16 Free Smartphone Apps for Hassle-Free Travel
Traveling can be a hassle--but with the following free apps, you can turn your smartphone into the perfect travel assistant. These no-cost apps for planning, booking, packing, and navigating let you stay on top of details no matter where you are, or where you're going.
There’s more to selecting a flight than going by price alone. Hipmunk understands that, and sorts flights based on their “agony” level, which incorporates factors such as travel time, length of travel, and how many stops are involved. You can also sort flights by price, departure time, or arrival time. When you find a flight you like, you can book it from your phone, email the flight details, or finish up the transaction on a desktop computer.
Kayak's booking and planning app comes with options for booking hotels and rental cars in addition to booking flights. Kayak also functions as a travel assistant, offering tools for tracking flight status, managing the full trip itinerary, looking up baggage fees, and finding food at the terminal.
The TripAdvisor booking and planning app is full of user reviews and ratings of hotels, restaurants, and attractions around the world. You can search for flights and hotels, and book them directly from the app. The handy 'Near me now' category will show you nearby places to eat, stay, and visit in case you need to do some really last-minute planning.
Seat Guru helps you select a good seat (more legroom, less lavatory aroma) when you book your flight. You search for your plane via airline, flight number, or route. Seat Guru then shows you a seating chart of the plane, with color-coding that indicates which seats are best and which ones have drawbacks. (Mostly, that means seats that don’t recline all the way.) It will also show you which seats have access to power ports.
TripIt is a full-service planning app. You can add itineraries by forwarding confirmation email messages to TripIt, or you can just set it to watch your inbox and add itineraries automatically. TripIt pulls relevant information out of the confirmations, and organizes it in one place. You can share the trip plans with colleagues, family, and friends, and your trip details are available on both the website and the mobile apps. TripIt's business level of service allows company administrators to create trips for other travelers, as well as to manage a team travel calendar.
Pack Free and Packing List
Pack Free (left) helps you organize your packing for a trip, according to which items need to go in which bags. It also automatically sets how many of each item you will need, based on the length of your journey. Pack Free is available only for the iPhone.
Android users should take a look at Packing List, which can also organize your needed items by which bag they should go in. And this app can email or share the list for your records in case your luggage is lost.
Need help in deciding what kind of clothing to pack? Consult the Weather Channel app. You can look up 10-day weather forecasts all over the world to get an idea of whether you should pack shorts or an umbrella. You’ll also get severe-weather alerts, and video of local conditions.
Airline Check-In Apps
Most major airlines provide free apps for Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Phone. By using an airline-specific app, you get access to detailed flight information, including gate and seat details, plus the ability to check in directly from the app. You can also check the status of the flight, and manage airline-specific rewards and upgrades.
Check your smartphone’s app marketplace to find the app for the carrier you’ll be traveling with.
Once you’re checked in and you know which gate to head for, turn to Gate Guru for help in deciding where to stop for food or coffee along the way. Gate Guru has maps of 120 airports across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia with reviews and ratings for the various shops, services, and restaurants. You can also look up the security-line wait times in advance, so that you can decide whether to eat first or go through security first and eat on the other side.
FlightAware is a live flight tracker that will show your flight status, as well as gate and terminal information, baggage-claim details, delays, and cancellations. It also pushes notifications for estimated departure times, delays or changes in the departure time, general airport delays, and gate or terminal assignment changes.
Free Wi-Fi Finder
Although you can do a lot of neat things with your smartphone while traveling, you may not want to pay the roaming fees to use it internationally, or you might want to sit down with your laptop and actually get some work done. Unfortunately, hotel and airport Wi-Fi can be expensive. Free Wi-Fi Finder will show you where to go to access the Internet for free. The database of nearly 150,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots in more than 144 countries is available offline, too, so the app can still help you when you aren't connected. You can filter results by location type--such as café, hotel, or restaurant--and the app will give you directions.
Google Translate and Google Goggles
No need to worry if you’re traveling to a location where you don’t know the language. Google Translate will translate words and phrases in more than 60 languages. For most languages, it even has voice recognition--when you speak a phrase, Google Translate will read the translation back to you for correct pronunciation. For translating signs, try Google Goggles. That app uses image-recognition technology to conduct a search based on a camera snapshot, or to translate words from signs in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, or Russian.
Google Maps With Places
To find your way to cool stuff at your destination, look to Google Maps with Places. You can find, rate, and get recommendations for all kinds of places, from restaurants and bars to ATMs and gas stations. You can also discover local attractions and points of interest. And with help from Maps, you can navigate to your chosen place by car, bike, foot, or public transportation.
If you’d rather sit back and let someone else take you where you want to be, you can easily find and book taxis with Taxi Magic. The app integrates directly with dispatch systems, so you can book directly from the app, track the arrival of the cab, and charge the ride to your credit card with an e-receipt for expense tracking. The service is currently available in 40 cities across the United States.
World Customs & Cultures
World Customs & Cultures includes information on the culture and traditions of more than 165 countries. It breaks down each country into several topics, including communication style, eye contact, gender issues, greetings, law and order, personal space and touching, views on time, and taboos. If you’re traveling through a lot of countries, you can let the app figure out which one you’re in by GPS. And if you want to stay entertained on a long flight, check out the Random tab to hop through randomly selected customs from any country.
World Customs & Cultures is for the iPhone only.
The XE Currency converter app tracks rates live, but also stores the latest rates on your phone locally so that you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to look up rates and conversions.