal Travel Apps

Optimal Travel Apps

In some of my recent travel trends pieces, I’ve discussed how our style of travel has changed. Our journeys are no longer as spontaneous as they used to be, partly due to stricter travel requirements these days, but also due to the technology. 10-20 years ago, if you just showed up at a hotel, it was most likely they had a place for you, as outside of phone call or travel agent bookings, you couldn’t just press a button from halfway across the globe and reserve a room.

These days, if you don’t reserve in advance, especially in high season, you are probably going to be left out in the cold.  While our spontaneity might be a bit lost, the plus side is that we are now able to concentrate on the sights and sounds a bit more due to a collection of handy apps that we store on our phones and make travelling far easier.

Here’s a collection of some of the better ones that make leaving home that much easier, not to mention can even be used at home for your staycations or getting around.

Wi-Fi Map
Half your apps will be useless if you can’t connect, and finding hotspots to avoid data roaming charges can sometimes be a pain. With Wi-Fi Map you can search out crowdsourced hotspots and get passwords to use them, plus you can download the maps of hotspots for offline use.

Google Translate
It isn’t always perfect (the Galician town of As Pontes in northwestern Spain used it to promote their rapini vegetable festival which ended up as the “clitoris festival”) and the Chinese transliterations will have you on the floor at times, but overall, Google remains at the top of the translation heap. You get over 100 different languages, of which more than half can be downloaded even when you don’t have a data connection. You can also get menu and other much needed translations via holding your phone’s camera over the sign, with access to some 40 languages for this method.

Already a popular alternative to hotels, the Airbnb app lets you rent homes, find long stay discounts, and have a real local experience sharing someone’s home, flat, or other unique properties (teepees, yurts!). It’s also become more than just a-place-to-stay app, as now you can book Airbnb Experiences, in which local experts will involve you in real local happenings, ranging from bicycle tours and cooking classes to architecture or history tours.
You’ll never get ripped off again, or at least know exactly what and how much you are paying for with the world’s top currency app. Xe has exact and updated conversion rates for pretty much every currency on the planet, and you can store currency rates offline, so you don’t need a Wi-Fi connection.

While Google Maps is still the go to map app, you can’t use it in China, and the storage space it takes to download offline maps isn’t always practical for those who aren’t connected. MapsMe is not only free, it also works offline, and gives a tremendous amount of information for being an ad-free app. You can plan a route, and watch second by second progress as you speed along in a tuk tuk or taxi while looking for your hotel.

If you need a flight out (and these days a hotel and/or car), Skyscanner is a great pricecomparing app, as it searches all the top flight booking websites and airlines to give you an array of possibilities, from cheapest on up. You can also easily customize your searches for flight time, number of connections, certain airlines, departure times, and there is even a calendar showing you when the best time to book is for getting the top deals.

For those of you who have your air tickets, hotel confirmation, and travel plans scattered all over the room or for that  matter all over your phone, this handy app lets you forward all your confirmation emails and arranges them into a master itinerary with all your plans in one chronologically arranged place. TripIt lets you access your schedule on any device even when offline, and if you are willing to pay for the TripIt Pro (USD 50 per year), you get added features like getting realtime flight alerts and finding out when better seats are available.

While a Wi-Fi connection is needed to use Skype and Whatsapp, Rebtel accesses local phone lines to find the best calling rates for you to call around the world without the internet. With a subscription you can get unlimited minutes to select numbers, or you can purchase deals like 500 minutes for USD 5.

Like A Local
Not nearly as well-known as some of the other travel apps, this is a great one for those who really want an in-depth local experience. As their motto says, “Skip the tourist traps and get insider tips and tours by real locals.” Picky locals list their favorite cafes, restaurants, bars, parks, and more in over 4,000 cities around the globe, so you’re guaranteed to get a very different perspective from the average guidebook or traveler’s TripAdvisor review.

Now that you are apped to the teeth, it’s time to start planning your next trip!

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. His photos, represented by Alamy and Getty Images, have appeared in publications around the world. He is the author of Odysseus’ Last Stand, which received the Silver Medal for Travel Book of the Year in 2006 from the Society of American Travel Writers. In addition to working as the updating writer for Fodor’s Guidebook to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, he is the "Bangkok expert" for USA Today's 10Best website, and a regular contributor for publications throughout Southeast Asia such as Silver Kris (Singapore Airlines), Asian Geographic, International Traveller (Australia), Virgin Voyeur, Tiger Tales (Tiger Air), Bangkok 101, Look East, Tropical Magazine, Get Lost (Australia), Sawasdee Thai Air, and Bangkok Post among others.