By Lori Zaino
Apps are digital tools that can make booking and coordinating travel, navigating a new city, translation, currency conversion, combating jet lag and beyond a whole lot easier with a simple swipe or tap. Apps can help travellers speak new languages, relax in airport lounges and find a public loo in an unfamiliar city. Though there are endless options for helpful travel apps, we narrowed it down to our top 20 favourites, in no particular order. With these, loaded on your mobile, you can fill your 2020 with both travel activities with much more ease. Start downloading!
1. Hopper for flight booking
If you’re wondering whether to snap up that airfare now or wait to see if the price goes down, the flight-booking app Hopper can help. You can add your proposed trip to the app and receive notifications on when the best time to buy your ticket is (and book your flight directly through the app). Flexible travellers can really benefit from using Hopper, as the app uses clear colour codes on its calendar to show pricing differences. Green denotes the cheapest days to travel, with light orange and coral marking pricier days and red the most expensive.
Using the Hotels.com app is easy and straightforward, allowing you to search and book stays in thousands of destinations around the world. And there’s another perk to using the app. Hotels.com has one of the most lucrative rewards programmes of any OTA: it offers a free hotel night for every 10 nights booked. However, if you want to redeem your free night on the website, you’ll be charged a £4 fee. While this isn’t insanely high, Hotels.com waives the fee when you book your reward night via the app.
The Google Maps app can help you at home, when travelling (more than 220 countries and territories are mapped) or pretty much anywhere. Using the driving, walking, bicycle and public transportation directions, you’ll never get lost in a new city (or even in your own). The app has additional benefits like offline maps (make sure to download your chosen map sections before travel for offline connection), street and live view options and even indoor maps of certain airports and malls.
Book train and coach tickets in 45 different countries (including the U.K., France and Spain) with Trainline. The app compares options from more than 220 rail and coach companies so you can find the best train or coach ride at the best price for your journey. Breeze past station queues using tickets on your phone (selected routes) and monitor live train times for U.K. rail, Trenitalia, Renfe and SNCF routes. You can also get price alerts and select seats on certain routes.
You’ll be very multilingual with the help of the Google Translate app, which can translate text in 103 languages (59 of them offline) and camera translation in 90 languages. And you can translate bilingual conversations on the fly (extra helpful you’re asking for directions) in 43 different languages.
You can keep all travel confirmations, flight bookings and hotel reservations in one spot using TripIt. The app allows for easy forwarding of all your travel information and organises it in chronological order so you know exactly what comes next during your holiday. All your reservations (beyond just flight and hotel, the app organises your car rental, ferry and train journeys, ground transport and home rental confirmations, too) are easily accessible both on and offline when you need them, and you can share trips with fellow travellers or friends and family.
Download TripIt for free on App Store and Google Play. TripIt Pro costs £38 per year and has additional features like live flight monitoring, frequent flyer miles and points tracking and even local traffic conditions en route to the airport.
Avoid scams when changing money by using XE Currency, which will show you exchange rates for over 150 different currencies. You can monitor 10 currencies at once, set alerts for notifications when your currency fluctuates and see historical rate data. You can also access the last updated rates offline in case you’re in a new country and don’t have data access. The app is best used just before changing money. This way, you can see if the rate you’re being offered is worth it. You can also send and receive money in different currencies via the app too.
Lime allows you to easily rent electric scooters to zip around a new city or town. No need to find a parking dock either — just park them on any corner when you’ve arrived at your destination. Start by opening the app’s map to see the nearest available scooters near you, then scan the code to grab yours and go. Just be careful, go slowly and scoot responsibly. Lime is best used along bike paths or beach boardwalks where you won’t need to navigate too much car or foot traffic.
Search and book accommodation on Airbnb, from villas in Ibiza to treehouses in Thailand to apartments in Chicago. Once you’ve booked a reservation, you can easily communicate with hosts and monitor your trip details, including directions to your rental. You can also use the app to book experiences like wine tasting, hiking trips, bike tours and yoga classes. Hosts can use the app to manage their reservations and update their listings.
Virtuo makes car rental seamlessly simple in countries like the U.K., Spain, France and Belgium. Just enter your location and dates in the app, select your car and unlock your ride. No need for keys either, as you unlock your car with a tap and start the engine with a button. You can book a rental car for up to 28 days, and your rental includes personal liability, theft, fire, damage and personal cover insurance. If anything does go wrong, customer service is available 24 hours a day.
