5 Apps to Make Traveling So Much Easier This Year

How did we ever manage to travel without our travel apps and our smartphones?

Simple — we lugged around maps, guidebooks, language dictionaries and calculators. We asked for help, or more likely, stumbled around until we found where we needed to go by dumb luck or until kind strangers pointed us in the right direction.

Today, our mobile devices have become essential personal concierges, assisting us with everything from directions out of the airport to recommendations on places for dinner. Provided adequate Internet service is available, they can also be useful tools in other countries, minimizing possible confusion about different cultures and languages.

Unfortunately, the popularity and usefulness of apps, especially the ones intended for travelers, has led to thousands of free and paid options in the various app stores. The glut of these can cause people to be overwhelmed with the possibilities and confused which ones are better choices than others. Or worse, cause them to worry about inaccuracies, poor quality or tools that will send them in wrong directions.

To avoid confusion, or worse, having to go without any apps at all, try these recommendations for your next trip.

1. Google Translate

Most of Google’s services are handy for travelers, but the Translate tool can be especially easy to plug in a word or phrase you’re unsure of and come up with the correct English translation. It’s available as an app for Android and iPhone, and can offer translation service in up to 40 languages. Even better than a direct text-to-text translation of a foreign phrase is the ability to snap a photo of unfamiliar words with your smartphone – road signs, airport signs, storefronts, books — and the program will ‘read’ it and tell you what it means in your native language. This eliminates a lot of guesswork at the airport or train station or searching your phone for what individual words may mean.

2. XE Currency

The ‘money’ part of foreign travel can be tricky. Though it’s smart to exchange some cash before your departure and generally be aware of current conversion rates, things can begin to get confusing when your currency starts running low and you need more of it. Banks or private money exchanges can be found in larger cities and tourist-friendly communities, but sometimes they come with hefty service charges or worse, unfair or inaccurate conversions. This app can provide current information about the value of that country’s currency in relation to yours, including a quick conversion tool. This can also be handy in other capacities, like when you’re shopping and wondering if a price you see is truly a good deal. The service is available for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone.

3. Tripit

One of the challenges that regular travelers face is trying to keep up with a changing itinerary and circumstances that are out of their control. It’s almost a given that there will be some flight delays these days, but there’re other unexpected twists as well, including problems with transportation or hotel reservations. With this app, which calls itself “The Master Itinerary,” the program keeps track of every step of your journey and let you know if there are any changes or updates. It also provides a central tool to provide you easy-to-access details of every step of the process, including flight times, flight numbers, departure gates, and contact info for hotels, rental services, and airlines.

Let’s say you’re flying from Seattle to San Antonio and then on to Jacksonville. This app will give you updates if your gate or flights change. It also offers a handy off-line version that you can browse even in the air. The basic version is free for most mobile plans, and an annual fee of $49 or $4 a month provides you with extra premium services such as keeping track of reward points, refund info or a better seat detector.

4. Concur

If you’re traveling for business, your accounting department will love this app. If you’re traveling for fun, you might also like this app, especially if you like to try and keep track of your spending but not get too carried away worrying about “money stuff” every second. This service is designed to help you gather and keep track of all financial transactions during a trip. You can input all receipts, credit card charges, and other expenses. It generates easy-to-understand reports and invoices that will be far better than you coming back from that conference in New Orleans with a stack of crumpled vague receipts. If a whole company uses it, Concur can help financial people come up with useful guidelines and policies in what services or expenses can be easily reimbursed. Concur also lets you book all your travel together, including airport parking, saving you time and keeps all your confirmations in one place for tracking. Though reconciling expense accounts may not sound like a lot of fun to some, it’s better than the alternative of not keeping good records.

5. Vurb

The concept here is one app that helps keep track of other apps. By syncing up your travel- and entertainment-related apps into one central repository, you can take care of everything from making dinner reservations to buying movie tickets without having to access multiple apps. Vurb connects with apps like Fandango for movies, Yelp for restaurant reviews, Google Maps for directions and ride sharing services. You can also use it to make reservations for food or entertainment, and create customized combos of favorite apps for certain cities that you may frequent – “Downtown New York things to do” or “Weeknights in Boston.”  It’s also geared to a social experience – you can share your list with friends or see their feedback on some of the items on your upcoming itinerary. You can also see other recommendations from other users as well for activities and apps in different communities, which can give you some ideas if you happen to visit.

Travelers have all sorts of options for apps these days, but the most useful ones are able to get us where we need to go or provide extra assistance in the ‘getting there’ part.