Traveling can be a complicated endeavor.
From keeping track of bookings and finding local sights, to currency conversions and translations, staying on top of what's going on, where you’re going, and what you're supposed to be doing can be tricky.
Especially with a constant onslaught of new travel apps, it can be hard to cut through the noise and figure out which are not only the best travel apps but the easiest to use.
After five years of travel on six different continents, and hundreds of tools and travel apps later (maybe even thousands), I've trimmed the fat, uninstalled the apps that claim to be the best (but aren't), and learned what the best travel apps truly are—the ones that are tried and true, and have withheld the test of time.
These travel apps will help you to stay organized and on top of where you're going and what's happening around you.
The Best Travel Apps for Booking Flights
Booking a flight is the first step to any trip, and though most people will only check the major sites like Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity, it's well worth doing your due diligence, especially for the sake of saving money.
What’s often even more important, though, is user experience. Some apps are clunky and confusing and don’t make finding and booking flights very easy.
There are a lot of booking apps, but I steer clear of most of them, usually relying on my core group of three. With these travel apps, I know that 90% of the time, I'm finding the best deal on flights.
Skyscanner lets you search from city to city, and from country to country, to find the best deals on flights. Got some free time, want a getaway, but not too concerned about where you go? Use the flexible search to search for flights from a particular destination to anywhere.
As well as being able to search for specific dates, you can check the prices across a whole month. Skyscanner can find some of the best deals by combining carriers for different legs of a journey. This may mean, however, that you need to book separate flights, use a travel agency, and/or collect your bags and check-in again between flights.
Momondo is similar to Skyscanner, in that it compares numerous airlines and travel agencies on a variety of routes to get you from A to B. There is also the option to search for flights to anywhere, and you can opt to also search for airports near your original choice (if a final destination is specified).
3. Google Flights
Google Flights is another top comparison site for flight tickets. As well as performing basic searches, it also offers a wide range of features to make planning your travels easy. If you’re not yet ready to commit to making a booking, you can monitor different flights.
You can get notifications when prices are likely to increase on a particular route, letting you get in there and book a flight before the price jumps. You can see prices across a region, be shows which flight combinations offer the best value for money (taking into account layovers and so on) and can automatically see alternatives, such as date or time changes, that will give you a saving.
Google Flights doesn't have a downloadable mobile app but the website does have a fantastic mobile interface, which is just as good.
The Best Travel Apps for Booking Accommodation
I'm a terrible planner, so when it comes to accommodation, I don't often book in advance. Depending on the type of accommodation I'm looking for, I use one of the following options:
Booking.com has properties to suit most budgets and travel styles, with accommodations located all around the world. There are numerous filters, allowing you to find exactly what you’re looking for. Some properties do not require a deposit or advance payment, with flexible cancellation terms. Do check, however, as the booking terms are not the same for all. If you become a member there are more potential savings to be made.
A top choice for budget travelers, Hostelworld is ideal for finding beds in dorm rooms. If you love the social aspect of staying in a hostel, but prefer to have some privacy at bedtime, you can also search for private rooms in hostels.
If you’re taking an impromptu trip or have left booking a place to stay to quite late in the day, HotelTonight is great for finding last-minute deals. No property wants empty rooms for a night, so unsold rooms are advertised, often with savings, on Hotel Tonight. While there may not be so many options to choose between, you can be assured that any listings are at top-notch places. All participant accommodations are screened by HotelTonight. You can search for somewhere to stay in a variety of global cities, searching as far as a week in advance.
If you’re traveling in a larger group, want a home-away-from-home feeling, or are planning a longer stay, Airbnb could be just what you are looking for. It connects private property owners with travelers.
While some hotels and guesthouses use the service to advertise rooms, many of the listings are for regular houses and apartments. They may not be available all of the time; people can make places available when they aren’t actually using them themselves. It’s also, therefore, a great way for home-owning travelers to make some money by renting their own place out when they are on the road. Properties may be vacant or you may share with the owner.
A wide range of facilities may be available; each listing is unique. Airbnb offers a good alternative to staying in a traditional accommodation when traveling. There are often discounts for longer stays too.
The Best Travel App for Tracking Bookings
Using confirmation emails to keep track of booking times, dates, and directions is nearly impossible. Having information in one centralized place in a travel app can make an itinerary much easier to understand. I always use TripIt for an at-a-glance view of all upcoming bookings, including flights, accommodation, and transportation.
The Best Travel App for Tracking Rewards Points
Staying on top of points, rewards, and miles can be daunting, too, especially with the plethora of rewards programs out there nowadays. Though not a perfect system, AwardWallet is the most comprehensive way to view all your rewards balances in one spot. Their web interface is a little clunky, but their mobile app is pretty great.
The Best Apps to Use While You're Actually Traveling
The first set of apps I recommend for daily use come from Google. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as Google Travel (yet?), but they do have a suite of tools which are perfect when you’re traveling. And they all work seamlessly with one another.
The original Google app is the first one I check when I arrive in a new city, and usually every morning. They have smart “cards” that dynamically update with various types of location-based information, including local weather, local attractions and photo spots, currency conversions, time back home, updates from your favorite sports teams, and more.
11. Google Maps
When I find a new place that I want to remember, I switch over to Google Maps and save the location. I also make sure to save the location of my accommodation, local bus or train stations, and other points of interest. Google places a star on each place that you save, so one look at your map shows you where everything you need is located.
Google Maps has also proven to be very accurate when it comes to public transportation schedules. From New York to Melbourne to Athens, Google Maps has proven to be a reliable and up-to-date tool for finding subway and bus stops and knowing what lines are running, and to where.
12. Google Translate
If I’m having a particularly hard time communicating with locals, Google Translate has become a staple in my app toolkit. With their recent acquisition of WordLens, not only can you translate words and phrases, but you can automatically translate a sign, box label, or menu by taking a photo of it.
Finding local places to eat and go out is never a problem using the crowdsourced Foursquare app. It finds where you are and recommends restaurants, cafes, and nightlife based on your preferences. So, if I like sandwiches and whiskey (which I do), it automatically shows me the best sandwich shops and whiskey bars in my new city, and provides me with tips for what to order when I get there.
14. Trail Wallet
The only way I’ve been able to keep track of my expenses in places like Thailand is by using the Trail Wallet app. I set a daily and monthly budget and categorically keep track of my expenses throughout the day. It allows me to manage multiple currencies and switch between them seamlessly, automatically updating to my home currency based on the current conversion rate. I can also see what my major expenses are in list form or in a pie chart, and make adjustments to my spending habits based on my track record.
15. XE Currency
XE Currency provides the most up-to-date and accurate conversion rates. I always check XE before exchanging cash (which I try not to do because exchange booths generally provide the worst rates). It also shows conversion charts so you can keep on top of exchange rates and cash in by withdrawing a larger amount when a currency from an upcoming location drops.
You won't need to use more than two or three of these apps on a daily basis. I keep the others on hand for when I need them, but more often than not, they just sit there. Google, Google Maps, and Foursquare will tell you just about everything you need to know daily.
Travel Apps for Keeping Records of Travel Documents
Never leave for a trip without copies of your personal information.
Before going anywhere, take a picture of your important documents and keep scanned copies of your passport and health insurance policies in a folder in Dropbox.
Whenever you find an interesting piece of information about an upcoming destination, paste it into Evernote, alongside the rest of your notes and information that you keep on hand. Evernote allows you to clip emails and web pages so you can hold onto copies of flight tickets, itineraries, visas, directions, or anything else that matters.
What apps do you use when you travel? Let us know in the comments below!