When I think back on my first trip abroad, I am amazed I even survived. There were no cell phones (we used calling cards), no e-mail (snail mail had to suffice), no fancy translators (I had to use phrasebooks and fancy hand signals to communicate), and I had to read paper maps! These are some of the best trip planning apps to download before you hit the road.
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Best Apps for Planning Trips
Travel today is delightful compared to twenty years ago, but we have become more dependent on technology as we travel the globe. I hate to think what would happen if we ever lost our phones on vacation, but I know the apps we have found help us on every step of our journey, and we would truly be lost without them!
1. Trip Advisor
I use this app religiously before, during, and after our travels. TripAdvisor allows you to research restaurants, attractions, and hotels all over the world based on the reviews of fellow travelers. It has links to booking tools for hotels, vacation rentals and restaurant reservations, as well as an offline service called City Guides. City Guides can be viewed on the app without a Wi-Fi connection, and provides information for over 80 of the world’s major cities, including walking tours, famous landmarks, and recommended restaurants.
Just be sure to download before you leave home (or connect to wi fi when you arrive) to avoid roaming charges. One of my favorite features on TripAdvisor is “Near Me Now” which identifies anything nearby based on your GPS location. This is perfect when your kids swear they are dying of hunger and has saved us from many meltdowns.
2. Whats App
We found this free texting and cellular phone app when we traveled overseas a few years ago. My son even used it for his trip to the Netherlands this past summer. Whats App is available over Wi-Fi and allows you to make calls and send texts to other Whats App users for free. Don’t waste your money signing up for your phone company’s calling plan. Plenty of hotels and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi these days, so find somewhere to connect your phone and catch up with loved ones.
It’s amazing we actually navigated the roads of foreign countries before there was GPS. There were so many times we fumbled with paper maps, trying to navigate narrow backroads and decipher unfamiliar road signs. I don’t know how we survived.
Maps.Me works offline as a map and navigation guide. You can also set up a map ahead of time with key sites you want to visit. This app gives us peace of mind when we travel and we rarely worry about being lost.
4. Weather Channel
We use this weather app every day at home, so it makes sense that we would use it every day on the road. We love that it provides us with hourly forecasts, a radar map, and 10 day forecast. It also allows you to add a list of your favorite locations so you can check on the weather at home or a future destination.
5. Google Translate
I am fortunate enough to speak Spanish and know passable Italian and French. Our kids are studying Mandarin at school, but have learned some French, Italian, and Spanish along the way. My husband knows English only, so the app is really for him. LOL.
This language app is pretty amazing. It can translate over 100 languages, translate non-Latin characters such as Chinese and Japanese to Latin characters, and features voice input and output. The app has the ability to translate 59 languages without an internet connection. The translation may not always be spot on, but it’s close enough and works better than other translators I’ve used in the past.
6. Hotel Tonight
This is another one of those apps I use more than I thought I would. Don’t let the name fool you, this hotel finding app shows availability for the night of, next week, and even next month. There’s even a Daily Drop where they share a mystery deal of the day. I’ve booked some really great hotels with this app, including one of my favorite Chicago hotels, LondonHouse. It has one the best rooftop bars in Chicago!
Units Plus seems to convert almost everything you could imagine. Our favorite uses are for currency, temperature, fuel, volume and weight (helpful at the shopping market), and mileage. This app does it all with relative ease. The kids even use it to help with homework when we aren’t traveling.
I love this handy app, and as awareness of food allergies worldwide continues to grow, there’s really a need for this. This is US based, but you can search for allergy-friendly restaurants, find allergy-friendly scores for each one, and even share reviews with other food allergic diners. It definitely helps us narrow down the options when we are eating out.
9. Sleep Pillow White Noise App
We always have a good laugh the first night at any hotel when our kids complain that cities are noisy. I don’t know what they expect, but the Sleep Pillow white noise app definitely helps drown out those sirens and loud noises at night.
You can choose from many different sounds such as rain or waves, put on the sleep timer, and help your kids fall asleep. This is all available in the free version or you can upgrade to Pro which has 70 sounds, a longer timer, and endless sound combinations. I say if it helps them sleep, it’s all good.
This photo editing app is constantly in use while I travel. If a photo doesn’t come out like I want, I put it in the app, and with a few clicks it’s a completely different picture.
11. Lounge Buddy
Is there a long layover in your future? Make the most of it with Lounge Buddy which allows you to find and secure a spot at airport lounges around the world. Some lounges offer free access based on your credit cards or airline status, and Lounge Buddy shows you where to go. The app also shows amenities, hours, and ratings shared by other travelers.
12. Allianz TravelSmart
If you fell ill in a foreign country, would you know how to tell someone? Would you know how to find Benadryl or Tylenol? TravelSmart from Allianz provides emergency contact and hospital numbers in foreign countries, and can find doctors, pharmacies and more based on your location. There’s also a medical translator, and common first aid terms with translation. We always have to be prepared for a possible allergic reaction with our child and this app may have become my new favorite.
I may have a love/hate relationship with my phone, but when I travel, I realize there are apps I can’t live without. These apps help us navigate our trips with relative ease and allow us to make the most of our vacation. How did we ever live without them?