Five essential travel apps for the globetrotter

by Jan 19, 2015Planning

Essential Travel Apps cover image

Traveling takes planning and time. But it also takes flexibility, patience and an ability to adapt on the move. Late planes, canceled flights, delayed trains, no mobile signal, unfamiliar cities and foreign words can trip up even the most experienced traveler. Save the day with one or more of our essential travel apps for your mobile device to keep you from punching out a ticket machine, experiencing air rage, or ending up in Bosnia when you meant to stay in Croatia.

There is an amazing assortment of free and paid mobile apps all screaming, “Download me!” for your iPhone, Android or other smartphone or tablet. Which ones to choose? We try a lot of them, but some just float to the surface as total keepers.

Here is the list of essential travel apps we use to keep travel stress to a bare minimum, and up the ante on travel fun and adventure:

SeatGuru —

Every airline has been taking advantage of new seat designs and configurations in an effort to squeeze additional rows into the economy cabin. That can make for a very cramped and, if you are next to the galley or lavatory, a far more congested and uncomfortable flight. Choose the best possible seat by using airline maps on where you find pitch, width, and pros and cons. Plus, since airlines sometimes switch planes and reassign seats, stay in the know by checking on your seat up to the day of the flight. If your plane does get changed, having the SeatGuru mobile app allows you to make a seat change or request quickly even if you are away from home. On the day of your flight, when elite status travelers get upgrades, find possible open seats that you know are good by comparing with SeatGuru for a potential move to a better location.

GateGuru –

Your fight is late and you don’t have much time to grab a sandwich between connections, or you need to know the quickest way to transfer from your arrival gate to your new departure gate. Forget scrambling out of the plane to consult a wall map in the terminal … if you can find one. Instead, get the lay of the terminal in a glance while on the plane with GateGuru. There are gate-by-gate lists of restaurants, shops and services in airports around the world, and much more. Little wonder it’s won so many awards for being a top travel and airport app.

TripIt –

Trying to ensure family and friends have a detailed trip itinerary can be exhausting and an organizational pain. However, by activating a TripIt account (there is a free version, plus a paid version for $49 per year) you can make trip planning way easier. Simply forward confirmation emails from airlines, hotels, trains, buses, car rentals and more, and then TripIt organizes all the details for you into one place, accessible on- and offline. From there, it is a simple matter to access and share your travel details with anyone who needs to know.

City Maps 2Go Offline Maps —

Never get lost again even if there is no Wi-Fi or you don’t have a mobile signal — or don’t want one because of data roaming charges. Maps for Berlin, London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Sydney and many more are downloaded to your tablet or smartphone (just be sure you have sufficient memory). City Maps 2Go, one of our favorite essential travel apps, uses your mobile device’s GPS function to locate you on a map, and help you easily find your way to restaurants, museums, hotels, bars, public transportation and more. The free version now offers an unlimited number of map downloads – for over 7,000 destinations around the world including some rather remote ones with amazing accuracy. You will want to upgrade to the paid version, however, if you want to remove frequent ads. Plus, if you have the pro version, you can email the company, and its experts will even create a map for you if there is not one available. How’s that for cool?

World Lens Translator —


Owned by Google since mid 2014, World Lens Translator uses your smartphone’s camera lens to scan words and practically immediately translate what it sees. It is not perfect – very literal and it is not what you’d really say or write — and it requires relatively clear text to work. But it will get the job done in most cases … like when you are trying to decide if the menu item is offering “roast beef” or “roast brains.” At this writing, still available for free, and it works with German, English, Spanish, French and Italian. For more complicated translations, you should also arm your phone with Google Translate – saved our lives in Norway! It translates 80 languages — sometimes not so well, but better than most any other free app. Write freehand, dictate or type into the app, and then see or listen to the translations. Hit a star to save translations you want to refer back to online or offline.

Once you arrive in a city (often you can’t download these until you are in that country, but do check), head to your app store to find the official one for regional travel and tourism. We have German Rail to Disney World to local tourist office apps that work dandy.

Once you leave, you can delete them to clear storage space.

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