11 mobile apps to enhance your travel experience

These apps for iPhone, Android and other devices make your trips simpler, safer and more fun.

Mobile technology has revolutionized the travel industry: Countless travel apps have popped up, promising to enhance your experience in foreign lands.

Whether you're looking for inspiration on things to do or simply need to find the nearest Wi-Fi location, there are specific apps to help you out. And mobile apps can come in handy when it's time to navigate, regardless of whether you're climbing a distant mountain or wandering the streets of a modern city.

In fact, if you plan ahead and download apps with offline guides, maps and other databases beforehand, you won't even need an Internet connection. You'll avoid sky-high international data bills, and you'll also save time, which you can instead spend immersing yourself in your destination. As summer heats up, consider the following apps to make your vacation memorable and hassle-free.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

Airport Transit Guide

Salk International LLC

Price: $4.99

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: None

Alternatives: iFly Pro Airport Guide ($6.99) offers Android users details about more than 700 airports, including ground transportation options.

This niche app does one thing and does it well: It gives you information on how to get from an airport to the city center for numerous airports around the world.

The app lists airports by city name along with information about expected prices and travel times via various available options such as taxi, bus, train, car rental and even helicopter. It also indicates the distance from the city center to the airport and gives a link to the airport's website -- info that you could find yourself without much trouble but is still nice to have in one place.

The guide usually has a few airport-specific tips such as how to buy transport tickets (so you'll know when advanced purchase is cheaper than buying onboard) or how to make sure you're getting into an authorized taxi (which can be especially useful when traveling someplace where you don't speak the language).

The app pledges that listings are updated regularly, but it's still a good idea to double-check details. For example, the app gave parking rates at a suburban stop Boston's Logan Express bus as $11/day, although that fee was lowered to $7 in March. I suspect bus and train schedule frequencies change fairly often as well.

The interface is somewhat rudimentary, requiring you to look through an alphabetical list by beginning letter to find the airport of your choice. Surprisingly, there is no option to search by city name or airport code. And while the app is iPad-compatible, it's only iPhone-sized.

Bottom line

If you're a do-it-yourself traveler who's likely to find your own way between airport and destination, the Airport Transit Guide is an extremely handy app to have on your iOS device, even if the user interface could stand improvement.

-- Sharon Machlis

aMetro

aMetro Project

Price: Free

OS reviewed: Android

Alternatives: iPhone/iPad users can try the free app MetrO. After a predeparture download, MetrO will store information on more than 400 subway systems across the world.

aMetro allows you to download and view maps of public transit systems for 180 cities all over the world.

For additional information, such as which public transportation systems are covered in the map, you can click on the "Details" button. For example, the app's Moscow map includes information about its metro, train and waterbus (while the metro runs just within Moscow and its suburbs, the train takes you to other cities).

After you enter your station of departure and destination, the app estimates the shortest travel times. For London, Brussels, Moscow and St. Petersburg, the app will even find the station nearest to the user's location. It would be an additional plus if the app were synced with public transit to tell you when the next train will arrive.

Unfortunately, aMetro isn't as complete as it could be. For example, the Munich map only includes the U-Bahn (the subways); Munich residents would also know that fast trains (S-Bahn), trams, and buses are equally important to get around the Bavarian capital.

In addition, many of the maps are outdated. Thus, before you download a particular map, check when it was last updated; the date is listed when you click on Details.

Bottom line

All in all, aMetro is off to a good start, but it needs improvement. In the meantime, I recommend finding an app that caters specifically to your destination of choice, since it is more likely to have an updated public transportation map.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

EveryTrail Pro

GlobalMotion Media

Price: $3.99. The free version has ads and lacks sync, video, and offline features.

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: Android

EveryTrail is a GPS-enabled app that allows you to map your trip and share it. Using the app to map a trip is easy: You simply hit the "Start Tracking" button as you start walking/biking/whatever, and the app will automatically start tracking your path on a map. You can add photos and waypoints along the way.

