Explore your world by finding deals, booking flights, knowing when to pull off the road, and getting out of town with the best travel apps.
How do you decide where to travel? Where do you research destinations? How do you find good deals on flights and accommodations? How do you find your way around a place once you arrive? The best travel apps answer all these questions.
From the time you start thinking about your next destination to the moment your feet hit the welcome mat back home, having the right Android and iPhone apps on hand can make the whole experience smoother and less stressful.
How Can Apps Make Your Trips Better?
Pack light, set a budget, make an itinerary, and make backup plans. What else is there to say about travel? Plenty. Some of the best travel apps inform you about your destination, with advice, insights, tips, and warnings for how to spend your time. Apps for driving and road trips let you know what to expect along your route, where to buy gas, and which exit to take to find a reliable ATM. Other apps keep your itinerary organized, alert you when you can get a deal on flights, or give you a way to explore your options for where to go next.
What's Not Here?
We didn't see the need to include all the big-name search aggregator sites such as Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, and Priceline, seeing as most people are already familiar with them. They help you search for and book (usually by prepaying) flights, hotels, car rentals, and sometimes packaged vacations and cruises. The same goes for hotel search aggregators, like Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Trivago. I've only included here the ones that serve a specific niche or those that are excellent but not well known.
Listed in alphabetical order, here are the best travel apps to keep on hand.
Airbnb started by connecting travelers with people who have rooms, apartments, homes, and other accommodations to rent. The site now offers much more for travelers, including tours, classes, workshops, and restaurant reservations. Whether you use Airbnb to find a place to sleep or for inspiration about what to do on your next trip, you're guaranteed to see big, beautiful photographs of it all.
AllTrails is a mobile app and website that helps you get outdoors. It has lists of trails for hiking and walking around the world with pictures, maps, and directions to trailheads. You can download trail maps offline if you sign up for the Pro version of the service for $29.99 per year. It's a great resource for quickly finding the best places to be outside when you're in an unfamiliar area.
A friend of who's an avid traveler recently tipped me off to Culture Trip. It's a cross between a travel magazine and an SEO-driven website that runs articles with headlines that start The Top 10… or The Best Places to… The content is supposedly written by locals, and the real hook is that the Culture Trip app lets you save articles to Wishlists that you create. Make a Wishlist for each destination you want to visit or some theme that drives your travel (Snorkeling Spots, perhaps), and you can save Culture Trip articles there for your reference.
On driving road trips, you'll be happy to have GasBuddy at hand. It helps you find gas by location and price either in real time on your phone or via its website, if you like to plan ahead. If you can save a couple of bucks by cruising a little farther down the road, GasBuddy will let you know. It's available in the US, Canada, and Australia.
Never turn down a second opinion. Despite all the excellent travel search sites available these days, Google Flights is one to add to your list. Use it when you need a quick check on airfare for round-trip, one-way, or multicity flights. It also lets you explore destinations based on price and dates.
My number one go-to travel app is Google Maps. I use it to explore destinations before I arrive and make a note of places that look interesting by adding a star or flagging them on the map. As my travel plans shape up, I use the map to put together a plan for the day by visiting places that are grouped together. You can also save your maps offline so that you won't get lost even if you don't have data on your phone.
The mobile-only app Hopper tracks flight prices and gives you periodic updates on whether you should buy now or wait. What makes this travel app valuable is its level of detail. It doesn't just tell you to wait to buy your ticket, but gives you a date when the price will likely rise. You can book through Hopper, too, with a commission fee of a few dollars.
Some people, myself included, panic at the notion of having to book a hotel room at the last minute. For travelers ready to fly by the seat of their pants, there's Hotel Tonight. This travel app specializing in selling off same-day hotel reservations, often at steep discounts. It has options to book in advance, too, but the best deals are same-day bookings.
Here's another travel app for driving trips. iExit tells you exactly what's near every highway exit, from gas stations to ATMs. If there's a particular restaurant chain or other service you love, you can mark it as a favorite and the app tells you if it's coming up on your route. You'll never kick yourself again for settling for a greasy spoon when better food was just around the bend.
There's no need to be jealous of frequent travelers who have airport lounge access through their membership status or a high-flying credit card. With the LoungeBuddy app, you can find lounges in airports that let anyone in for a fee. LoungeBuddy tells you not only the fee, but also what you can expect inside, from the food and drink to whether there are showers. And if you happen to have lounge membership through other means, the app can often tell you that, too.
Rick Steves Audio Europe
Travel writer Rick Steves has an app for European travels with dozens of audio files. Some give you background information on a particular city or region while others are audio guides for navigating popular sites. I listened to some of his Rome content while viewing the Sistine Chapel and again when walking around the Roman Colosseum. If you're traveling to any of the top destinations in Europe, download this free app and consider listening to some of the segments while planning what to see and do.
