The smartphone is the modern-day travel agent. From the palm of your hand, you can book flights, plan accommodations, and even reserve a seat at a seaside restaurant using nothing more than your phone.
Finding the most affordable flight and hotel and making sure you’ll have plenty of cash to spend during your trip can be challenging. Check out these travel-booking apps to be a master planner. Once your trip is booked, you can use the best flight-tracking apps to make sure traveling is as seamless as possible. You’ll also need some directions once you’ve arrived to make sure you get to your hotel and see everything that you want to see, so we’ve included apps for that too.
Planning your itinerary
While many of us have canceled travel plans this past year due to restrictions on travel, there’s no time like the present to plan your next vacation. Our favorite travel apps for iOS and Android can help you enjoy a stress-free vacation where all you should be thinking about is having an amazing time.
Airport travel, especially in the United States, can be a confusing and daunting experience. MyTSA, a U.S. government-sponsored app, demystifies all the rules you need to follow in order to avoid a stare down and possible delays by security agents who are trying to do their jobs. Discover which items you can bring with you through the security checkpoint and onto the aircraft, request live assistance from the Transportation Safety Administration, check how historically busy your chosen airport will be on a given day, check crowd-sourced security wait times and offer your own estimates, check for delays and current weather conditions, and find out how to access and sign up for TSA PreCheck to get you through security in a jiffy. New updates customize the Dashboard, let you view airports in a map, and get directions to the airport.
Flights, hotels, rental cars — Skyscanner has got you covered. The app searches for the most affordable and best options via its travel partners. Similar to Google Flights, you can see the cheapest dates to fly, and you can also get alerts when prices change. If you’re not sure where exactly you want to go, Skyscanner offers a category that lets you explore Top Deals from your nearest airport as well as a curated list of destinations at affordable prices. You can now monitor your bookings with status updates in Trips and move booked flights from one trip to another. This lets you move things around without losing your saved details. New versions let you discover which countries have low entry restrictions and no quarantine regulations. With flexible booking and free cancellation options, you won’t lose money if your plans change.
For many, Kayak is the go-to trip planning destination — and for good reason. Like Skyscanner, Kayak searches across various travel sites for rental cars, hotels, and flights. Kayak often has exclusive deals, and you can set price alerts and use Price Forecast to see whether you should buy now or wait. Kayak also acts as a trip planner, offering important details at a glance, like your hotel confirmation number or gate number. You can also access these details in real time and on devices such as the Apple Watch. The app now suggests hotels at launch and can even pinpoint results if you’re traveling with kids, while the car search now supports addresses. From hotels to guest houses, the app displays different categories of accommodation to help you narrow down where you’re spending the night, complete with sleeping arrangements so you can plan and book your next stay.
If you’re looking for the cheapest possible price for a plane ticket, you need to download Hopper. Like Kayak and Skyscanner, you can look at the cheapest dates to fly, but Hopper prides itself on telling you when to buy your tickets via push notifications. The company says it can save you up to 40% on your next flight by analyzing and tracking billions of flights. The user interface is simple, and Hopper says you can book a flight in 60 seconds or less. You can now set a watch for a specific hotel you want to stay in instead of setting a watch for the entire city where it’s located.
Whether it’s legal in the city you’re visiting or not, Airbnb is a household name. The app undercuts hotels by offering far cheaper prices and a more authentic experience by allowing you to stay with a local, or in their home. The app also offers a feature called Trips, which offers Experiences to choose from during your stay — these are curated events you can partake in with local guides. Eventually, the app will become an all-in-one travel app that lets you plan your day, book a car, and more. The latest update includes improvements to the browsing functionality for a new way of searching.
Did your Airbnb plans fall through? Did your flights get delayed at your layover? You never know what will happen with your booking, and Hotel Tonight is a reliable service that thrives on last-minute deals. The company partners with hotels to offer discounts on empty rooms, and you’ll be able to book one in under 10 seconds. You also get 24/7 customer service from the Hotel Tonight team in case something goes awry. The app has launched a Daily Drop feature that offers a super-economical deal for the day. You can also book multiple rooms in a single go and broadcast that info via group chat. The new Local Getaways is available at a glance from the new Hotel Tonight widget to show you the best deals nearby.
With Booking.com, you can find the best hotel deals at a moment’s notice, or in advance. The handy hotel comparison feature lets you compare features and prices, with over 135 million reviews from other users to help you choose your accommodation. Hotels, motels, B&Bs, and luxury apartments for your next trip are all bookable in seconds, with paperless confirmation, no booking or credit card fees, and 24/7 support from the Booking.com team.