The app can be used in urban and rural environments alike, and both city dwellers and hikers can appreciate viewing the map in satellite, hybrid, terrain or street mode. You can stop and resume tracking whenever you wish, and add text tips to your trip later on. In fact, EveryTrail has an entire community where you can upload your trips for others to consult.

You can also search for established walking trails near you or at a destination you plan to travel to. Each route comes with detailed descriptions and maps, as well as points of interest (POIs) and audio. The best part: You can download single routes so that they are available offline while you're on the road.

Bottom line

Travelers who like remembering and sharing their itineraries -- complete with maps, photos, descriptions and more -- will have fun with this app.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

FlightTrack

Mobiata

Price: $4.99; $9.98 Pro version adds flight updates, FAA airport delays and closures, terminal maps (iOS only), weather forecast. $3.99 FlightBoard add-on shows arrivals/departure board.

OSes reviewed: iOS, Android

Other OSes: BlackBerry, Windows Phone

FlightTrack offers real-time updates of flights on a global map, which is useful if you're waiting for another delayed flight to come in before yours can take off, as well as if you're picking up a traveler at the airport. It also provides information about delays, cancellations and gates, and can sync with your device's calendar, if you're the type who forgets when you're supposed to be at the airport.

The Pro version adds alerts, TripIt integration, terminal maps, FAA airport delay information and airport weather forecasts; the FlightBoard add-on lets you look at a pretty electronic version of arrival and departure boards for numerous airports around the world.

I bought FlightTrack Pro and FlightBoard primarily for some visually appealing, geek amusement on my iPad, but it's turned out to be more useful than I expected. For instance, when I was catching a connecting flight at New York's JFK airport and there was no information in my arrival terminal about which was the departing terminal, it was comforting to see that info on my phone -- even if 20 or so minutes later we were finally directed to an agent who had the necessary info.

Bottom line

If you enjoy geeky ways to keep track of information surrounding air travel, FlightTrack's worth a look.

-- Sharon Machlis

Fodor's Mobile Apps for Travel

Fodor's Travel

Price: Free for iOS, $1.99 for Nokia

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: Nokia

I stumbled upon these apps after buying a Fodor's guidebook and was pleasantly surprised to discover how information-packed they are.

The Paris app, which is the one I tested, offers suggestions for what's closest to your current position, as well as descriptions of a dozen city neighborhoods and advice on attractions, eating, shopping and hotels. There are also city-specific travel tips, including things like Paris etiquette ("offer a hearty bonjour when walking into a shop or cafe and an au revoir when leaving, even if nobody seems to be listening"); a subway map; and the ability to download maps for offline use. (I didn't use the maps since I had some great paper ones and storage space was an issue once I started downloading vacation photos to my iPad.)

Attractions are plotted on a map within the app so you can see what's near you or figure out whether you can easily visit several sites in one neighborhood. Plus, the attractions include detailed enough write-ups to help you decide whether you want to go. "Fodor's choice" top attractions are noted, just as they are in Fodor's guidebooks, and you can sort by category, rating and location.

Fodor's travel apps are available for Barcelona, London, New York City, Paris, Prague, Rome and San Francisco.

Bottom line

Fodor's travel apps are well designed and filled with useful information. I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't want to download one before heading to one of the cities where an app has been published. Highly recommended.

-- Sharon Machlis

Goby

Goby Technologies

Price: Free

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: Android

Goby is an activity-driven search engine that recommends fun things to do, whether you're on the road or have some free time in your hometown. With a single click, you can find a list of things to do near you or search by destination and travel dates. Note, however, that currently Goby only covers the United States.

When searching, you can enter your own terms, such as "museums," or choose from a set of categories, ranging from "things to do" and "food & drink" to "events" and "places to stay." Initially, search results (including name, type and location of the activity) are sorted by relevance. However, you can also filter them by distance or title, or view them on a map.

