Social media and smartphone apps have drastically changed the way people travel. Gone are the days when vacation-goers privately booked their flights, planned exclusively with a guidebook or reminisced about trips solely through photo albums. Nowadays, it's all about sharing trip details, seeking help from strangers and interacting as much as possible along the way. And there are a host of apps to help you do just that before, during and after your vacation. Whether you're in the planning stages, or already on your way, here are eight apps to help you engage with your fellow adventurers.
While many know Pinterest for its ability to help users share photo-centric inspiration and how-tos, the site also touts a Place Pins feature, which allows travelers to discover, share and save travel ideas on a map. This custom trip planner can be pulled up on your phone via the free Pinterest app, as well as shared with friends, who can also add their recommendations.
Ask a Stranger
Travelers can use this free, new app to seek answers from knowledgeable locals. Though the app is free to download, you have to "pay" 10 credits to pose a question to your fellow Ask a Stranger community members (50 credits cost $0.99, but you receive 100 free credits just for signing up). In-app purchases contribute to the community pot, which is used to pay users who answer questions. The faster a user answers a question, the more points he or she receives (with your points you can buy credits to ask questions, or cash them in for money). To prevent users from providing worthless responses, the app rewards more points for answers the asker deemed "useful," and for being available for follow-up questions. A private chat feature allows you to engage further with locals and even meet up to explore together. While the app is available in beta right now, it will officially launch to the public in early November. Bonus: Anyone can sign up to answer or ask questions, and answering can be a fun way to make a bit of extra cash on the road.
This free, simple-to-use trip planner allows groups to coordinate travel details on a single online page. After a coordinator sends invites to other group members, attendees can have discussions, share ideas, post group polls and build itineraries. Users can also search and save activities, restaurants, vacation rentals and hotels. There's also an expense manager, so you can track who owes who money.
Lyft is a ride-sharing app that allows community members to offer affordable rides in their personal vehicles. What makes Lyft a great tool for travelers is that users are encouraged to sit up front and become friends -- not just passengers -- with the driver. Charge your phone, adjust the radio and share stories with a local -- or even take things off the road and grab a bite to eat. An added bonus? Drivers are encouraged to show their personalities with themed rides, or "Lyft Creatives," some of which currently include HipHop Lyft, DiscoLyft, Harry Potter Lyft and Cookie Wars Lyft. As of now, the service is available in nearly 70 U.S. cities. The app is free to download, but you'll pay for your ride.
Staying in touch
The aptly-named SpeakingPhoto is exactly what it sounds like: an app that allows you to add audio narration to both old and new photos. With the free app, you can create your own travelogue or interactive travel story without having to be proficient in complicated video software. Once you're finished with your creation, tap the screen to share it on Facebook or Twitter, email to loved ones or send it via text message.
Connecting with fellow travelers
For those interested in mingling with new travel companions before setting sail, Ship Mate is a must-download. According to the app, it's the "world's largest mobile cruise community," with more than 1 million users. The free app allows you to connect with other passengers before, during and after your cruise, while also providing ship-specific details. Some feature highlights include, a "Ship Info" section that tells you about your boat (the app boasts a library of more than 200 vessels), the ability to track different ships, a cruise photo-sharing tool with enabled comments, member-generated cruise reviews and -- possibly the most useful feature -- a dashboard that stores your personal itinerary, excursion options and your ship's deck maps. There's also a chat function that allows you to strike up conversations with fellow cruisers before you climb aboard.
For solo travelers who want to connect with their fellow adventurers, the Travel Buddies app may be for you. Operating in a similar manner to Facebook, Travel Buddies allows you to post trips in your profile or on the "Public Wall," and then filter your search to find travelers with similar interests. You can also search for travel partners by age, gender and destination. During your journey, the "Member Nearby" feature allows you to see the profiles of app users within your vicinity, making it easier to connect via email or chat. Even if you're not traveling, you can use the app locally to make new friends. You can purchase Travel Buddies in the app store for $0.99.
Like Facebook for hostel booking, WeHostels allows travelers to book their rooms directly from their phones, and interact with hostelmates prior to arrival. After choosing the city you're traveling in, you'll be shown a list of top-rated hostels and a map of their locations. When you click on a hostel you like, you'll be able to look at information, photos and reviews, as well as a limited view of who else will be staying there. Once you book, you'll be able to open these potential travel friends' profiles to browse their interests and send them messages to plan meet-ups and potential day trips. It's a great tool for solo travelers to have in their app arsenal, not to mention groups who want to branch out. The app offers more than 50,000 accommodations across 800 cities. While the app is free to download and use, you'll pay to book your hostel.
See: How to Travel Solo
Jessica Festa is the editor of the online culture and responsible travel magazine, Epicure & Culture, as well as the solo female travel and adventure blog, Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don't read about in guidebooks. You can follow her adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.