Skip to main content

There's an app for that!

Thanks to a variety of ingenious companies and ambitious application developers, there are now many smartphone and tablet apps to help travelers. From saving time and money, to getting us organized before we leave, and helping every step all along the way, there are a multitude of options to choose from.

Apps come in all sizes and shapes, for both iPhone and Android operating systems, and are designed to assist those who are tech savvy and those who are not. Found in "app stores" and only a simple download away, many apps are completely free (with in-app advertising), while others offer enhanced functionality for a modest price. Some require registration or joining a loyalty program, while others are available without any log-in requirements. They all can help turn your device into one of the best travel accessories available.

KAYAK, EXPEDIA, ORBITZ, HOPPER, just to name a few...

There are dozens of apps that can help you book travel—air, hotels, car rentals, pretty much anything you want can be booked from your phone or tablet. Having your favorite available means you can make additional plans while traveling, update existing reservations, or shop for last-minute deals. Chances are, the sites you are already using have downloadable apps, and using them will make your life even easier—they can store your password, keep track of purchases and past reservations, recommend new items based on your past purchases or preferences and help you while traveling.

Use the WEATHER.COM app (or the many others like it) to find out the weather at your destination. Check GOOGLE EARTH to see what the neighborhood around your hotel has to offer.

Once you arrive, apps like GOGOBOT and AROUND ME can help you find restaurants, attractions, shopping and more. Even if you are on an escorted tour, checking out the places you plan to visit can help answer questions, see specific recommendations, and avoid common pitfalls.

Most major hotel chains have an app for guests, and/or those who belong to their loyalty program. The apps allow you to book directly (usually with a guaranteed best rate), search any special offers, keep your profile up-to-date, and at some hotels, even check-in without having to visit the registration desk.

A few major hotels will now even let you use your smartphone as an electronic "key" to open your room door. And since most loyalty programs provide benefits like free Wi-Fi, an option for later check-out, and room upgrade options, there are many good reasons to join loyalty programs and use the apps that support them.

All major airlines have an app, which offers booking, check-in, electronic boarding passes, and alerts if there are delays to your flight. The apps will automatically load your trip(s), and from there you can select and change seat assignments, see what in-flight entertainment is available, and if need be, change or cancel your reservation. And there is no easier way to keep track of loyalty points and rewards.

Major train systems from Amtrak here in the U.S. and many European networks have apps as well. Eurail has a great app to help plan your itinerary, keep track of reservations, and receive alerts on delays/changes.

And for those who need it—download SOAR. Almost 32% of Americans have some type of anxiety or fear of flying. Capt. Tom Bunn, a former airline pilot and licensed therapist, now offers his well-known program in an app. Parts are complimentary, but you can also purchase his full or modified program for use at home or while traveling.

There are several very good conversion apps like CURRENCY CONVERTER, that allow you to correctly figure out what you are paying in U.S. dollars, anywhere in the world. Most will keep abreast of current exchange rates in dozens of currencies, so there are no surprises when your credit card bill arrives.

Countries and cities have gotten into the act, with great apps to assist visitors to their area. From city guides to transit maps, attraction details and places of interest, most major tourist areas and attractions have great apps. Whether you are visiting the Vatican, taking the Tube in London, shopping in Florence or walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, there is an app for all of those (yes, really!). Some apps require Wi-Fi to provide information in real time—so if you plan to use them overseas, be aware (and see the app below for how to find free Wi-Fi).

Staying in touch used to mean overseas calling, with all the headaches and costs associated. Now travelers have many free options. WHATSAPP offers both messaging and calls via Wi-Fi, SKYPE offers calls and video-calling, and iPhones include the FACETIME app natively in the operating system. Be aware that optimal signal strength can be difficult to find, and free Wi-Fi may provide less than superior reception.

Want to find free Wi-Fi? This app shows you places and passwords for public hotspots in your area, both in the U.S. and abroad. Beware—these networks are generally unsecured, so use for browsing and surfing only. It's not recommended for shopping, banking or anything that requires online security.

SIT OR SQUAT: An app to locate public restrooms, though this one (and ones similar) still need some work, as they are not totally reliable.

URBANSPOON: Find restaurants nearby, sorted by type, budget, and options (takeout, delivery, etc).

OPEN TABLE: Make restaurant reservations fast. Tip: if your request shows no openings, try calling direct, restaurants only post part of their available reservations here.

YELP: A helpful site for reviews and company details. Some of the reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, but you can see how the company does overall, and if any have had broad issues with multiple customers.

TRIP ADVISOR: Check out hotels, restaurants, attractions, and excursions. The best information sometimes can be found by reading the negative reviews—not to avoid someplace—but to see what mistakes others have made and avoid them (most crowded times, overpriced options, features that are not worth seeing, etc).

This is, in our opinion, the best travel app available. The worst part of any trip is the long line at Customs and Immigrations when you return home to the U.S.

Mobile Passport, officially authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (with help from a sponsorship by Boeing) is easy and FREE. Download the application at home before you leave for your trip, enter all the information from your passport, and take a photo of yourself (simply follow the in-app directions).

Then, during your return flight to the U.S., complete the "New Trip" form in the app (instead of the blue paper form you receive from the flight attendant). When you land at your destination, connect to the airport Wi-Fi and submit the form—you will automatically receive a confirmation number and QR code. Show that QR code to the CBP person when you first enter the Immigrations area and they will direct you to a special (VERY short) line. You simply scan the code in front of an Immigrations officer, they may ask and question or two, and you are on your way. This option is already in place in 13 major gateway airports, with more being added each month. Yahoo!

NOTE: The above information is not intended to be a complete or definitive list of travel-related apps, nor an endorsement of one over others. This article is only intended to show the breadth and diversity of apps that are available, and to encourage travelers to avail themselves of those that can help make travel easier and even more fun.