25 Great Apps for a More Rewarding Vacation

From finding unique attractions to discovering tucked-away restaurants, apps let you enjoy a richer, more spontaneous experience. Use these free (and cheap) apps on your next trip.

Smartphones can make you a smarter traveler by saving you money and time and helping you get the most out of your trips.

By now, most smartphone users are aware of GasBuddy, which helps you find gas stations and compare prices; AroundMe, which locates restaurants and other facilities in your vicinity; and Open Table, which lets you make restaurant reservations.

But every month brings new apps that help with everything from finding out who you’ll be sitting next to on the plane to how to navigate your destination’s subway system. One little cellphone now can take the place of phrasebooks, pocket calculators, guidebooks and other paraphernalia that travelers used to lug around.

However, Lonely Planet author Leif Pettersen warns against overdoing it with apps. Smartphones have replaced cameras as the biggest obstacle to travelers actually paying attention to their surroundings, he says.

“Now I’m seeing people standing in the middle of the Duomo in Florence, eyes down on their phones reading about it and flicking through pictures on their travel app,” he says.

Pettersen also cautions that apps often can’t be used liberally during trips abroad. “The prohibitive expense of data roaming means I’m limited to only using apps when I’m connected to WiFi,” he says, “which can be rare in free-WiFi-starved places like Italy and Singapore.”

For your next vacation, consider packing some of these new apps on your phone or tablet (some of these have a fee and may not be available on every device):

TRIP PLANNING

Triplist is essentially an organizer for your packing and to-do lists. TripIt keeps track of every detail of your trip—flights, car rental, hotel, etc. You can enter details manually or forward confirmation emails to the site to be entered automatically. Apple’s Passbook app works with other apps to keep paperwork like boarding passes and event tickets in one place.

BEING THERE

HotelTonight focuses on the last-minute market, offering same-day hotel rooms starting at noon for up to 70% off in more than 65 cities in North America and Europe. Scoutmob finds restaurants, boutiques and spas that’ll make you feel like an insider in a new city. LocalEats tells you about non-chain restaurants nearby that are favored by local critics. Goby finds all sorts of local hotspots, including museums, hotels and restaurants, as well as nearby events such as concerts and plays.

Weather+Free lets you know the climate conditions—temperature, humidity, visibility, wind speed—wherever you are, so you know how to plan your activities and what to wear. Free Wi-Fi Finder guides you to wireless connections in cities. WhatsApp Messenger enables you to avoid the charges some providers levy for texting when you are outside the United States, enabling you to exchange texts, photos and audio with friends and family back home. Postagram keeps the tradition of postcards alive by sending personalized photos and messages via snail mail.

City Maps 2Go provides maps for thousands of cities and regions even when you have no Internet connection. Maplets has maps for national parks, ski resorts, subways, college campuses, rail systems and more. You can download them when you do have an Internet connection and pull them up later when you need them. MetrO finds the shortest ride to your destination on several subway systems worldwide.

AIR TRAVEL

GateGuru comes in handy when you have a layover in an unfamiliar airport. It has maps of the terminals and reviews of restaurants within the airport, as well as average wait times at security checkpoints and other helpful tips. Seat-Guru helps when you don’t have a seat assignment by providing the flight’s seat map so you can choose the type of seat you want. SeatID matches information from participating vendors in a cloud-based software so you can see who else is on the flight and maneuver to avoid that crying baby.

FOREIGN TRIPS

Google Translate can rapidly translate English text or spoken word into a foreign language. It makes mistakes—but probably fewer than you would fumbling around with a phrasebook or dictionary. OANDA Currency Converter not only converts the foreign currency into dollars but lets you quickly include the standard credit card or ATM charges.

Sutro Media has a whole series of guidebook apps for foreign destinations (as well as some domestic). Travel expert Pettersen, who has authored some of the apps, says the user interface “is one of the best out there.” The apps range from general guides such as Pettersen’s Florence Explorer to more specialized ones such as Elizabeth Minchilli’s EatRome.

ROAD TRIPS

Drive strips down the iPhone interface to just four main features—calls, texts, music and maps—so that it’s safer to use hands-free mounted on the dashboard. Trapster points out speed traps and cameras, alerting you where to be especially vigilant about observing the speed limit.

iExit Interstate Exit Guide tells you exactly what services are available at exits coming up so you can plan when to stop for gas and decide whether you want to hold out for a Starbucks for that cup of coffee. Roadside America uses the phone’s GPS to locate nearby oddities, statues and museums so you plan your trip based on field reports for numerous attractions.

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