How to Use a Smartphone for Travel

A smartphone is a great companion for every trip. There are a number of apps that can make your travel easier, whether it’s about finding a place to stay, monuments and historical sights to see, or learning more about the city/place you’re visiting… there’s (usually) an app for that.

Here are some apps I’ve found useful in my travels. Please note that I’m linking to iOS apps and that not all of them are available on other platforms. The point is to get the idea which apps to use for what purpose, to better plan and ultimately enjoy your trip. Let’s start with the flight search…

Flight search

Pretty much every major airline now has its iPhone app. Moreover, some companies support Android and BlackBerry whereas some others are experimenting with newer platforms like Windows Phone 7. If you live near a major airport, you should grab the app of the airline which uses that airport as one of its hubs. Additionally, there are other apps that could be of help such as Kayak and Orbitz. If you’re not using an iOS-based device, you can search for “flights” in the app store you’re using to see what’s available.

Accommodation and Expedia Hotels are two apps every frequent traveler with an iPhone should have installed on his or her smartphone. For those feeling adventurous, Hotel Tonight provides last-minute hotel booking in several cities across the U.S. As they recently got a fresh influx of capital, we’re hoping they’ll be expanding to Europe and Asia in the near future.

Budget conscious travelers and the backpacking community will appreciate the Hostel Hero app which queries the same-named website, searching for a low-cost place to stay in a number of cities. Again, I would advise non-iPhone owners to search for “hotel” and “hostel” in their respective app stores.

Know the place

It’s a good practice to learn something about your destination prior to arrival. Luckily there’s an abundance of choice when it comes to “guide apps.” Lonely Planet has quite a few titles in Apple’s App Store, and there are other guides produced by smaller companies, some of which even come with ever-useful offline maps. Moreover, TripAdvisor’s mobile app is available for multiple platforms, showing you what people think about pretty much any point of interest in cities all around the world.

Getting around the city

Presuming you’ll be visiting a city, you may want to know something about its public transportation. Pretty much every major city in Europe has a solid public transportation network that will help you go from one side of the city to the other in half an hour or so. However, some systems are complex and yes – you could use an app for that. MetrO is one of the best apps I’ve seen for getting around subway networks of the world. However, there are also other, city-specific apps you could try.

On the other hand, offline map (usually powered by OpenStreetMap) and full-blown navigation apps could help you explore the city by foot. Of course, you could also fire-up Google Maps, but you’ll have to enable data roaming — or connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot — to use it.

What about the taste?

I strongly believe that you don’t get to know other culture until you try their food. Guess that’s why I’m constantly struggling with a diet, but hey – something’s gotta give. 😉

Anyway, if you’re looking for a fancy restaurant, try a local Michelin Guide or Zagat To Go. For those not looking to spend a small fortune on a dinner, there’s Yelp and (again) TripAdvisor. These two apps bring the knowledge of the crowd at your disposal, letting you know what other people like and dislike about local bars and restaurants.

Get things done on your trip

For those of you who want/need to get some things done on your trip, you may want to prepare in advance. My favorite note-taking service Evernote allows you to create location-specific notes and access them at a later date. Simply add location to your note and then when you need that information, look for nearby notes.

Similarly, task management apps/services like Remember The Milk can also do the trick, allowing you to set location for tasks and access them [tasks] with the nearby feature.

Save some cash along the way

I’m a big fan of Groupon. The great thing about it is that it’s not just for local residents – you can also use it when travelling. All you have to do is plan ahead, subscribe to receive offers for the city you’re visiting and voila – soon enough you’ll have few offers for local restaurants in your mailbox.

Additionally, you can also save on phone calls, especially if you’re travelling to another country. You should try to either get a local prepaid SIM card, VoIP software – or both. With apps like Skype, Truphone, Fring and Nimbuzz you can save a ton on long-distance calls. All you have to do is postpone all the calls and conduct them when in a Wi-Fi hotspot. It shouldn’t be too hard. However, if you need to be accessible all the time, grab a local SIM and give that number to people who need to reach you.

And more…

Presuming you do get a local SIM number with mobile data or enable data roaming, you can use some augmented reality browser such as Layar and junaio. It’s much easier to get around the city this way, especially if you’re in a smaller city where there’s so much to do in a walking area.

There you have it. Hopefully you’ll find some of the apps mentioned above useful and rely on them on your next travel. Bon voyage! 😉

  • I’ve been looking for something like this, thanks Dusan.

  • Guest

    So no mention of maps? Is that cause Nokia is the only one who has offline maps and maps navigation?  Nokia Maps is a suaver(!) at travel time.

  • Smartphones are very useful while making a trip. Via Smartphone one can know about many things of that place. Even it helps to give proper guidelines as well. I got help from my Smartphone while I went to Europe last time and it helped me to find location voiture Marrakech which is a good car rental company.

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