Appy Trails

3 minute read
Harry McCracken

Believe it or not, there was a time when I wouldn’t set out on a trip without lugging along one or more of the ungainly objects known as travel books. Today, like so many other quaint antiquities, they’ve been replaced by my smartphone. Travel-related apps can do so many things that paper can’t. They use GPS to pinpoint your location; they play audio and video; they pluck timely information from the Internet rather than become increasingly out of date.

These essential apps are available for both iPhone and Android handsets and offer at least basic functionality for free, though you should be conscious of high roaming charges for data downloads if you’re going abroad.


Both Afar and let you get recommendations for things to see and do during your trips. The picks come from experts and other travelers who use the apps, and they often feel more personal than the homogenized listings in conventional guides. You can share your advice too.


A phone-friendly website rather than an app, Peek helps ensure you’ll have the moments that make travel memorable. Available for 12 U.S. areas, it lets you reserve spots for activities ranging from a helicopter tour of Manhattan to an exploration of a coral reef beloved by Maui’s turtle population.


Like any self-respecting weather app, WeatherBug will give you a seven-day forecast for your destination. But it’s bursting at the seams with weather-related factoids that go way, way beyond the basics, such as pollen counts, live webcam views and specialized advice for families and fitness junkies.


Hundreds of self-guided audio walking tours, like a two-hour exploration of Picasso’s Barcelona, are yours to explore in PocketGuide. Tours are free via a data connection, or you can pay a few dollars apiece for versions that you can download in advance so you don’t max out your data plan while walking.


Don’t speak the local tongue? Google Translate probably does. Type or speak English phrases to get their equivalents in dozens of languages–43 of which the app can speak aloud. The Android version even lets you translate by aiming your phone’s camera at a sign or menu.


If you use travel apps too much without planning ahead, you could be in for a wallet-busting shock when your phone bill arrives. Or you could use JiWire’s Wi-Fi Finder to locate a nearby wireless hot spot. It knows more than half a million spots, including many free ones, in 144 countries.

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