If you click on a single item, you can find out what else is nearby and get directions. The activity descriptions leave room for improvement -- they are too long in some cases and absent in others -- but you'll get the general gist. Telephone numbers are listed, too, so you can call directly from the app, and should you so desire, you can save or share the entry, or even check in to its location on Facebook.

In fact, if you create a Goby account or log in via Facebook, you can even get access to what is called the "fun feed," which selects personalized recommendations for things to do based on your interests (interests can be selected manually or automatically through Facebook).

Bottom line

Goby is a decent alternative to having to sift through numerous websites to find things to do.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet

Price: Free. Add-ons include $5.99 city guide apps (80 currently available) and $9.99 country guide apps (7 currently available).

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: Android, Nokia

Alternatives: Android and iPhone users can try the TouristEye app, which provides free information and maps for over 10,000 destinations.

Lonely Planet is a popular guidebook among independent travelers; in fact, I have even heard some backpackers refer to it as "the Bible" on the road. Lugging around a print version has become archaic -- however, after trying the Lonely Planet app for Spain, I would say that the app doesn't take full advantage of multimedia either.

On the upside, the app is easy to navigate, allowing you to transition smoothly from text to map format. On the map, the most important destinations of a country are flagged; tap a destination, and you then enter the guide to that particular city. Sights, too, are perfectly cataloged; the app even distinguishes wine bars from rooftop bars, and you can filter all sights by distance and in alphabetical order as well.

Moreover, all sights are listed with addresses, which link to an offline map, phone numbers, hours, and a well-written text description, just as it would appear in the print guidebook. The fact that both the text and maps are available offline is certainly a significant advantage. However, the app still remains very much reminiscent of the print guidebook; scrolls of text are long, and photos, audios, videos and other multimedia are lacking. And while Android users can access 26 city guides, 13 audio phrasebooks and 9 offline translators, there are no whole-country guides for Android.

Bottom line

Lonely Planet provides a solid traveling app, but it doesn't offer the same excitement as the print books.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

OffMaps 2

Iosphere Gmbh

Price: $0.99 for two maps of your choice. Free version has sample offline map to Berlin

OS reviewed: iOS

Alternatives: Android users will be able to use Google Maps offline; the feature should be rolled out soon. Meanwhile, they can try MapDroyd, which uses OpenStreetMap to provide worldwide offline maps.

Unless you've got an unlimited bank account, you're going to want to avoid international data roaming charges when you're traveling abroad. That's where apps such as OffMaps 2 come in.

OffMaps 2 offers offline maps for thousands of destinations, both in the U.S. and internationally. For $0.99, the app allows you to download two maps of your choice. Should you need more, the price is $0.99 for three additional maps, or $5.99 as a flat rate for as many maps as you like. Map updates are free.

All maps are based on OpenStreetMap information, which includes not only a crisply detailed street map, but also points of interest ranging from restaurants to ATMs. The number of points of interests (POIs) varies from map to map, indicated by one to three stars: one star indicates a few POIs, while three stars indicates a high number of POIs. For example, the map for Cardiff, Wales, updated July 15, 2011, is rated with three stars and includes 3,051 points of interest, 135 of them being restaurants (indicated by a knife and fork symbol).

As a traveler, I especially appreciated OffMaps 2's public transport overlay, which lets you know exactly which subway you can take to which destination.

Last but not least, for each map, you can download additional travel information and photos. The information is sourced from Wikipedia, but for $0.99 you can't really ask for more.

Bottom line

OffMaps 2 is a good alternative to using Google Maps (or another similar map app) when you're abroad and don't want to (or can't) activate the data feed on your phone.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor LLC

Price: Free

OSes reviewed: iOS, Android

Other OSes: Nokia, Windows Phone

Alternatives: For restaurant choices specifically, consider the Zagat ($9.99/year for iOS and BlackBerry, $24.95/year for Android) or Yelp (free on iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry and Palm) apps.

