When you're on the go, smartphone apps can save you time and money. They can get you a steep five-star hotel discount at the last minute, show you the quickest way to navigate London's Tube, even keep you in touch with your family for free from 8,000 miles away.
Here are some of the things that you can accomplish with the best of the bunch...
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-- Wendy Perrin, Condé Nast Traveler
<strong>Free Wi-Fi Finder</strong> When you’re desperate for Internet access, Free Wi-Fi Finder points you to the nearest hotspot (Android, iPad, iPhone; free). Free Wi-Fi can be slow and unsafe, though, so consider renting unlimited mobile Wi-Fi for your next trip overseas. Rent from XComGlobal.com for a flat rate of just $15 per day and you can use the following apps as much as you want without having to worry about international roaming fees.
<strong>WhatsApp Messenger</strong> Does your phone service provider charge for text messages when you are traveling outside the United States? You can avoid those fees by installing WhatsApp Messenger. Have friends, family members, or anyone else you want to stay in touch with download the app, and you can text with them—and send photos and audio notes back and forth—from wherever you are, gratis (Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia, Windows Phone; free for the first year, then 99 cents).
<strong>OnTheFly</strong> When you can’t get to a computer, ITA Software’s OnTheFly provides a highly comprehensive set of flight options and also helps you pinpoint when to fly during your travel window: Punch in any monthlong range of dates and your trip length, and you’ll see when it’s least expensive to take your trip (Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; free).
<strong>Hotel Tonight </strong> If you’re in a U.S. city or London and need lodgings at the last minute, Hotel Tonight offers steep discounts at a thoughtfully curated selection of luxe and hip hotels. A recent search in London turned up Belgraves—A Thompson Hotel for $189, marked down from $529, and Blakes for $378, down from $604. Rates are announced no earlier than noon the day of check-in. Since rooms sleep just one or two people and you can’t request a specific bed type, this app works only for solo travelers and couples. Many hotels let you stay multiple nights at the discounted rate (Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; free).
<strong>TripIt </strong> I used to arrive at the airport or car-rental counter frantically searching through a manila folder of printouts for my confirmation number and other reservation details. Now the TripIt app puts them all in the palm of my hand. I forward my flight, hotel, and other confirmation e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org, and TripIt combines them into one organized itinerary, adding information such as weather, maps, and driving directions (Android, BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone 7; free).
<strong>GateGuru</strong> Fire up GateGuru, punch in your airport and terminal, and the app will tell you which eateries, services, and stores are nearby; how travelers rate them; and where there’s a deal. When you’re stuck at Newark, you’ll find out that a Gallagher’s Steak House is one concourse over or that there are free pretzels at the Auntie Anne’s at Gate 133. Use GateGuru before you get in the security line so you know what options lie beyond the scanners (Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; free).
<strong>AroundMe</strong> Looking for the closest gas station, parking lot, ATM, restaurant, hospital, hotel, or just about any other business? AroundMe lists your options in each category, tells you how far away each is, and gives you a map showing how to get there (Android, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone; free).
MetrO Visiting a city that has a complicated subway system? Punch your origin and destination, as well as the day of the week and time you’re traveling, into MetrO and it will find the shortest ride. Say you’re taking the London Tube from your hotel near Kensington High Street to St. Pancras Station. There are several ways to do it, but MetrO will tell you that the shortest is to change at Paddington for an eight-stop, 25-minute ride (iPad, iPhone; free).
<strong>Goby</strong> When you’re without a concierge, the Goby app points you to nearby events and activities suited to your interests (in the United States). Say you’re driving through the Napa Valley with kids who cannot take one more winery or artisanal-cheese tasting. You could drive to the local tourist information office . . . or you could pull up Goby, punch in your location (e.g., “Calistoga, California”), the type of activity you’re looking for (“family fun”), and the time frame (“today”), and get a list of 14 kid-friendly options, all within a ten-mile radius (Android, iPad, iPhone; free). Goby is more reliable in some places than in others, so check YP Local Search & Gas Prices for events too.
<strong>City Maps 2Go</strong> Carrying an iPhone or iPad means always having a map in your pocket . . . until you’re in a spot without Wi-Fi or a 3G signal and your map vaporizes (say, in a national park) or you’re overseas and you opt not to pull one up because of the hefty international roaming charges. These problems disappear with two must-have map apps. City Maps 2Go lets you access maps for thousands of cities, provinces, regions, and islands when you have no Internet connection (iPad, iPhone; $1.99).
<strong>Camera+ </strong> Download Camera+ and you can leave your point-and-shoot at home (don’t ditch your SLR, though). It gives your iPhone or iPad greater zoom, a self-timer, a stabilizer for sharper photos, and white balance controls, and—very helpful if you’ve been shooting inside dark museums and churches where flash is forbidden—it can add flash after you’ve shot the photo. You can even add flash and clarity to photos you took before you downloaded Camera+. And when you can’t remember where in the world you shot that photo, the app can tell you—and map it (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch; 99 cents).
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