I travel a lot. I have an iPhone. I have an international data plan. The combo of these things gives me the opportunity to try out lots of travel apps and find ones that are useful or more likely ones that are steamy piles of poop. I’m guessing you don’t need advice on apps not to check out, so I decided to give a little bit of a rundown of apps I think are worth while and I use myself on a regular basis. When I’m traveling anyway, I don’t use the app that gives me a map of the Tokyo metro very often when I’m hanging out in LA. You get the idea.
Data plan aside, I only have so much bandwidth to play with so my preference is for apps that are self contained and don’t need a connection, or that can leach of nearby wifi for whatever data they do need. Of course GPS is a huge benefit in travel so that isn’t always possible but know ahead of time that when faced with options that require heavy data usage and ones that don’t I opt for the later. If any of this sounds interesting to you, keep on reading!
The screenshot above is a bunch of the apps I use (or plan to use) that apply to any city I might be in. I have a few others that are city specific but I’ll get to those later. I’ll just start from the top…
HearPlanet – $0.99
Of course the first one on the list is contrary to everything I said above. I just grabbed this one myself so I haven’t “used it in the field” so to speak, but it seems like it might be interesting. Essentially this looks at your location and gives you a list of notable attractions or places near you at that point. Once you select one, a fancy computer voice will read off selections from the wikipedia entry(s) relating to that place. I figure this might be cool for those times when traveling when you find yourself with a few extra hours in a random part of a new city.
TripIt – Free
This is obvious, it’s the iPhone client for the tripit website. Helps you keep track of your travel schedule – flights, hotel bookings, etc.
HotelsNearMe – Free
Depending on how much you like to wing it when you travel this will either be useless or super bad ass. I tend to follow the “getting there is the hard part, figure everything else out later” philosophy and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself in a city without 100% solid plans where I was going to be sleeping that night. I didn’t have this app then but if I had it would have helped a lot! There are actually two apps with the same name, the one I have is by hotels.com and offers a similar set of services like comparing prices and whatnot. The other one is a paid thingy which I didn’t really check out.
SitOrSquat – Free
Another in the “look at my location and tell me where _________ are nearby” category, this tells you to find public restrooms. The value of this should be obvious. If you want to get in on helping your fellow (wo)man you can also register and add bathrooms to the database as you find them.
AllSubway – $1.99
This app RULES! Full metro maps for almost 50 cities around the world, downloaded to your phone so you don’t need any kind of connection to view them out in the world. Completely worth it. This one doesn’t utilize GPS at all so you need to figure out which stop you are at on your own, luckily most stations around the world have signs for just that very purpose.
I Am Here – $0.99
Ever been in one of those situations where you need to meet up with people but you are in a new city and don’t really know where to tell them that you are? This is your solution. It’s kind of a single purpose app but it works really well, you enter an e-mail address and and sends off a note with a link to a map of your exact location. Or real damn close anyway. So you can say “I’m at the coffeeshop on this corner” and presto, your friends can come find you.
FlightTrackPro – $9.99
I’m sure your first thought is that this is expensive. Trust me, it’s worth it. This is a wealth of information containing up to the minute flight statuses and live maps for flights you are monitoring; airport advisories, delays, closures; flight times and gate numbers; and it links up with your tripit account so it tells you all that stuff about flights you are on without you having to enter anything. It only takes one time of learning that your flight has been delayed and moved to a different terminal before you even get to the airport to know the value of this. Highly recommended.
Currency – Free
Speaks for itself. If you travel places with different currency than your home base you need something like this to let you know how much/little you are spending on things. Being reminded that a latte from Starbucks in London costs about $9 USD can be helpful.
Translator – Free
This is kind of a gateway to Google’s translation engine and spans an insane number of languages. It’s not perfect and not really practical for conversation, but it can help you translate signs and menu items when you are in a pinch.
Packing Pro – $3.99
This one was recommended to me but I haven’t put it to much use yet. On first glance it appeals to insane packing obsession though I will definitely have to edit the supplied lists a bit. I’m not sure where the folks behind this are traveling but for the most part the places I go have stores and it’s much easier to buy some things when you get there then lug them around the world with you.
Wi-Fi Finder – Free
This has it’s flaws, namely that it doesn’t specify at all if a hotspot is open or paid, but for a free app that can tell you what direction to walk to find some wifi it’s not bad and has helped me on more than one occasion.
The Weather Channel Max – $3.99
I used to rely on the build in weather app from Apple which does the trick for knowing exactly what the weather is like right now, but it’s not so hot with the predicting. This picks up where that leaves off with live maps, 10 day forecasts and favorite city lists. This helps me know what to pack and what to leave behind.
If you’ve stayed in a hotel in the last 15 years you know they no longer give you those keys with the room number printed on a giant key fob. Instead you get a magnetic card for swiping that could go to any room in the hotel – how are you supposed to remember which one is yours? This app does that for you.
I have other apps that aren’t travel specific that I use extensively while traveling such as Skype (free/cheap calls), Air Sharing (turns your phone into a hard drive), Kindle (ebooks), Yelp (finding food), both Tweetie and TweetDeck (for interacting with Twitter) and Emergency Radio (find out what those sirens are all about). Additionally depending on what city I’m heading to I’ll load up on a few more apps that are specific for that trip. Right now for example I have several Tokyo specific apps, mostly of the map and location variety to help me get around town on my own. I’ve got similar apps for London and Berlin which I can load up should I be heading there. All in all the iPhone is shaping up to be a pretty nifty travel tool and being able to have all this in my pocket allows me to leave more tech at home.
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