By Jon Chase, CNTraveler.com
There's no question that most travel experiences are better with a healthy amount of pre-planning. But leaving room for some spontaneity always feels more rewarding -- or, at the very least, more memorable. Though it may sound oxymoronic, there are plenty of apps that aid in doing things (or meeting people) off-the-cuff. Here are a few that will help you find nearby sites, tastes, and opportunities you might have otherwise missed.
Like a hybrid of a geocaching app and a social network, Findery allows you to leave or view digital "notes" that have been secreted all over the globe by other travelers. Those notes (which can include photos, video, and even music clips) can be anything from a list of fun things to see or a lesser-known historical tip, to a restaurant or cultural pick or a simple personal memory. Pop open the map to see notes nearest you, or scan the globe to see what is available in other cities; you can also get automatic notifications when you're passing by a spot with a note. You can choose to create a social network of Findery friends and follow others (and make notes public or private if you prefer), or simply use it to discover new sites without needing to participate.
Stray Boots, free
There's no better way to engage travel-weary kids -- or bored adults -- than with a scavenger hunt. But that's generally impossible to construct a puzzle when traveling, which is where Stray Boots comes in. The app has built-in historical trivia you can browse, but then lets you select from more than a dozen U.S. city-specific walking tours that blend game elements with trivia and cultural info. (Each tour is meant to take a few hours and they're somewhat pricey, at $12 each.) One jaunt through NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art sends participants hunting for specific objects, while another dining-based option has you snacking your way through the city.
An archivist's fantasy, HistoryPin is a location-aware augmented-reality app that is chock full of nifty elements. Chief among them is the ability to point your phone's camera at historic buildings (in tons of cities across the globe) and see a selection of vintage images nearby that can be layered over the modern building or space in front of you. There's also an option to toggle back and forth and in many cases pick photos from different years. These photos come from oodles of sources, including other users, and are accessible as collections, as walking tours, or simply via a map showing available photos nearby. The app is utterly addictive -- we especially like the option to shake your phone and get served images at random.
Traveling solo and craving a little social interaction? (Or the chance to make an already romantic setting even more memorable -- hey, it could happen.) Tinder uses your Facebook account to suggest possible matches with nearby users, all based on your interests and background (and no, none of your activities will ever be posted to your Facebook account). If you like one of the matches, swipe right and your profile will be sent to the other person; if they're likewise intrigued you'll be connected to each other via the app so you can chat and perhaps meet up in person. And because all interactions happen only through Tinder it's completely anonymous to use.
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