Lose those scraggly handwritten packing lists and organise your case with Packpoint instead. The app creates a customised packing list based on your destination, length of travel and type of trip — and even the weather forecast. Packpoint allows you to add filters like laundry access, international travel and special trip plans, like if you’re travelling for business, with children in tow or that all-important plan to hit the beach. Once you have your customised list, you can amend it based on personal preferences.
Monitor flights using FlightAware, an app that allows users to track commercial flights in real time and see them on a map anywhere in the world. Search using aircraft registration, route, airline, flight number, city pair or airport code. The app shows you if your flight is delayed and exactly where your plane is. Notifications provide information on cancellations, delays, gate changes and diversions.
Those who struggle when flying across time zones should try Timeshifter, an app that provides personalised advice on combatting jet lag. Users fill in their profile and preferences, as well as specific trip information, and the app creates personalised jet lag advice. The hourly plan, unique to your trip, provides a timeline for when to have light exposure, drink caffeine, sleep, avoid bright light and more, fixing circadian disruption by rapidly re-synchronising your internal clock to the new time zone.
Finding a public toilet can be difficult, especially around Europe. The Flush app gives users access to over 200,000 bathrooms and helps you find the loo nearest you — even when you’re offline. The app also specifies if you need to pay a fee or use a key to access the toilet, and if it’s accessible for disabled users. You can also rate or report toilets to help others, as well as read reviews yourself.
Using a ride-hailing app like Uber when travelling can be useful for a number of reasons, some of which include avoiding scams, bargaining, currency issues or language barriers with taxi drivers. It can also be safer, as you’ll have a record of your trip and can let others track your ride, too. Simply order a ride from your location and make sure to confirm you’re getting into the correct car by matching the licence plate and confirming the driver’s name, and you’ll be on your way. Uber Pool is an option for budget travellers, allowing you to save costs by splitting a ride with other riders heading to destinations near yours.
Never find yourself stuck in a horrid middle seat or next to a stinky loo on a plane ever again using the SeatGuru app. The app features 1,100 seat maps from approximately 140 airlines, allowing you to check out your airplane when booking or before flying so you can choose your seat wisely. Just enter your airline, flight number and flying date and you’ll be able to see every seat available, read reviews of each seat, view photos and confirm whether your seat has inflight entertainment screens, limited recline or anything else that could affect your comfort during a flight.
Related reading: How to pick your perfect aeroplane seat
17. Priority Pass for lounge access
The Priority Pass lounge app allows users to find over 1,300 Priority Pass lounges and restaurants in airports worldwide. Simply put in your airport code to view which Priority Pass lounges are available in your airport, what each of them offers (like food, nap rooms or showers) and how to find them. Photos and descriptions can help you choose which one to visit if there’s more than one in your terminal. Remember that although you may be able to pay to access some lounges separately, the Priority Pass app works best for those who already have a Priority Pass membership (these range from £69 to £339 per year). If you’re interested in getting one, this article will give you all the information you need. And remember, you can also gain free membership with the Platinum Card from American Express U.K.
Those who don’t have Priority Pass should consider using LoungeBuddy, an app that allows users to book and find over 2,000 lounges in more than 800 airports worldwide. Search by airport and read about each available lounge, like if you can find food and refreshments or showers. And you can see photos and reviews, as well as logistical details like how to find the lounge and opening hours. The app explains how you can book, visit and pay for your lounge visit, with options to book in advance or in the moment. Make sure to check if you can visit any lounges for free thanks to your memberships, elite status or credit cards, which you can add to your LoungeBuddy account.
Download LoungeBuddy for free on App Store.
Splitting the costs when travelling with a group or large family can cause headache. Enter Tricount, which notes shared expenses among your group throughout the trip. Each time someone pays for something, this person should note the cost, who paid and who the expense is shared between in the app. Tricount keeps track of it all, calculating who owes who what so you can settle up at the end of your trip. The app is available in various currencies, meaning you can do your calculations in whatever local currency you’re using during your holiday.
Apps (and especially these 20 in particular) can make travel a lot easier. So whether it’s lounge access, flight booking tools, language translation, packing help or otherwise, consider leaving that laptop at home and using one of these handy apps to assist you instead.