Did you know:
According to recent studies, nearly two-thirds of U.S. travelers rely on smartphone apps to enhance their travels.
- 61% have booked and paid for travel through their smartphone
- 65% want real-time flight alerts throughout the journey
- 54% prefer to use an app to add booking extras on-the-go
Would you believe I started traveling full-time before smartphones were really common? (Gosh, that dates me).
Having said that, I would be lost without my smartphone now. With all my years on the road, I’ve harnessed my smartphone to make travel easier, faster, cheaper, and more comfortable.
Here are 25 smartphone apps that have transformed travel as we know it.
Please note that (unlike other similar articles), I have largely refrained from mentioning social media apps and flight search apps in this summary. Why? Because in both cases, the apps are merely extensions of what you would use on your computer anyway.
If it isn’t an app that is especially useful as an app, it’s not listed here.
But that’s not to say that social (etc) apps aren’t useful. For example, the strategic use of hashtag searches on Twitter can reveal opportunities to meet people and do things at your destination that you wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of. Likewise, some people use Instagram, or Facebook, or Snapchat.
The same goes for flight searches. I book most of my flights on my computer anyway. But even if I don’t, most flight search apps are identical to what you’ll find in your browser – they’re just better adjusted for phone/tablet use.
The apps I feature below offer a form of functionality that a computer can’t, for one reason or another. Which makes them extra special!
Types of Travel Apps
TRAVEL APPS FOR YOUR MONEY – Travel Expense Trackers & Conversion
This being a financially-slanted website, of course I’m going to list the money-related travel apps first! And I’m sure it will also come as no surprise that these are my most-used/loved apps.
Trail Wallet – Best Travel Expense Tracker and Budget App
Trail Wallet is an awesome travel expense tracking app (here’s why I think so). It is by far the best one I’ve come across in my travels, and I’ve used a few! I’ve been a raving fan of Trail Wallet since its inception.
Not only can you track your expenses and see how you’re doing in relation to your budget (which you can pre-set), but you can also take pictures of corresponding receipts and export all the data for further analysis. I use Trail Wallet to put together the monthly breakdowns for my annual cost-of-travel reports.
(Android/Windows Users: Unfortunately, Trail Wallet is only available on for iPhone users).
Splittr – Best Travel Expense Tracker for Groups
While Trail Wallet is great for tracking solo travel expenses, Splittr is awesome for tracking shared expenses.
If you are traveling with a friend, in a group, or with a partner with whom you don’t commingle finances, Splittr is essential. You can track expenses in multiple currencies, and set how the expenses are to be split amongst the group. The app does all the math and shows who owes who money in order to settle up.
XE Currency – Best Currency Converter
Having a currency converter (and one that works offline with the most recently loaded rates) is essential.
XE Currency is the current favourite for me and my travel colleagues. Just make sure you update the rates before you leave, so you can perform exchange rate calculations on the fly with or without a data/WiFi connection.
TRAVEL PLANNING APPS – Itinerary Planners and Research
While I do most of my pre-trip research and booking with my computer, here are a few apps I wouldn’t want to be without.
Hopper – Best Flight Price Predictor
Hopper is my new favourite flight-related app.
Because it’s more than a flight-search app; rather, it’s a price-tracking (and booking) app.
Once you’ve entered in your search criteria, Hopper tells you how good (or bad) the prices are, and whether you should book now or wait. It continues to track prices and alerts you when the prices are as low as they’ll predictably go. It also gives you tips for tweaking dates and routes to get even better prices.
From experience, I will say that if the price is close to what they predict will be the lowest available, even if Hopper suggests you keep waiting, book it. I once got burned waiting for a flight price to drop that extra $20, and it never did.
While that was a bummer, Hopper more than redeemed itself when I realized another route I was watching could be improved by changing departure airports (to a very nearby one). Despite the fact that Hopper said the price would go down another few dollars, I decided to book it. When I went directly to the airline website, it was $40 more expensive (which, for a $94 flight, was a lot). This led me to the other amazing feature of Hopper: you can book flights directly through the app, at times for less than the airline directly offers – easy peasy!
TripIt – Best Travel Itinerary App
It’s actually a bit ridiculous that I don’t use TripIt more. In fact, in writing this very article, I’ve decided to breathe new life into my TripIt app.
It organizes all your itinerary information so you can access it in one easy place, instead of sifting through your in-box to get all your travel details. This becomes especially handy if you are taking a trip with multiple destinations, flights, and hotels booked.