Find interesting places to stop during a road trip using Roadtrippers. With this app and website, you can explore a map of the US and Canada (with some coverage for Mexico, too) that has unusual roadside attractions, museums, amusement parks, campsites, restaurants, and more. When you find a site you like, just add it to your trip, and Roadtrippers draws your route accordingly. A Roadtrippers Plus account for $29.99 per year or $6.99 per month lets you download maps offline and add unlimited stops along your route, whereas you only get five with a free account.
What should you do when you've prepaid for a hotel and your trip suddenly gets canceled? Download Roomer or go to roomertravel.com/sell. This app and website helps people sell prepaid reservations to others who can use them, usually at a lower cost. It can help you recoup money that might otherwise be lost to the travel gods. It can also save you money if you buy a reservation from someone who can't use it at a discounted rate.
Sometimes people have to go to unexpected places that they didn't choose, like for a wedding or a business trip. When I don't know anything about my destination, I turn to TripAdvisor. It's one of the most comprehensive online sources for travelers, with background information about different cities and regions, plus highlights of what to see and do. It has reviews of hotels, restaurants, and activities, written by members of the TripAdvisor community, as well as photos from their travels so you know what to expect before you arrive. TripAdvisor has relationships with various booking sites, too, which means once you finish researching hotels or restaurants, you can easily reserve them.
TripCase is a free app that helps you organize your trip by making an itinerary for you. The itinerary can include flights, accommodations, rental cars, restaurant reservations, and more. To make an itinerary, you forward travel confirmation emails to TripCase, and the app does the rest. The next time you launch the app or log into the website, a complete chronological lineup of your trip is waiting for you. You can manually add details, too. The result is similar to what you get from TripIt (see below), but the method of collecting the information is different.
TripIt is similar to TripCase in creating an organized itinerary for you, but TripIt builds your travel plans by sniffing out confirmation emails in your inbox and pulling out the most important information. If you don't want to give TripIt access to your email, you can use the app by forwarding emails to it instead or manually entering details, but that's not the point of the app. If you are disorganized and haphazard with your travel details, TripIt might do you a lot of good.
Uber operates around the world, and while the in-app options vary from place to place, the general concept is the same everywhere. There are a few reasons that ride-on-demand apps work so well for travelers. First, it eliminates the need to carry local currency. Second, you don't have to speak the same language as your driver to get to where you need to go. Third, there's no haggling. If you don't want to give Uber your business for one reason or another, do a little research on what other riding hailing apps operate in your destination.
When you travel to a destination that might require a little hand-holding, Viator is a great website and app to keep in mind. It specializes in tours and packages, from daily excursions to week-long adventures with transfers included. Note that the quantity and quality of the deals varies dramatically by destination.
VRBO, which is HomeAway.com with new branding, helps you find vacation homes, apartment rentals, and other accommodations for your travels. Unlike Airbnb, where you can still find a room to let in someone's private home, VRBO focuses on private homes, including beach houses, ski cabins, private apartments, and villas. The next time you're traveling with a large group or planning a destination reunion, keep VRBO in mind.
Do you want to search for buses and trains with the same ease you search and compared flights? Wanderu is the app you need. This aggregator and comparison app includes methods of transportation that other sites skip, namely trains and buses. You can also use it for flights, car rentals, and hotels, but it got its start with buses and trains, and that's still what sets it apart from competitors. For journeys serviced by Amtrak, Megabus, BoltBus, and other ground services, use Wanderu for quick and reliable results.
While Google Maps tells you about officially reported problems on the road and whether there's traffic, Waze knows the nitty-gritty details, like the location of police traps and potholes. This free community-driven app for traffic and road conditions is popular among taxi and car service drivers, although it's equally useful for everyday drivers. Beware that Waze demands your GPS information at all times, which takes a toll on your battery.
If you live in the US, there's a good chance you've never heard of Zomato. In some countries, however, it's more popular than Yelp, and it covers the same ground as Yelp. Zomato is a crowd-sourced review site for restaurants. One reason it's better than Yelp is that its contributors regularly snap photos of menus and upload them to the restaurant review, so you get more than just flippant remarks and blurry pictures of french fries. In some regions, Zomato partners with local restaurant delivery services, so you can get take-out at your hotel or Airbnb.
The travel apps in this list will get you far, but there are additional ways to ensure a successful trip. For instance, a VPN app can help protect your network traffic on public Wi-Fi networks away from home. You may want to pack some specialty devices too; you never know what you'll want to capture or what gear you will need in the field. Be sure to read our guides below for more travel advice.