Travel apps can simplify your life but they can also be gimmicky, clunky and clog up your phone. Here’s a tried and thoroughly tested list of the best travel apps out there.
It’s hard to believe that when I started travelling, not only did we not have apps but we barely had mobile phones. Paper was the name of the game: books, maps and waiting to get paper tickets through the post.
Now, you can hold the entire philosophical works of mankind in the palm of your hand as long as you’ve a power supply and an internet connection.
A train timetable or two is useful as well.
I’m often asked what’s the one thing that I’d never travel without and these days the answer has to be my phone.
I’ve been keeping this list of best travel apps for years, and with the arrival of a new year it’s time to take a fresh look. Which apps still deserve their place on the list? And which have fallen from favour.
Ah, the intoxicating power rush of it all ;-)
But in all seriousness, here are the travel apps that I actually use, all the time. And that’s what makes them, in my mind, the best travel apps out there.
Hope you find this useful – and happy travels!
Anything I’ve missed? Pop it in the comments below…
Look at any list of the best travel apps and you’ll see plenty of pretty things that claim to organise your trip documents for you. However, though the software is good, I haven’t found one that’s quite there yet.
And there’s no point in having something that kind of organises most of your important travel documents. Probably.
It needs to be reliable: and that’s where I would recommend Evernote.
Unlike the others, it doesn’t claim to target travellers and it doesn’t even look that pretty.
What it does do is let you organise stuff. Easily.
I use Evernote for all sorts of different tasks.
Essentially, it consists of notebooks with notes that can be in photo, text or audio form.
Notebooks can be available offline and you can send information into Evernote by email, screenshot and photo while on the road.
Hotel reservations? Email straight to Evernote. Airline tickets > Evernote. Backup copy of passport, driving license and the state of the car you hired when you picked it up? Evernote, evernote, evernote.
What’s more, it stores geolocation info as you add notes on the move.
So if you are in a city and see something you want to come back to, you can add an audio note there and then and it will store the point on the map for you. Or say you discover a bottle of wine you enjoy? Take a snapshot of the label and you can search the text in Evernote when you get home. Genius.
If the time I spent on Skyscanner converted into time spent at the gym, I’d be a contender for an Olympic medal by now.
Unlike so many other competitors, Skyscanner allows you to search for flights on a flexible basis.
Coming back a different way? No problem.
Want to know where you can fly from an airport? That’s easy. Want to change your dates or simply find the cheapest day to fly? Done, done and done.
The app then takes you to the airline’s website so you can book over there – and typically, you don’t need to enter the information again. Brilliant.
I use a broad smorgasbord of websites when it comes to looking for and booking hotel stays but when time is tight, Hotel Tonight is my go to every time.
It is so EASY to use and it let’s you search for hotels not just for tonight but also for the next few days.
Apparently half of all hotel bookings occur within the seven days before the stay, so I’m not (ahem) the only last minute merchant out there.
Again, I’ve tried and tested so many concierge or assistant apps but the non-travel focused Fancy Hands remains the clear winner.
You can submit tasks by email, text, or audio and one of a faceless team of assistants will deal with your query, 24 hours a day. Each task is allocated 20 minutes – if it takes them longer than that then they will ask if you want to use another task. They can make phone calls on your behalf and make purchases on your credit card (with agreement) to a value of up to 200 USD.
Perfect for trip research, reporting delays, finding alternative routes, buying tickets and searching for parking options while you drive around. The list is so long I should probably write another post about it.
I’m at the stage when I can hardly remember how my life used to function before I found Pocket. Enter the URL of a web page into Pocket and it will store the article and pictures there for you so that you can read it offline. Perfect for loading up with travel articles and background reading for any train or plane journey en route to your destination.
I’ve written about Sleepstream before, over here on How to Sleep on a Plane.
Essentially, sleep doesn’t come easily to me and I only wish I’d discovered this app back when I was a tired and harried junior doctor changing shifts every other day. Sleepstream plays a variety of soothing soundtracks to drown out the background noise of crying babies, outside roadworks, chattering passengers and so on. (Obviously, don’t use it to drown out the sound of your own crying baby.)
You can even put it on a timer to prevent all your battery juice draining away. A real sanity saver.
Yes, we should all remember to look up the exchange rate in advance and we should all be able to perform simple sums in our heads. But…Well, we should all be able to cook our own food too and that doesn’t stop us from going out to restaurants…(In case that was too cryptic, Xe currency does all the currency brainwork for you.)
I alluded to this at the start, but really. I am still amazed by this. You can have almost any book in the world available to read on your phone. No heavy hardbacks, no time-consuming choice (this always used to slow me down in the bad old packing days.) No having to leave books behind in order to fit in souvenirs/accommodate the confusing law of physics that says that somehow-the-same-pile-of-stuff-will-never-fit-back-into-your-suitcase-the-way-it-did-when-you-first-packed-it-at-home.
I won’t win any awards for originality here but Google Maps remains the best in my mind. If you haven’t tried it for a while, it now offers you transport routes across cities too and in about 20 routes across London, it’s got it right every time. Just enter where you want to go, filter how you want to get there, and you’re off.
Just book after book at your fingertips, on your phone.
OK, so the only reason this didn’t make the list is because it’s only really useful for business travellers, not everyone. But it has changed my accounting life by syncing up to the (free) online tool which lets you create flexible reports when you get back home.
Snap a pic while on the road and you can remember what those cyrillic words on the receipt represent.
January and tax time becomes far less painful…
I love these guys and the work they do. Over 67 cities now have their own Spotted by Locals entry, an offline guide with unusual points of interest and places to eat and drink that skip the tourist crowds. I’ve used them in off the radar places like Sophia in Bulgaria as well as possibly the most visited place on earth: Rome.
So why don’t they make the top list? Just because of the 67 cities. Once you cover the world, guys, your’e in ;-)
This app claims to let you get up to 75% off hotel stays by only staying in the day. Useful in between flights and perhaps for napping children? I haven’t tested it yet, though, and that’s why it didn’t make the list.
So that’s it, that’s my list of the 9 best travel apps. And already I am thinking of more…But before I get to that, what do you think?
** A few of these links earn this website money at no extra cost to you. It helps me to keep the show on the road so thank you for your support! As ever, as always, I only include things I think you’ll genuinely find useful. Otherwise, there’s just no point.
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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