Whether we're on the move or slouched on the couch, our phones have become indispensable companions. And if you're taking a trip, then your trusty pocket computer can become more valuable than ever, as it provides a steady supply of helpful information in unfamiliar surroundings.
As long as you've got the right apps installed, that is. You probably already use a few common apps for getting from A to B and researching the best local restaurants. We've picked out a few more that are particularly suited to traveling. Install them now—while you still have Wi-Fi.
Dozens of apps out there will book hotels for you—but not all of them are created equal. Hotel Tonight stands out for two reasons: the quality of its hotel reviews and the bargains it provides.
The app lets you make bookings for tonight, tomorrow, or the next week. You can sift through the options based on a range of criteria. For example, the hotels get sorted based on the level of luxury, which is a helpful metric for vacation planners to keep in mind. Once the app assigns you to a nearby hotel with available rooms, it can even handle payment and booking.
Sure, you can get public transit information from a general maps app like Apple or Google Maps. But sometimes, a dedicated tool has an edge. That's certainly the case with Citymapper, which we've used to successfully navigate many a city all over the world.
The app scores highly for its ease of use, the vast number of transport types and cities it covers, and the way it helps you make your connections and find your transport while you're mid-journey. Google and Apple: Take note of just how good Citymapper is.
Google's latest foray into travel apps is a digital replacement for the ream of printed-out documents you normally have to jam into your suitcase. Google Trips keeps reservations, saved places, possible itineraries, and other information—just about everything you need—in one place. It adds Google Maps features too, like reviews of local restaurants and bars near where you're staying.
The app can guess future destinations based on the bookings in your Gmail account, or you can enter them manually. If you're in an area with limited mobile service, you can save all the information you've collated to your phone, so you'll be able to access it offline.
When you leave your hotel room in an unfamiliar city, you'll want to know exactly what the weather's going to do for the next hour—or the next day. And few apps do immediate forecasting better than Dark Sky does: It applies special algorithms to work out how the weather will change in the next few hours.
Open the app, and you'll see detailed readings for rain, temperature, and humidity. In many locations, you can also access radar maps that show you exactly how weather fronts are traveling over your area. Dark Sky also comes with built-in widgets that let you check the forecast with a single glance.
Packing an e-reader saves the suitcase space that you used to fill with a pile of paperbacks. But what if you're worried about having to carry (and charge) too many electronics, or simply don't own a Kindle? In that case, download the free Kindle app onto your phone and continue enjoying your vacation reading.
You can purchase and digitally leaf through e-books just as you can on a dedicated e-reader. And if you do own an Amazon Kindle that you aren't bringing on the trip, then the app will sync your reading progress across multiple devices. Plus, before you move through a spotty service zone, you can cache your e-books in order to read them offline later.
There's a reason fewer people are hiring travel agents: Apps like TripIt will do the same work for free. TripIt is like a personal travel assistant in your pocket, and it's incredibly easy to use. Just forward all your booking emails and details to the app, and it will organize and make sense of them for you.
First, it pulls your itinerary details from these messages and stores the information. Then TripIt lets you know where you need to be and when, saving you from having to hunt through your emails or your suitcase for the correct documents. For a fee, you can get a few extra features, like real-time alerts on flights and alternative flight trackers.
The internet is awash with location reviews from tourists and locals alike—but sometimes you need an authoritative voice to cut through the noise. Try Lonely Planet's digital guides: They're comprehensive, insightful, and much easier to carry than the paperback versions.
Guides provides details on must-see locations, helps you learn communicate in the local language, suggests places to eat and drink, and more. You can view city details for free, but the integrated translation options cost extra. Like several of the apps on this list, Guides lets you cache maps offline so you can access them without a data connection.
Given Google's ubiquity, it's no wonder that this list includes one more app from its stable. Google Translate is still one of your best options for understanding the locals and making yourself understood abroad. This program has been around since 2006, and that shows in its overall polish.
Today, the app version supports 103 languages. It can cache languages for offline use, translate signs you snap with your phone's camera, speak correct pronunciations aloud, and more. Which makes it almost as good as actually learning the lingo.
You've arrived in a strange city and unpacked your bags. What do you do next? One option: Fire up Headout. The app will help you find events in your current location, including gigs, tourist tours, exhibitions, and adventure experiences.
Of course, the variety of available events will depend on where exactly you are—some cities are busier than others. Still, Headout is a great way to find out what's happening in a new place. Plus, it can save you money if you book your snorkeling or theater tickets through the app itself.
VPNs are known for letting you spoof your location online, but they also encrypt the data coming to and leaving your device. And that's important when you're connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, like the ones available in some airports, hotels, and cafés. Use those networks without a VPN, and you might be putting your data at risk.
In general, the best VPNs charge for their use. But if you want a free, albeit less advanced, VPN app, give Opera Free VPN a try. It's reliable and relatively easy to use.