Duolingo – Best Language Learning App
Brush up on your foreign language skills with Duolingo! Whether on my laptop or smartphone, I used it daily as part of a multi-pronged approach to becoming fluent in Spanish (spoiler alert: it worked!). And whenever I’m headed back to Spanish-speaking countries, I use Duolingo to brush up.
You can learn a variety of languages for free with Duolingo. It helps you practice multiple forms of translation including audio, written, reverse, etc, and it feels more like a game than something as grave as learning a new language. They also have podcasts, interactive stories, and they even facilitate meet-ups to help you practice more!
When I’m booking hotels, I often like to use Booking.com – and apparently I’m not alone, as it is the top site for booking accommodation. And while I tend to do the initial research and booking with my laptop, with the app I can easily see my reservation information on the go.
The app has also saved me once or twice while looking for a place to stay on the fly, at the last minute.
TRANSPORTATION APPS – Apps to Help You Get Around
It wouldn’t be travel if transportation wasn’t involved. Here are my preferred apps to make the trip smooth.
Before I pass through an airport, I check my FLIO app to get all the airport info I could ever want, including info on lounges, layover hotels, how to get in/out of the city, airport layout, and more. It’s a one-stop shop to learn about airports.
Not only that, they sometimes feature deals and discounts on restaurants, wifi, and more. It is truly one of my favourite apps for travel.
While FLIO has a great summary of airport lounges (including which ones you can pay to get into, along with the rates), Lounge Buddy just might get you a great deal on a lounge pass, even if you are flying in economy. Remember: if you have a couple of hours to kill, the cost of a lounge pass is often equal to a mediocre airport meal, except you’ve got unlimited food, drinks, WiFi, comfy seats, and sometimes even free spa services and other perks.
(Would you rather get automatic access to the lounge with a first class ticket? Good thing it’s not as hard as you think. Check out The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Frequent Flyer Miles).
Me? I get lounge access with my free Priority Pass membership, which comes with my Canadian travel credit card of choice: the Scotiabank PassportTM Infinite Visa.
While I do tend to have more than one map app at my fingertips (such as Maps.me or Apple’s on-board Maps app), Google Maps is usually the first one I open, especially when I’m searching for inspiration (be it a coffee shop to work at or a nearby restaurant to discover).
Google Maps not only makes it easy to discover places near you, but their navigation function is top notch; mapping out walking, driving, and public transportation routes along with pretty accurate time estimates taking into account any traffic/transportation delays. And if you’re driving, the voice command option will direct you to your destination hands-free.
Make sure to download maps of your destination in advance so you can navigate even without a data/WiFi connection; Google Maps is pretty data-heavy otherwise.
Say what you will about the “sharing economy” and the likes of Uber and AirBnB being the antichrist; as a solo female traveler, Uber is a godsend.
I can catch a ride with a (vetted, publicly reviewed, and thus safer than a taxi) driver, who is paid to deliver me directly and expediently to my destination (instead of driving me in circles to increase the fare). The cost is usually less than a taxi, and the conversation is almost always better.
ON THE GO APPS
Use these apps while you’re out and about and doing things travelers do.
Camera + helps iPhone users make the most of their camera, and pretty consistently takes better pictures. You can adjust focus and exposure, add fill flash, and much more.
The on-board photo editor is where Camera+ truly shines (and you can use it to edit any pictures in your library). Have fun with the pre-set filters and size/alignment adjustments, or use the lab to tweak to your heart’s content (hint: the clarity function is awesome).
A favourite of any traveler; Google Translate is brilliant for translations including written, voice dictations, and even visual (by using the camera I could translate signs and packaging labels – an invaluable function for me when I was in Japan).
It even works offline if you download the dictionary in advance.
Having a VPN in place when browsing the web while traveling is a super important part of cyber security, both at home and abroad. Over the years I’ve tested out a number of VPN services.
Keeping up an exercise routine on the road is incredibly difficult. Thanks to apps like Freeletics, I can access a range of bodyweight workouts (no equipment required) that keep me fit.
Bonus: this app works offline.
For fans of the yoga ilk, Down Dog is a new app to my repertoire. I haven’t used it enough yet to comment on it.
Staying in touch (without spending a fortune on long-distance calls) is very important on the road. Luckily it’s incredibly easy these days. Here’s what I use:
Skype is a great app for free video and voice calls from computer/smartphone to computer/smartphone, and low-cost calls from your Skype account to regular phones around the world.
Also, if you want to call a toll-free number (in the U.S. for example) but you’re in some far-flung country that doesn’t allow toll-free calls to the country in question, you can use Skype to make the call for free.
