As you step into the airport ready to jet off to exotic locations — maybe with your Apple Watch on your wrist — your iPhone should be a handy travel tool, rather than an incredibly efficient way of racking up expensive roaming charges.
There are some awesome apps for travellers out there. They can do everything from completely manage your trip to book you a castle (yes, a castle) for the night. Here’s a few of them.
If you travel a lot TripIt (which we looked at a few years ago) is a life saver. You forward your booking confirmations to TripIt — or if you’re brave, directly connect your Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook email account — and they scrape all the important details: flight numbers, check in times, hotel names, and everything else. They then gather all this information into one master itinerary.
That on its own is pretty handy, but if you subscribe to TripIt Pro, they also keeps you updated if anything changes. It’s amazing to get a push notification in the airport if your gate changes or your flight is delayed by half an hour. You don’t have to walk miles in the wrong direction or leave the bar so soon!
Most features of TripIt are entirely free, so you don’t even have to travel that much for it to be useful to you. Having all of your important travel information in one single place makes things like filling in customs forms a lot easier. If you set up TripIt to automatically scan your email, everything happens like magic.
Kayak or Skyscanner
The more you travel, the more you end up spending on flights. If you save even $20 or $30 dollars every time, it can add up to be quite a lot of extra cash to spend when you get to where you’re going. There are quite a few apps that allow you to compare flights between airlines, but the two I’ve found to be the most reliable are Kayak and Skyscanner
Both apps give you a good idea of the prices that different airlines charge on the routes you want to go. If there’s no direct flights, the apps will create multi-leg trips — even if you want to fly to a really obscure destination, you can find out how to get there.
Kayak has one amazing feature I really love: buying recommendations. When you search for a flight, the app compares the price data against all the historic data available (and there’s a lot of it). They then give you a recommendation on whether to buy the flight or wait based on whether similar flights in the past have gotten more or less expensive over time.
I’ve found this to be really accurate. Once I failed to heed Kayak’s recommendation to buy and the price had doubled by the time I checked back a week or so later. I haven’t made that mistake again. Both Kayak and Skyscanner, despite their names, also compare hotel and car rental prices. They aren’t, however, quite as good at this.
In his awesome guide on how to learn to love flying, Matt raves about airport lounges and the app that tells him all he needs to know about them: LoungeBuddy.
LoungeBuddy has a database of thousands of airport lounges in all the major airports. They tell you how much they cost, what requirements (like memberships) that they have for entry, and, most importantly, what amenities are available. It’s not worth paying $50 to get into a glorified box with leather couches and a grumpy waiter, but $40 for access to free food and showers might have you thinking differently.
— James (@JamesADMiller) December 4, 2015
If you’re travelling a lot, you’re invariably going to find yourself stuck in an airport at some point. It could be for any reason from just a long layover to a missed connection or delayed flight. When it happens, check out LoungeBuddy and see if you can find something better to do than trying to sleep on your luggage in the corner.
Apple Maps has come along way — it’s now my go to maps app when I’m back home in Dublin — but it’s always good to have a back up. While Apple Maps is great if you know the street name of where you’re going, in my experience it struggles to find businesses by their names. Instead of directing me to the nearest Starbucks, it picks one a few hundred miles away!
If you ask Google Maps for walking directions from The Shire to Mordor, it tells you that "One does not simply walk into Mordor."
— Nameless Network (@namelesstv) December 3, 2015
With Google Maps you know you’re getting an (uglier) app that has (mostly) accurate business listings. You might not know your hotel’s address, but Google probably does. When you land you can use it to easily find out where you’re going. The public transit directions are also great in most major cities; they can save you a fortune on taxi fares.
Uber and Hailo
If you want to avoid public transport and all the headaches that go with it, then you need to have Uber, Hailo and whatever local app is popular on your iPhone.
Uber gets a lot of press, much of it negative, but the service they offer is solid. Trying to actually call or hail a taxi is almost impossible in some cities. There can often be the language barrier, weird regulations, and a lack of cabs to contend with. Uber ignore all of these problems with their iPhone app.
Hailo is similar to Uber (although they use taxis instead of other people’s cars) and a genuine competitor in some major European cities. If you try to use Uber in Dublin you’ll be waiting for hours while there’ll be a Hailo cab nearby in moments.
Do a little bit of research before you go, and learn which transport apps are popular with the locals — for example, Ola Cabs or Meru Cabs in India. Uber has the biggest name but it isn’t available everywhere. Don’t get tied into using it out of habit.
Airbnb, Hostelworld, and Booking.com
Once you get to your destination you actually need somewhere to stay. Depending on why you’re travelling there are different apps that will fit your needs best.
If there’s a few of you going or you want a more authentic experience, Airbnb is the app to use. Like Uber, Airbnb gets a lot of negative attention but the service it offers is still great. With Airbnb you can rent out anything from a room in someone’s home to a castle.
If you’re on a budget then youth hostels are the best places to stay. Most major cities have some pretty great hostels with comfy bunks, bars, and good locations. They’re my preferred place to crash when I’m in a new city. Finding the best (or cheapest) hostel doesn’t have to be hard; I just use the Hostelworld app. It’s well designed and does everything you need it to do.
Finally, if you’re travelling for business or have any other reason to book a real hotel room with things like room service and mini bottles of shampoo, Booking.com is the best app I’ve found. It has a huge list of hotels which you can reserve with a few taps.
What Apps Do You Use When You Travel?
There are thousands of other apps out there for travellers. The ones I’ve listed above are just the ones that I’ve found to be great. It’s far from a complete list.
Got a favorite app that never leaves your iPhone when you travel? Let me know in the comments.