Smartphone apps are the modern equivalent of the guidebook, the sat nav and, of course, the camera. With the right apps, you can check the local weather, find a local restaurant, convert to the local currency, book a hotel, and find onward transport.
How did we ever travel without apps? Here are some of the best ones that every traveller should have installed on their smartphone.
1. XE Currency
You’re standing in duty free trying to work out whether that bottle of gin is worth buying or not. Or perhaps you’re at an ATM trying to remember the exchange rate so you know how much money to get out. Cue XE Currency, a really simple app that lets you convert between multiple currencies using real-time rates. Although it’s useful when you’re on holiday, it’s also a great help when doing online research for an upcoming trip.
Who needs travel agents? Although it’s possible to book flights, hotels and car hire around the world using this travel search app, Skyscanner is mostly about flights. As well as looking at single and return flights, Skyscanner can be used to calculate the routing options and price for multi-stop trips, and much more. Its Cheapest Month Search lets you look for the cheapest month to travel to a specific destination, while its Travel Everywhere and Inspire Map let you search for the price to multiple locations in a given time period, or search within a price range.
Uber is taking over the world, and if you usually rely on expensive taxis when abroad, consider changing your ways. As well as saving money, you’re likely to get a ride faster than if booking a cab with a hotel reception. It can also be a great way of meeting local people, since some Uber drivers are happy to chat while they drive. Although it’s great for getting round cities, Uber is at its best when you have to go somewhere beyond the reaches of public transport. In the U.S. that’s almost everywhere.
How do I get from here to there? Instantly presenting your options for travel is Rome2Rio, a really simple app that presents a map showing plane, train, bus, car, ferry, driving and walking options for a specific time and date for any route in the world. It deals in prices (though some are estimates), journey times and booking details supplied by over 5,000 companies in more than 160 countries, which makes it so useful not only for planning a trip, but for researching side-trips and day trips when you’re on holiday. For backpacking trips, it’s invaluable, and ditto for road trips; if driving is an option, it links to Google Maps for instant turn-by-turn navigation.
5. Google Maps
Skirt the whole Apple vs Google debate and go straight for the search engine’s superior mapping app. Why is it better? Customisations and downloads. Found a museum, attraction or restaurant you want to visit? ‘Star’ it to make it easier to find on Google Maps once you’re in-situ. Although it doesn’t work offline as good as it does online, the turn-by-turn navigation is good enough for using as a sat nav in a rental car when you’re on holiday. Just remember to go to Offline maps/Custom map while on WiFi to choose an area to download.
6. Google Trips
This relatively new app is Google’s best yet for travellers. However, it does require you to be fully embedded into the Google ecosystem since it combs your Gmail account and extracts all (well, most) emails relating to your itinerary. Train, bus and flight e-tickets, and hotel reservations are stored in a wallet, but there’s much more to Google Trips than organisation. It also works as a destination guide, with providing ideas for things to do split into categories such as top spots, indoor, outdoor, kid friendly, and A-Z. Another section called day plans creates an itinerary or a walking tour, and plots everything on a Google Map. It also transfers all ‘starred’ locations from the Google Maps app, but the best thing? If you press the download button while on WiFi, it all works offline.
Long haul travellers who don’t use the SeatGuru app aren’t doing it right. Although it works just as well with short-haul flights, who really cares where they sit on a two-hour hop? However, if you’re on a 14-hour slog, that’s a different matter. Is your assigned seat next to the toilet, over a wing (and so subject to more engine noise), or right at the back where there’s no recline option? Does your seat have a USB slot or a power socket? You can find out everything about the plane you’re going on just by entering your flight number, and get updates.
Though many travellers now use Airbnb, it’s hard to beat Booking.com for sheer convenience, despite its annoying quirks. For instance, you can search for hotels, B&Bs and apartments and see them on a map, but you must change it to ‘lowest price first’ or another filter to avoid being stuck with the default ‘top picks’ list, which contains paid-for listings. It then keeps all of your accommodation vouchers in a bookings wallet, gives you exact check-in and check-out times, and allows you to both phone and navigate to the property via whatever mapping app you want.
9. Dark Sky
It might sound like something to do with astronomy, but Dark Sky has become one of the most popular weather apps of all in the past few years. The reason is its hyper-local weather modelling that's often scarily accurate. You can peruse the recent past, present and future with a sped-up animation of radar animations of cloud cover, which can be so useful if you’re planning a hike or a boat trip when a storm is approaching. However, it’s the ‘raining in 10 minutes’ warnings that are the best reason to have this app on your phone.
The walking tour is back in fashion. As well as being the best way to discover a compact city, treading the streets is way more fun than an overpriced open-top bus tour. It’s also now completely free thanks to GPSMyCity, which contains over 6,500 self-guided walks in 1,000+ cities around the world. Each city can be downloaded individually, and its guided walks navigated using a smartphone’s offline GPS sensor.
Looking on some inspiration on where to go?