Travel Apps: How to Make Your Smartphone a Smarter Travel Companion
At least that's what analyst Peter Yesawich of MMGY Global found in his annual survey of frequent travelers. More than half of the Americans interviewed, all from households with an income over $50,000, brought smartphones with them on trips, he says, and 21 percent brought several devices. His conclusion? The group he calls the digital elite appears to be growing.
Even so, not everyone needs a smartphone overseas. If you are taking a tour or cruise where most of your itinerary is already planned, you might feel more relaxed if you leave your phone at home. But for travelers taking a more independent path, there are advantages to having your smartphone by your side (just make sure you will have Wi-Fi or an international data plan that fits your budget). We've outlined a few useful apps below.
Most popular travel websites, such as TripAdvisor, Priceline, Hotels.com and Kayak, have free smartphone apps and mobile-enabled websites. The HotelTonight app sells heavily discounted rooms that, as the name suggests, are available that night; you have to wait until noon to use it.
Airbnb and Couchsurfing-services that allow you to rent rooms in people's homes-also have smartphone apps. Keep in mind that you're working with a person, not a company, so give yourself a few days for back-and-forth emails before you need the room.
The free apps offered by airlines are becoming more sophisticated all the time. Most allow you to check in, access a mobile boarding pass, keep track of your baggage and view your mileage account. United even allows elite flyers to monitor the upgrade list.
Other aviation apps include FlightTrack, which shows you when flights are coming in (both free and paid versions are available); Next Flight ($2.99, Apple; $3.99, Android), which brings up all of the flights that are available that day on your route (very handy if you experience delays or you want to take an earlier flight); and Skyscanner (free), which shows you timetables for all flight routes.
Remember when travel meant carrying printouts of all your confirmation numbers? If you're still shuffling through sheaves of paper, consider downloading the TripIt app, which keeps all your travel plans in one place. When you receive a confirmation email for your flight or hotel, you forward it to the company, which organizes it on your account. Frequent travelers won't leave home without it (free, with ads or $3.99).
Another space saver, the best mobile destination guidebooks have offline maps so you can use them without getting charged for data. Oh, Ranger! helps its users find federal, state and local parks, while Swim Guide locates pools, lakes and nearby recreation areas. Yelp boasts bar and restaurant reviews in almost every city, from a younger (and snarkier) point of view. OpenTable allows you to make reservations on the fly.
Keeping in touch
Even though you have your smartphone with you, there's no reason to use it to make a pricey international call. A web/WiFi app such as Skype or FaceTime can be the cheapest way to callhome. Skype calls are free when you are contacting other Skype users, and it's inexpensive to call a non-Skype number. FaceTime is a good choice for a family of Apple users.
Using social media
In Yesawich's survey, he found that nearly half of travelers in their 30s or younger say they post photos on Facebook and other social networks to "make friends jealous." For the social media butterfly, apps for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are nonnegotiable.
Staying on budget
Bills keep coming, even when you're away from home. Many banks and credit card companies have their own apps, so you can check your balance, transfer funds and pay bills. Other apps can help find deals and low prices as you're traveling. GasBuddy, for example, tracks gasoline prices.
Some smartphone apps don't fit into a specific category but are useful nonetheless: Daylight, an app that shows sunrise and sunset times for wherever you are; Night Sky, an astronomy app; and Tides (predictions for tides and currents). Read menus in low light with Flashlight. And Tipster not only calculates tips and bill splitting, it offers tipping guidelines for different countries.
More tips to help you travel better:
How to Find Under the Radar Travel Spots
Group Trips: How to Plan a Smooth Getaway
Flying With Kids: How to Avoid a Cataclysm in Seat 9B
How to Communicate Abroad When You Don't Speak the Local Language
How to Relieve Stress on the Road