5 Free Apps to Help Keep Surprise Travel Expenses in Check

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Mobile phone at airportMost people factor transportation, accommodations, food, and sometimes even souvenirs into their travel budgets. But even the savviest budget-minded travelers can be caught off guard by surprise expenses.

Overlooked expenses abound -- surprise Internet charges, taxi ride overages, and things like realizing the guidebook purchased before the trip does no good on the ground -- and can really add up.

While you can't plan for every potentially pricey travel snafu, you can keep expenses and surprises in check with these free apps.

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5 (Free) Apps to Help Keep Surprise Travel Expenses in Check
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5 Free Apps to Help Keep Surprise Travel Expenses in Check

Most major airports have mass transportation options directly downtown, but if you're jet-lagged or caffeine-deprived, or don't speak the language, it might be tempting to take your chances with an airport taxi. Beware: Travelers who have received the runaround -- and the meter run-up -- know that this can be an expensive option.

HopStop offers schedules, maps, and trip planners for transit systems in the U.S., Europe, and Canada, making hopping a train downtown in a strange city as easy as riding your hometown rail.

Perfect for: People who aren't entirely sure where they're going, but are pretty sure this isn't it.

Available for: iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Mobile Web

It's hard to believe that there are airports, restaurants, and cafes that still charge for Wi-Fi. And few things are more annoying than paying an outrageous fee for a few minutes' access, only to discover a free hot spot nearby.

Avoid the head slap by downloading the Wi-Fi Finder app, with its database of free and paid hot spots in 144 countries. And because an app that finds Wi-Fi is useless if it's only available online, Wi-Fi Finder includes a downloadable database that can be used anytime.

Perfect for: Those who think paying for Wi-Fi is ridiculous (i.e. everyone).

Available for: iPhone, Android

So Fodor's Travel Phrases app won't help you order coffee in Swahili, but it will help you make nice in Chinese, Croatian, Arabic, and 19 other languages (including Swahili).

The free starter app is designed to give users an overview of Fodor's (paid) language apps, but works nicely on its own as a crash course. Even in areas where English is a widely spoken second or third language, mastering basic salutations will go a long way. Want to dive in deeper? Supplement with free podcasts from a variety of providers, or bite the bullet and buy the full Fodor's language app.

Perfect for: Anyone who's ever learned to say, "I'm sorry, I don't speak..." in seven languages, and thoroughly confused the locals.

Available for: iPhone, iPad, Android

Who doesn't love a good travel guidebook? The pretty pictures, the neighborhood descriptions, the guides to the sites. Of course, they're also bulky, and can add extra weight (and costs) to your luggage. Plus, burying your nose in one in public immediately identifies you as a tourist (and potential target) while traveling.

Before dropping dollars or euros on a decent guidebook, check out your destination's tourism board. The city of London offers an official tourism app, and downloadable Tube maps abound, all for free. Switzerland Tourism offers not one, but 12 free apps covering every major city, an events calendar, and hiking, swimming, and weather guides. Fodor's, PocketGuide, Rick Steves, and TimeOut also offer abbreviated free city guides as samples of their more in-depth products. With all those savings, you'll have enough left for high tea.

Perfect for: Traveling light, looking like a local, not getting lost.

Available for: Varies, but typically iPhone, iPad, and Android

Skip the overseas calling plan, roaming charges, and constant wondering what each call will cost by downloading the Skype app. Although best known for its free computer-to-computer video chat, the Skype app mimics your smartphone's dial pad, for making and receiving calls at rates far below that of many wireless providers and calling cards.

For example, a call from Germany on an AT&T (T) standard international roaming plan is $1.39 a minute. From Skype: Within the country is free, and to call out of the country starts at 2.3 cents a minute.

Perfect for: People whose friends and family back home are the chatty types.

Available for: iPhone, iPad, Windows, Android

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Motley Fool contributor Molly McCluskey writes regularly on travel and finance. Check out her previous columns, and follow her on Twitter at @MollyEMcCluskey.

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