You can also purchase a phone number so people at home can call you (locally for them) and you can answer on your smartphone using WiFi/data or forward the calls (for a fee). But, they still don’t offer Canadian phone numbers. (Bah humbug. That’s okay, it’s Skype’s loss – see below for an even better option for Canadians).
This one is for Canadians, and has revolutionized my telecommunications strategy both at home (in Canada) and abroad.
Fongo gives me a Canadian phone number that anybody can call me on. Regardless of where I am in the world, as long as I have a WiFi/data connection, I can answer the call for free.
(If I don’t have a connection, they can leave me a voicemail and I’ll receive notification when I am connected).
What’s more is that I can call almost any number in Canada (with WiFi/data, from wherever I am in the world), also for free.
I will say that after using Fongo as my principal phone number in Canada, it does have a few flaws, such as dropped calls and an inability to use the Fongo number for account verification for certain apps/sites (like PayPal).
But I deal with it (since it’s free), and because of Fongo, I have no need for a telecommunications plan in Canada – something that saves me a lot of money every month. (Note: I use Fongo in tandem with Flexiroam – see below).
Depending on the country you are visiting (and length of your visit), your most cost-effective option may be to buy a local SIM card at the airport on arrival.
But in my experience, having an actual local phone number is often irrelevant since in some areas of the world (including Asia in general), WhatsApp is the preferred way for people to do voice calls (and it doesn’t require a local phone number).
What’s important these days, is Data (with a capital D). This is what Flexiroam is all about.
After purchasing this little SIM Sticker, you attach it to your home SIM card (I have mine attached to a long-ago debunked Ecuadorian SIM). When you leave town, a few clicks of the settings on your smartphone and you’ve turned off your home plan (no roaming!), and turned on your Flexiroam data plan. You use the app to buy data as you go. Rates vary depending on where you are traveling, and while the listed prices for purchasing data are mediocre, they are always featuring special deals and discounts that can double the value.
With my free Fongo number and Flexiroam data, I have a connection everywhere in the world, for an average of $20/month (often less).
WhatsApp is the preferred form of communication for a lot of people around the world.
With a WiFi or data connection you can text message, voice message, do voice calls, and video calls.
In fact, I noticed in Asia and South America that many people don’t even bother talking with a standard phone plan; they use data to communicate through WhatsApp, and pay-as-you-go phone plans in many countries offer special WhatsApp bonus credits. So….if you want to communicate with locals around the world, best to have WhatsApp.
WhatsApp is also the preferred way to instant message for people who don’t have iPhones (for whom iMessage is generally preferred).
ORGANIZATION ON THE ROAD APPS
Although not travel-specific per se, these apps help me greatly with getting things done abroad.
I’ve been using Asana to manage tasks and projects (for myself and my employees) for months, but only recently did it occur to me that it could become infinitely more useful if I had Asana on my phone as well!
It syncs seamlessly between the phone and computer, and if you’re offline you can still use it and it will sync when you get a connection again. My communication with employees in different time zones and productivity on flights just got way better.
FileApp is far from the only smartphone app of its kind, but I found it a few years ago and it continues to serve its purpose: reading documents and PDFs and storing them on my smartphone for backup, reference, and occasional editing.
This is a brand new app to my repertoire (recommended by another travel blogger), and while it’s not the most user-friendly or intuitive of apps, it promises to be a pretty cool way to transfer files between smartphones and computers of all persuasions, including Apple, Android, and Windows.
Tiny Scanner has saved my skin a few times; so it’s a keeper. I once had to “scan” and send a number of documents and receipts across the world, and the recipient couldn’t use the .jpg files that I sent when I simply took pictures of the documents in question.
Enter: TinyScan; it uses your camera to take pictures of documents and produce PDF files. The quality is better than the .jpg alternatives, smaller in size, and you can collate documents for easy sending/reading.
JUST FOR FUN APPS
Travel shouldn’t be all work. Here are a few fun apps that will serve you well on the road:
Are you listening to some funky beats abroad and wondering what song it is? Let Shazam listen for a few seconds, and it will tell you!
It’s really impressive at catching tunes even if you’re in a noisy pub. If you are offline, Shazam will save the clip and the next time you’re connected, it will tell you what the song is. It also connects pretty seamlessly with Spotify, iTunes, and other music apps so you can acquire the tune for your own library.
This is all fun and also educational, especially when you travel a lot and want to orient yourself to the stars.
Just aim your camera at any part of the sky, and you can see the stars, planets, and constellations, even if they’re covered by clouds. Heck – you can even spot constellations that are under the horizon.
So there you have it! My 25 all-time favourite travel apps.
Have you used any of these before? Or do you have a different favourite? Why do you prefer one over another?
Let me know in the comments below!