There are a few essential travel apps you may already have on your phone: Google Maps, Kayak, a VPN app for secure browsing on shared WiFi, and your airline’s app for mobile boarding passes and travel alerts. But beyond that, there are hundreds of apps that promise to make travel seamless and stress-free. How do you pick?
Here are 10 of the best, for everything from transit to translation. All are free for the basic version, and most are available for Android and iOS.
Similar to Kayak, Hopper is a booking service for flights and hotels. And like Kayak, it offers an algorithmic fare prediction feature. But Hopper’s is scarily accurate; the company claims it picks the best price for a flight 95 percent of the time. The color-coded calendar helps select historically cheaper travel dates, and a price tracker can notify you when it’s time to buy.
Airports-hectic, noisy, crowded-can suck. LoungeBuddy offers layover refuge by figuring out access options to nearby VIP lounges. Enter details like trip, service class, frequent flyer status and premium credit cards and LoungeBuddy will find eligible lounges you can access (for free or a fee, which you can pay through the app). American Express, which operates its own lounges, has agreed to acquire LoungeBuddy, so we hope that won’t limit features in future versions.
This elegant app pairs hotels with last-minute room availability with travelers who need a quick deal on short notice. You can book well into the future, but HotelTonight’s primary genius is when you need that room tonight, because of an itinerary change or a previous reservation that got lost. Airbnb just agreed to purchase the app, so it’s unknown how that will change the focus in the future.
Services like Global Entry aren’t the only way to speed customs and immigration lines. This app submits your passport info and customs declaration electronically instead of the traditional paper form, which gets you into separate, expedited Mobile Passport lanes at 26 US airports and three cruise ports for faster processing. The premium Plus version ($15) features a digital scanner and encrypted storage (free users have to re-enter info each trip).
One of the most powerful translator tools available, Google Translate builds on a massive database of machine learning to create an unsurpassed vocabulary in 103 languages. It also offers a conversation mode with slightly fewer languages (32) than competitor iTranslate Voice, but the killer feature is you can take a photo of text for an instant translation – exceptionally handy with restaurant menus or transit stations.
Spotted by Locals
Instead of algorithms and big data, this highly regarded app uses info from actual locals, called Spotters, to create guides for 71 cities (mostly European, with some US destinations, plus Tel Aviv, Israel). Spotted By Locals steers clear of chains and tourist magnets for a quirkier, more intimate exploration. The app is free; you buy each city as a guide for a few dollars or Euro (prices vary by country). Best of all, it works entirely offline.
These are our favorite digital tools for getting there, getting around, and getting a better travel experience.
The genius of Musement is its integration of in-app purchases to skip ticket lines at popular tourist spots. But it also features locally sourced activity ideas like restaurants, bars and other nightlife, as well as museums, concerts, and special events.
Transit offers almost identical features (transit, ride hailing, bikeshare) to close competitor Citymapper, but with far more coverage for domestic travelers, with even some smaller cities (Stockton, CA; Grand Rapids, MI) covered. Transit has broader international coverage than CityMapper and even includes spots like Nairobi, Kenya, but unlike CityMapper, it has no coverage in Asia, and only covers Managua, Nicaragua for Latin America.
Most people know Strava as an app to log activities, but it can be a powerful tool to explore workout opportunities in a new city. Use Heatmap to look for popular riding and running routes, while Strava Local offers curated guides to more than 80 cities worldwide. You can also connect with group workouts like November Project by searching for clubs. Summit membership ($2/month/pack) offers added features for training, analysis, and safety.
For runners specifically, this powerful app offers more than 100,000 pre-set running routes in cities worldwide, or create your own. RunGo even partnered with hotels to create routes right from their lobbies. RunGo also offers turn-by-turn voice navigation to keep you from getting off route, and tracks stats like time, pace, elevation, and distance. Works with Apple Watch. Premium ($15/year) adds Strava sync and other features.