iPhone Apps for Travel
You may have heard it said that our phones contain more computing power than the computer that guided all the Apollo space missions to the moon. We carry a surprising amount of computing power around in our pockets, and as travelers we’ve become highly dependent on the digital capabilities of our phones and tablets to enhance our travel experience.
Our phones have become much more than just communication devices. They provide entertainment and news. They guide us using directions and maps. They help us convert measurements and translate languages. They allow us to track our expenses and manage our finances. They illustrate our destinations through pictures and video. In many ways, they are a window to the world.
Below is a list of our most-used travel apps for iPhone. This list is by no means exhaustive. It focuses primarily on iPhone apps, simply because we are Mac heads. If you’re not an iPhone junkie, however, keep in mind that the same (or similar) apps may be available for the mobile operating system of your choice. This list is also fairly generic in that it recommends apps that are suitable for practically any trip. We don’t cover some of the great location-specific apps that are available, although you are welcome to recommend those in the comments below.
Planning a Trip
TripAdvisor – When it comes to planning a trip, I generally use a variety of sources for research. One of my main sources is the wealth of knowledge available on Trip Advisor. There are millions of traveler reviews, photos, and tips on Trip Advisor that are helpful in formulating a trip itinerary. The Trip Advisor hotel finder is useful for finding great accommodations at the right price. Whenever I visit a hotel or restaurant and see a Trip Advisor member’s choice award sticker displayed, I know that I can relax in the confidence that I made the right choice.
TripCase – TripCase functions very similarly to TripIt in that it allows you to store your trip itinerary details, such as flights, hotel reservations, transportation plans, dinner reservations, meetings, and more. Simply forward your confirmation emails to TripCase and the information will be added to your itinerary. Alternatively you can add the details manually, both on your device or on your computer. We used to use TripIt until it became a clunky, self-absorbed cash cow (TripIt Pro, anyone?). TripCase has since become our main travel itinerary planner.
Maps – When Apple ditched Google as their map provider a couple years ago, things went downhill fast. With the latest iterations of iOS, however, the built-in Maps app has progressively improved and has become my go-to mobile map resource on my phone. I love being able to type in a location and get walking, driving, or public transportation directions to where I need to go. The only downside is that it requires an internet connection, so if you’re on offline cartographer, may I suggest the next navigation app on the list: Off Maps 2.
OffMaps 2 – For those times you really need a map on your phone but don’t have an internet connection, OffMaps 2 is the answer. You can preload maps for over 4,000 cities, complete with restaurants, transportation stops, and restaurants. Associated Wikipedia articles can also be cached for viewing offline. OffMaps 2 includes two free downloadable maps; additional maps can be purchased at a cost of $0.33 each.
In the Airport
GateGuru – Gone are the days when you are forced to wander around the airport looking for the Cinnabon. Gate Guru provides contextual airport information, pointing you in the direction of the bathroom, ATM, or restaurant that is nearest to your gate (or your current location). Gate Guru even provides estimated TSA security wait times at the airport checkpoints. You’ll never have to wonder whether the best airport food is available before or after you go through security (I’m looking at you, Chicago O’Hare).
FlightTrack – Stay up to the minute on flight activity with FlightTrack. You can search (and save) by flight number route, or date, and view the progress of your flights. Add flights to your calendar to keep track of terminals, gates, and flight times. Notifications alert you to flight updates and delays. Airport maps are available to help you find your gate in a hurry. FlightTrack has become invaluable to us when we fly. On a sour note, earlier versions of FlightTrack had the ability to sync with TripIt, but recent disputes between the two companies have seen both go their separate ways.[
Google Translate – I use Google Translate on my computer all the time. The Google Translate mobile app is very similar to its bigger brother, but with a few less features. The interface is still ridiculously simple, and the translation is very good. Google Translate handles over 80 languages (sorry, no Khoisan “click” languages), and for most languages, the translated words and phrases are even pronounced. The weakness of Google Translate is that it requires an internet connection, although you can star your favorite translations for access when offline.
Jibbigo Translator – While not as versatile as Google Translate (it only handles 20 or so of the world’s more popular languages), Jibbigo is capable of performing translations offline…as long as you download the language pack ahead of time. You can even dictate words into Jibbigo to have them translated, although the success of the translation depends on the clarity and accent of the one doing the dictation.
iTranslate -Similar to the Babel fish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, iTranslate is a universal voice translator that converts your speech into the language of your choosing. Voice recognition is very smooth and the extremely accurate translation takes place quickly. iTranslate handles voice translation of over 40 languages, but alas, it requires an internet connection in order to perform.
Skype – Skype has been around forever. There was a point where it was the go-to online communication tool, combining messaging, voice, and video in a single, convenient app. While it still does all of that, Apple has given Skype a run for its money with technologies like iMessage and FaceTime. The benefit of Skype is that it’s available on practically every device, regardless of manufacturer. All you have to do is log in with your
Skype, er, Hotmail, er, Live, er, Outlook, er, Microsoft account and you can stay in touch with your peeps all over the world. The downside to Skype is that the app needs to be running in the background to send and receive calls/messages.
WhatsApp – WhatsApp (I dunno, what’s app with you?) has been around for quite a few years now as one of the most versatile and comprehensive mobile messengers on the market. As long as the person on the other end of the line has the app installed on their device (it’s available in practically every platform), you can send and receive messages, create message groups, send pictures and voice messages, and even share location information. Unlike Skype, WhatsApp doesn’t need to be running in the background in order to send or receive messages. It’s a free and simple way to stay in touch with your loved ones back home.
