By: Brooke Schoenman
Smartphone apps make the world go ‘round, and some just help us get around the world. Just think of all the everyday travel mishaps – language barriers, bad meals, flight delays – you can avoid (or stealthily handle) if only your phone is armed with these handy little apps. Perhaps Apple’s trademark line sums it up best. If you want to simplify travel while on the road (translate menus into English, find Wi-Fi hotspots or toilets, navigate subway systems or national parks, scout out the best pizza in a 5-mile radius), well, “there’s an app for that.” We’ve downloaded and tested these wave-of-the-future travel apps to bring you a condensed list of the 10 we think are the most genius thus far.
AllSubway HD takes the confusion out of confusing undergrounds (ahem, London). The travel app features subway maps for about 128 different cities around the world, from Amsterdam to Sydney to Vancouver. Each map is available offline, which is perfect for navigating from the depths of the metro.
Why we like it: It’s now a cinch to prepare a plan of attack for getting to and fro in a new city. Make use of down time at the airport and use these maps to figure out the best route to your destination.
Available on: HD version on iPad, non-HD version on iPhone and iPod touch (itunes.apple.com)
Flaws: No frills here. These are simply maps with no interactive features.
FlightBoard may be a simple app, but it’s an invaluable one (especially, with the loads of delays and cancellations consuming the airports these days). With FlightBoard, you can view any airport’s Arrivals and Departures screen on your phone and receive push alerts with real-time flight updates. You can then easily tweet, text, email, or Facebook the results.
Why we like it: Airport pick-up duty is a drag. If a loyal friend has signed on for the job, he/she deserves a heads up if your flight is late. Use FlightBoard to look up your flight and email or text the delay and new estimated arrival time directly from the app to your friend.
Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android
Cost: $3.99 for FlightBoard, $4.99 for FlightTrack (itunes.apple.com)
Flaws: The FlightBoard app alone is pretty basic, and to get the added functionality of FlightTrack (FlightBoard’s integrated counterpart, which allows you to see the plane’s location on a map), you’ll have to pay an extra $4.99. Alas, if you’re a frequent flyer, it’s still worth it.
The social website, Foodspotting, allows users to recommend specific dishes at restaurants and “nom” (nominate) the dishes they absolutely love (you only get five “noms” at first so you’re forced to be picky). The app lets you do all this, plus see which restaurants are nearby and which dish to order when you get there, and share good food via photo snapshots.
Why we like it: Foodspotting finds the nearest joint with the food you’re currently craving. Pizza in Chinatown? Oh yes.
Available on: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android (www.foodspotting.com/apps)
Flaws: Since the app doesn’t allow for negative reviews, if the menu item you’re hankering for hasn’t been liked yet, it could just be because it isn’t tasty. Order at your own risk.
Free Wi-Fi Finder
Avoid “connection withdrawal” with the Free Wi-Fi Finder app. The database of hotspots is updated weekly (users can add new locations themselves, too). And, most importantly, you don’t need an internet connection to conduct a Wi-Fi search.
Why we like it: This app makes it easy to bypass obnoxious $10-per-hour internet fees at hotels by scouting out local hotspots, many of which are free.
Flaws: Every hotspot is verified by JiWire, so it may take up to 6 weeks before a new location is added, and hotspots may not be listed in every corner of the world. Bottom line: If you’re in the boonies, it still may be difficult to find Wi-Fi. But, a resource of more than 545,000 hotspots in 144 countries is still pretty darn awesome.
Google Translate might be one of the most useful apps in your travel repertoire if you’re not a linguist. It can translate words and phrases into 57 different languages using voice recognition software. Speak (or type) the phrase you’d like to decipher and the translation will appear on your phone’s screen, and, depending on the language, on audio playback (not all languages offer audio playback just yet).
Why we like it: This app can save you in so many sticky situations. For instance, you brushed up on your French before your Paris trip but your gruff cabbie is pretending he doesn’t understand your pronunciation of Les Champs-Elysées? Typical. Spell or sound it out with the app so there’s zero confusion.