Get a ride from 600-plus airports in more than 10,000 cities worldwide, Uber is the global king of ridesharing apps. The app pioneered on-demand services, and it can be particularly handy when you’re abroad. You can quickly request a car within the app after perusing an assortment of differing vehicle rates and fare quotes. Afterward, you can connect with your personal driver, track the approaching car’s location, and securely pay your fare using a credit card — no cash needed. Rather than trying to find a taxi or a taxi stand, just bring one straight to you. Uber is constantly updating its app to improve features like trip sharing, ride selection, and tipping. Updates improve localization across the app.
Google Maps is an essential travel app to have. It offers directions for travel by car, on public transit, on foot, by cab, or by bicycle. You’ll find it fairly reliable in offering up local public transportation options in many countries, and you can also download specific areas for offline use. You can also use Maps to find out when places like museums or restaurants close and check to see how busy a place is in real time along with using the app to find local restaurants, bars, and attractions. You can even search for hotels by features like free Wi-Fi, pet friendliness, or air conditioning, for example. You can now view and manage all your favorite places from the Your Places page. You can also use Google Assistant while driving, so you can focus on the road and quickly get estimated arrival times and step-by-step directions to destinations you’ve saved.
With a growing list of countries, Citymapper is one of the best tools to find and use public transportation. It connects with a few ridesharing services, offers the fastest way to arrive at your destination, and best of all, lets you check out subway and train times offline for a number of cities. You can subscribe to specific train or bus lines, and the app can even alert you when you need to get off the bus, which is handy when you’re riding for the first time in a new country. The app now features a SuperRouter that lets you view floating brands like cycles, scooters, mopeds, car sharing with full travel times — including walking and availability. A wheelchair-accessible section is now available for some locations. The newest version features new Routing Powers: Fast for the fastest route, with routes updated and re-ranked every 60 seconds, and Price, which compares fares to find the cheapest route.
Preparation and finding places
There’s always something we forget to do before a trip, whether it’s failing to pack sunscreen or change some currency. Take a look at these apps to keep you on track. Looking for a spot for lunch? Have some extra time and want to check out another museum? Scroll down for apps that offer up things to do and the best-rated places to eat during your stay.
Making a checklist of everything you need to pack can be useful, but what if one’s already made for you? PackPoint looks at the weather forecast for the dates and location of your trip. It will also ask you to select activities you may participate in during your trip, like a meeting for business, a swim at a pool, or a fancy dinner. It will then offer up a list of items you should pack based on these activities, along with general items you’d need on any trip. You can remove items you don’t think are necessary as well as share lists with others in case your friends need some help, too. You can now hide or tap and hold to reorder items on your list.
While it’s not the prettiest app, Xe Currency is one of the more robust currency converter apps available for both iOS and Android. It’s constantly being updated and offers live exchange rates for every world currency and precious metals. What’s neat is that it can store the most recent rates, so you can access them if your device is offline. Also neat is support for Siri Shortcuts. You can now monitor up to 20 currencies at the same time.
Traveling to the U.S.? Mobile Passport lets you skip the regular line to enter the country and is officially authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. All you need to do to skip long lines is download this app and add your passport information — you can do this quickly by scanning it with your phone’s camera. Mobile Passport is accepted at more than two dozen airports in the U.S., so check ahead of time to see if your airport supports the app. A premium version is available for $15 per year and offers the convenience of a digital scanner and secure storage of your passports.
TripIt organizes all your travel plans in one place — just email your confirmations to them and they’ll create a master itinerary that syncs to your calendar and can be shared with your travel buddies. You can even store your travel documents in the app. Upgrade to Pro for $49 per year and you’ll enjoy additional features like flight alerts, terminal notifications, and seat tracker, which notifies you if better seats become available, as well as updates on security wait times and searchable airport maps with walking directions. New updates let you find the latest information for airlines you’re travelling with, including food and drinks service, cleaning procedures, middle-seat policy, and more. If your reservations include PDF files, you can share the files you upload — right from the app.