Viber – When it comes to free internet calling, Viber is the WhatsApp of apps. In fact, Viber has recently attempted to crowd into WhatsApp’s territory by including the capability to send messages (complete with “fun” stickers, gag), but the power of Viber is in its crystal clear voice and video calls. All you need to stay in touch is an internet connection and a contact on the other end with the Viber app installed on their device. The Viber app doesn’t need to be running in order to receive calls.
CineXPlayer – We’ve all been there: the 4-hour flight aboard EasyJet with no in-flight entertainment. Or perhaps it’s the 9-hour long haul flight and your seat back entertainment system is broken. Maybe it’s the 4-hour bus ride in the middle of the night into the interior of Mexico. Jetlagging in a hut in central Africa in the middle of the night with nothing to do? I’ll tell you what you should do: watch movies on your iPhone or iPad. CineXPlayer lets you load up your device with media (the kind you don’t get from iTunes) for offline viewing. CineXPlayer plays practically every video format available. Just drag your movies or shows into the app and you’re set for entertainment for those travel down times.
Kindle – Kindle is the app for those who would rather have their nose in a book rather than watching a movie. You can purchase the proprietary Kindle books on Amazon and read them on any of your devices. It makes a lot more sense to carry a single iPhone or iPad loaded with thousands of digital books, than to carry several, heavy, standard books in your luggage. Just be warned that the Kindle format is best for plain text books; graphic or image-heavy books don’t translate well into the rudimentary Kindle format.
Currency Converter (by Oanda) – This free currency app lets you easily convert between exchange rates. The interface is simple and it covers every currency on the planet (even obsolete currency like the Yugoslav Dinar). Currency Convertor saves the exchange rates for offline use, but it requires an internet connection for updating.
Trail Wallet – It’s way too easy to let money slip through your fingers during travel. If you currently don’t keep some sort of travel budget, you should. Enter Trail Wallet, a travel expense tracker that takes the hassle out of maintaining a travel budget. Trail Wallet was created by travelers for travelers, so you won’t find a bunch of extraneous, bloated features within. Be sure to check out our full review of Trail Wallet for features, details, and screenshots.
Your bank app – Between ATMs, online banking, and mobile banking, I haven’t had to step foot in a bank in years. Gotta love the digital age! Whoever you use to do your banking, chances are they have a mobile app. If they don’t, I suggest you find a new banking establishment. My US bank has a pretty great app which allows me to perform a lot of basic tasks directly from my phone without ever having to log in on a browser. I can check my balances, transfer money between accounts, pay bills on the run, and cash checks if necessary.
Camera+ -If you’re accustomed to the quality and flexibility of a DSLR, you’ll enjoy the range of goodies that Camera+ offers. The native Camera app in iPhones is getting better and better, but none have quite the feature set as Camera+. The iPhone’s Camera app has just recently included the more advanced features that Camera+ has been touting for a while, such as touch exposure, timers, burst mode, and advanced editing. Camera+ takes things a step further with additional editing tools (similar to Google Snapseed) that allows you to tweak your photos to perfection. You can adjust focus, color temperature, saturation, highlights and shadows, and add vignettes and creative filters to your images, all in a single app.
Hyperlapse – Created by the folks at Instagram, Hyperlapse allows you to take uber-cool timelapse videos with a touch of a button. Hyperlapse is so simple to use: just point your phone in the right direction, tap the button, and let the app do its thing for a while. A timer tells you how long you’ve been shooting and how that time translates into a sped-up, timelapse version. Once you’re finished shooting, you can adjust the speed and preview the timelapse before rendering. Other camera apps have included timelapse features, but Hyperlapse outshines the rest with its superb image stabilization.
Slow Shutter – At the opposite end of the spectrum from Hyperlapse which speeds things up, Slow Shutter does exactly the opposite: it slows things down. Slow Shutter allows you to to create artful images with your phone that include motion blur or light trails. I recommend you have some sort stabilization available, like the Joby GripTight GorillaPod Stand (or the mini version, even just the GripTight Mount if you already have a tripod). Otherwise your images are going to turn out a blurry mess rather than an artsy delight.
Sun Seeker – Photography is all about capturing light. The lighting on a subject can totally change its character, and knowing when the best light will be available can sometimes be the difference between a mediocre shot and a great shot. Sun Seeker gives you details about the sun: where it’s located, where it will be later, what time it rises and sets, and more. You can choose any date and location and Sun Seeker will tell you when the sun will rise, when it will set, and its path. Overhead maps of locations provide the direction of sunlight throughout the day. This is an invaluable tool for photographers looking to maximize natural lighting conditions.
Stellarium – While Sun Seeker helps you plan out your daytime photoshoots, Stellarium helps you with your night shoots. Stellarium maps out the night sky, providing detailed information about star constellations, moon phases, and the direction of the Milky Way. With a drag of a finger, you can move forward in time to determine how the movement of the heavens will affect your photographs. GPS positioning even simulates atmospheric conditions, such as sunrise, sunset, and light polution.
Foursquare – Honestly I’m not a big Foursquare fan in my non-travel life. I don’t really get into the location-based social networking game. I have no interest in “checking in” to places or using apps to meet up with friends. Searching for restaurants and other venues is normally relegated to other apps like Yelp. However Foursquare really comes in handy when you need to get access locked internet on the road. You can get the WiFi password for many establishments by checking the comments section of Foursquare.
Convert – When it comes to countries that use the English system of measurement, there are three: the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar (formerly Burma). So either the US is miles ahead of all the other countries in the world, or kilometers behind. Even though I’ve lived overseas, I still have trouble doing the conversion between systems in my head. That’s what Convert is for. Gallons to liters? Miles to kilometers? Pounds to kilograms? Fahrenheit to Celsius? Until we can convince all the other countries in the world to convert (get it?) to the dark side, I’ll have to keep this app on my phone.
What about you?
Do you have any favorite iPhone apps for travel that aren’t on this list? Sound off in the comments below.