Available on: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android (itunes.apple.com)
Flaws: The voice recognition software can be a bit wonky at times, and audio playback is available for most but not all languages. Some exceptions include Thai, Welsh, Catalan, Armenian, Albanian, Basque, Afrikaans, and Slovenian.
Gowalla resembles the popular social location bookmarking site, FourSquare, but this free app was made specifically with the traveler in mind. With Gowalla, you not only get to check in and leave reviews of places you have been, but you also get to build up your virtual passport, follow pre-planned trips, share photos with friends, and earn rewards.
Why we like it: Imagine the possibility of traveling without a heavy guide book (some trips are created by trusted experts, too, courtesy of CNN and Nat Geo).
Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm (gowalla.com/apps)
Flaws: Gowalla has not yet reached Foursquare popularity. Still, the trips and tours available provide a much more focused product for the traveler.
National Park Maps HD
Gain access to high-resolution trail maps in 15 different national parks across the country, including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Using this app will help you pre-plan your trip, mark out points of interest within the parks, and, best of all, pinpoint your exact location on the map so you can avoid unnecessary detours.
Why we like it: A sense of direction is no longer required to navigate the wilderness. The map downloads for each location provide even deeper zoom levels so you can easily pilot trails, plus the maps work offline for when you’re out in no man’s land. The “distance mapping” feature allows you to estimate a hike’s length so you know when to keep going and when to turn back.
Available on: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad (www.natgeomaps.com/mobile_parkmaps.html)
Flaws: Our only gripe is that we want more maps to more parks.
For anyone that has ever struggled trying to figure out who owes what when sharing the cost of a trip or even just a dinner tab, the Share-a-bill app for iPhone and iPad is a godsend. How it works? Simply input individuals that are participating in your trip or meal (use coefficients to manage specific costs, e.g. Sally had a salad so she only owes $10) and see how the numbers fall. The transfer option lets you settle a debt when someone chooses to pay it down, like a good friend should.
Why we like it: At just $3.99 for the full version, it seems a small price to pay to keep tabs on who is covering the costs for everything on your trip (and who is mooching).
Cost: $3.99 full version, Free lite version
Flaws: Share-a-bill will not help you collect on any debt, but you can alternately send a breakdown report via email at the end of the trip to help spur the action.
It may seem right out of a Seinfeld episode (in fact, George Costanza invented the fictional version “iToilet” on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm) but locating the nearest – and cleanest – loo in a foreign city is no small feat (ladies, you know what we’re talking about). SitOrSquat simplifies the search. Its database contains the location of over 100,000 toilets around the world and growing. You can search by city, zip code, or, best of all, geolocation, which is ideal for when you've really gotta go. Toilets also come with ratings (a sit or squat stamp depending on cleanliness), sometimes a photo, and a note if the location of the toilet is currently closed.
Why we like it: This app is a savior for those with small bladders. Enough said.
Available on: iPhone, iPod touch, Blackberry (www.sitorsquat.com/sitorsquat/mobile)
Flaws: Listings can be sparse in less popular cities. However, the sponsorship by Charmin® assures us that the app will continue to increase restroom sites with funding.
The Word Lens app offers an immediate translation service using the camera on your iPhone or iPad. Hover over the text in question and the translation appears almost instantaneously on your screen. It’s like x-ray vision, but instead of seeing through something, you see another version in place of the original.
Why we like it: You mean besides the sheer brilliance of it? Well, say you’re a foodie in Spain dining at the best, hole-in-the-wall eateries you can find, many with menus only in Spanish. Take a photo of the menu, let Word Lens go to work, and you won’t have to guess which ingredients make your dish so delicious.
Available on: iPhone, iPad (itunes.apple.com)
Cost: $9.99 per language pack
Flaws: At present, only an English-to-Spanish pack and a Spanish-to-English pack are available. If you fail to keep the camera very still, the translation has a tendency to roll to other translation possibilities (therefore, not 100 percent accurate).