Most independent travelers who own smartphones either already have or know about many of the most useful travel apps — including booking sites like Kayak or Hipmunk, the most popular and/or native mapping apps, review sites like Yelp/Urbanspoon/TripAdvisor, translation apps like Google Translate, and personal travel tracking apps like TripIt and TripCase. In this piece we’re not aiming to recount well-known foundational apps, but to seek out newer and less-known apps that might help you in your travels.
After some extensive downloading and testing, we’ve come up with 15 nifty apps for you to consider adding to your phone or tablet ahead of your next trip.
BOOKING AND RESEARCH APPS
This super-new app is already lighting up pixels on travel and tech websites. The app crunches heaps of airfare data to create a simple, color-coded rendering of recent and future trends on your route. When you do a search, the app returns a calendar of the best and worst days to buy; when you pick dates, it advises whether to book now or wait, and tells you why in extremely simple language. There are a lot of other useful features along the way, including precise info on what constitutes a good deal, pricing predictions by date and more. Free for iOS and Android
Pretty much what it sounds like, the simple, attractive and easy-to-use Hotel Tonight lets you search for hotel rooms for same-day and next-day hotel bookings, out to seven days from the current time. The classification of hotels as Basic, Solid, Hip, Charming or Luxe telegraphs the hotel type. Booking inside the app is quick and clear, and the speed of the whole experience is a significant plus. Free for Android, iOS and Windows
PackPoint is emerging as the go-to packing app for hardcore travelers, with good reason. Once you put in your destination, dates, length of stay and nature of trip (business, leisure or both), PackPoint then offers a grid to check off which activities you will be doing, including options for swimming, working, photography, camping, a fancy dinner and more. It even asks if you will be doing laundry during the trip.
Then PackPoint lets you swipe items on and off an impressively comprehensive generated list. You can email or tweet the following list, open it in a browser and more. Free for Android and iOS
This is a great app to help you hack your sleep schedule to minimize jet lag. Once you input your normal sleeping hours and origin and destination cities, JetLag Genie creates a multi-day schedule with suggested wakeup and sleep times, when and how much light to expose yourself to, and a recommended plan for naps (or lack thereof). The app is clear and fun to use as well. $2.99 for iOS
Lyft is the ubiquitous Uber’s main competitor in the rideshare space; I mention it here so if you can’t quite stomach Uber’s, er, aggressive business practices, or want an option when needed, give Lyft a go. Free for Android, iOS and Windows
Many travelers swear by this app to help get around major cities; in my own use Citymapper produced outstanding results. You put in a starting and ending location, and the app will create a route for you by train, bus, bicycle, foot and taxi, with the approximate travel times (and prices where appropriate) for each route. It also shows where bus or subway lines are out of service or delayed. Free for Android and iOS
This is a mapping app on steroids, with hardcore GPS functions, significant offline capabilities and even topography maps for the United States. This app will be a lot more than most folks need and is really designed for adventures such as backcountry hiking and camping, but for travelers heading off the grid, this is the ideal app. Free for Android, iOS and Kindle Fire
Dealing with data limits and roaming charges incurred by mapping apps can be an expensive headache when traveling; getting just a little bit lost can cost you half a wallet of money. So offline mapping and GPS makes a ton of sense, and there are a lot of apps that offer this function. The (unfortunately) iOS-only PocketEarth is popular right now, and incorporates Wikipedia entries in a similar way to the late, lamented Wikihood app. Free for iOS
Of course you can also just say “OK Maps” to access offline mapping when using the free-on-all-platforms Google Maps; here’s how.
Waze is an increasingly popular mapping app that augments the standard routing functions with crowdsourced (and social media-enabled) traffic information to offer alternate/best routes around any serious trouble spots. The app displays the lowest gas prices and even speed traps along a route (though law enforcement folks want this ability removed, good buddy). Free for Android, iOS and Windows
STUFF TO DO
Peek is worth a look thanks to a quirky customization feature; when you first open the app, it runs through a photo-based quiz to determine your travel personality. Subsequently it will tailor suggestions based on your answers; I found it to be pretty accurate. It will be fun to watch Peek add locations and attractions. (Though there aren’t many destinations yet outside the U.S., a spokesperson tells us that they’re on the way.) Free for iOS; also on the Web at
There is a bit of a buzz around the Trover app at present, and when you see it you will understand why — it performs like a location-based Instagram. When you search on a location, instead of giving you listings or addresses, Trover shows you a grid of pictures on which you can click for a bigger photo, more info, a map and directions.
Trover is crowdsourced, which can introduce quality control and completeness problems, but I found it to offer some good inspiration for things to do and see. In my own area there was a picture of a giant tire on a football field — but it’s a college town, so hijinks are just part of the fun. Free on Android and iOS
FOR AVIATION GEEKS
For aviation geeks, Flightradar24 can be a somewhat mind-blowing experience; center your map at your house or any other location, and you can see all the planes in the sky above. Tap on one of the planes and you can see the type of plane, tail number, flight origin and destination, flight path, altitude, speed, GPS location, and more. $3.99 for Android and iOS, $3.49 for Windows; also free on the Web at Flightradar24.com
FlightAware’s app is a companion to its website that allows you to search by flight number, tail number or route; it is a much more limited view than Flightradar24, but lets you track the location of friends, or your own flight if you have onboard Wi-Fi. Free for Android, iOS and Windows
OTHER NIFTY APPS
Travel can be filled with downtime perfect for catching up on your online reading — if you have an affordable Internet connection, that is. Enter “read later” apps like Pocket, which allows you to download articles and even videos for later offline perusal, both from the Web as well as from more than 800 apps like Twitter, Facebook, Zite and Flipboard. The app syncs across multiple devices as well, letting users choose something on one device and have it available on another later. Free on Android, Blackberry, iOS, Windows and more
We rounded up a collection of photography apps some time ago, but timelapse photography is the photography trend of the moment, and Hyperlapse (by Instagram) is the best of the lot. It is incredibly easy to use, creates clever timelapse videos right on the spot, saves them to your phone’s photo reel (no forced sharing or in-app-only access) and lets you share them almost effortlessly. An image stabilization feature and a timer that shows while filming how long the timelapse will be separate it from the native timelapse apps on some newer phones. Free for iOS
Hyperlapse is rumored to be coming to other platforms beyond iOS soon, but for now here are three Android alternatives to Hyperlapse that sound promising.
Do you use any apps that beat these in their category or that we just missed? Let us know in the comments. Until then, happy downloading!
Editor’s Note:is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.