Tripadvisor is a catch-all app when it comes to travel. You can quickly peruse millions of reviews, opinions, videos, and photos pertaining to just about anything related to your trip — bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and more. You can use Tripadvisor’s Near Me function to find well-reviewed places close by, but the best feature the app has to offer is the number of countries it supports — it’s just about everywhere, making it a necessary guide for every traveler. You can also ask specific travel questions in the app’s forums or add your own reviews in a similar fashion to Yelp. New updates let you access your personal travel feed, find friends and get expert advice, and save travel ideas for the future. Improvements to the app offer access to coronavirus health and safety information for hotels, restaurants and experiences, let you book reservations with free cancellation, and organize and share ideas.
Yelp has officially become the Yellow Pages of restaurants and bars, and its use extends not just to the U.S., but all around the world. Its most powerful feature is the sheer number of reviews housed in the Yelp app — it’s an excellent resource for when you’re looking to hit some of the best spots in the country you’re visiting. Yelp also offers hours of operation, a phone number for listings, and sometimes even a menu, so you can be as prepared as possible before heading out. Businesses have been adding more health and safety information all year.
Language and day-to-day apps
If you’re traveling to a country where your native tongue isn’t the official language, you may as well pack a few of the best language apps to translate on the go or brush up on your language skills. We also have a handful of miscellaneous apps you may find useful during your time abroad.
If you need to get online fast without an expensive cellular connection, WiFi Map is the place to go for worldwide information. This app shows you the nearest free hot spots, complete with passwords and user comments. The app offers full map navigation to get you to the right place and lets you filter your search and test for connection speed. A network scan checks for intruders. There are even offline maps for travelers and a VPN (with the pro version) for secure, anonymous connections. You can also add new Wi-Fi connections yourself to help other travelers in your location.
Google Translate provides translations, which are now more conversational thanks to machine learning, between more than 100 different languages, allowing you to listen to translations out loud and translate dictation and your own handwriting on the screen. You can star your favorite words or phrases for offline access, view dictionary results for a single word or phrase, or use Siri Shortcuts for bilingual conversations. Look for more regional options for speech in English (U.S., U.K., Australia, and India), Bengali (Bangladesh and India), French (France and Canada), and Spanish (Mexico and Spain). You can now continuously translate someone speaking a different language in near real time.
If you’ve booked your trip months ahead of time, try tackling the country’s language in Duolingo. It offers beginner-level courses, but it’s also a great tool for those looking to brush up on a language. You can also chat with bots in select languages, which can be particularly helpful when you’re trying to learn the phrases you’re likely to use the most abroad. You can take placement tests to move up to tougher sections. Leaderboards get you into that competitive spirit with fellow users.
Memrise has more languages than Duolingo, and the app also uses mnemonics to help you memorize words and phrases. You can view video clips of native speakers the first time you try a new word or phrase, which allows you to hear local pronunciation. Swipe to listen to more audio and compare different pronunciations. The company says the app adapts to your learning style over time, and there’s a pro version that lets you unlock even more features, such as an offline mode.
Changing time zones and battling jet lag can make your travels extremely confusing if you’re moving around a lot. Circa, which is iOS-only, helps travelers track the time in the destination they’re heading to and the location they’re currently in. You can set a clock to match the time in your home country or a place where your loved ones are. The app highlights times in both locations where both parties are likely awake. The calendar ring helps you see your current availability or continue swiping to find an available time slot. This app is also compatible with Apple Watch.
WhatsApp is now home to more than a billion users. The app is free, no matter where you are in the world, and operates over a Wi-Fi connection. Add some fun to your conversations by sending stickers, photos, or videos to your contacts. Enable extra security features, like a Face ID or Touch ID, to unlock the app. You need Wi-Fi or a data phone plan to send messages via WhatsApp, but there are no international calling charges. The only downside is that you can only communicate with people who have the app. The newest versions have updated image and video previews, so you can now see more of the media in chat, and all group participants can now change the Disappearing Messages setting by default.
If you’re using a specific app to stay in touch with your loved ones while you’re traveling, but that app isn’t available in certain countries like China, you’ll need to get creative to ensure you don’t fall off the map. We recommend skirting around this issue by using a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs keep your private information inaccessible to others who may be on the same network, making it safer to use public Wi-Fi. NordVPN is our favorite service, partially because it has thousands of servers across the planet. This service will cost you about $12 monthly, but you can test whether you’d like to use it in a free seven-day trial. Additionally, they constantly offer promotions for an even lower monthly subscription fee. The VPN is compatible with phones, tablets, or laptops, and you shouldn’t have any trouble with geo-restrictions as NordVPN has servers across the globe ready to adjust to what you need. Ensure you’ll always have a safe connection, no matter where you are in the world, with a VPN.