This well-known Web-based travel community has a great deal of useful crowd-sourced information, and I often check what others have to say there before booking a hotel or a restaurant reservation. The mobile apps bring much of that information to your mobile device. You can search for places to stay and eat, and find things to do, as well as filter results by category and see results plotted on a map. You can also see a summary of reviews -- how many users have offered ratings of excellent, very good, average, poor or terrible -- as well as read the reviews, which can also be helpful, since one person's drawbacks might not be another's.

For a truly important vacation decision, such as where to stay for a week, I'll typically use the TripAdvisor website, since there you can also see a reviewer's history -- how many reviews they've done in how many cities and how many times their reviews have been rated helpful. You can also click through to see the person's other reviews, so you know if they're only posting glowing accounts or if they do nothing but complain about everything.

Unfortunately, you can't get all that information on the apps. On the iPad app, you can see the number of other reviews a reviewer has posted as well as how many have been voted helpful, but you can't click through to see them. On an Android phone, there's no information easily available about the reviewer beyond that specific review.

Bottom line

TripAdvisor is a useful app to load if you're looking for a place to eat or something to do.

-- Sharon Machlis

TripIt Travel Organizer

Concur Technologies

Price: Free. $3.99 version has no ads. $49/year for Pro account includes instant alerts, alternate flights, frequent travel info, other features.

OSes reviewed: iOS, Android

Other OSes: BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7

TripIt is an organizing app that can turn your confirmation emails for flights, hotels or rental cars into a handy organized format by date. It then adds details such as layover times for multi-leg flights, directions from airport to hotel, your hotel on a map, weather forecasts for your destination and more. The Android app lets you look at past trips, while the iOS app displays current and futures trips only.

What's nice about TripIt is that you simply forward your confirmation emails to the app and information is automatically pulled out of the messages and entered in TripIt's useful format. What's less nice is that if the data doesn't come from one of the thousand or so major chains that TripIt understands, those emails aren't going to be properly parsed. You can add information manually into either your app or via the main TripIt website -- simple hotel reservations are fairly easy to input; adding events to attend can be somewhat more cumbersome.

TripIt Pro offers flight delay alerts, help finding alternate flights if yours is canceled, frequent-travel-program point tracking, auto sharing and refund notification if your airfare becomes eligible. You can share trip details with other TripIt members using a free account, although you'll be prodded to sign up for Pro.

If you use multiple platforms, additions and changes made in your TripIt account on one device are synced everywhere. And mobile apps don't need to be connected to the Internet to view the information -- just update and sync ahead of time.

Bottom line

If you plan your own travel and don't enjoy keeping track of multiple confirmation emails for a trip, TripIt can be a useful assistant.

-- Sharon Machlis

Wi-Fi Finder

JiWire

Price: Free

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes: Android

Wi-Fi Finder allows you to search over 545,000 free and paid public Wi-Fi locations in 144 countries worldwide -- and the best part is that you don't have to be online to do so. I recommend starting by downloading the 38MB offline database from the app's home screen (if subsequent updates are available, the app will automatically notify you).

Once the data is downloaded, you can then enter your current location even if you're offline. Country, state/region, and city are required (you select from a drop-down menu), while entering your ZIP code is optional. Search results show free and paid Wi-Fi locations, including the name, address and type of location (café, hotel, etc.). Unfortunately, paid locations are just labeled as "paid" -- a further improvement would be if the app listed the actual prices.

If you're already online, the app allows you to find Wi-Fi near your current location (using location services) or worldwide. For the latter, you can enter a street, ZIP code or city.

Results are shown in map form, with free locations signaled in green and paid Wi-Fi locations in blue (if your device's location services are enabled, the app displays the distance and turn-by-turn directions). Search results can be filtered by provider and type of location; a key even lists HP ePrint locations, which can be especially useful if you're in need of a printer while traveling.

Finally, you can bookmark and share Wi-Fi locations, and if you know of a hotspot that isn't listed, you can submit it.

Bottom line

The ability to find Wi-Fi without having to use Wi-Fi is especially useful when you're traveling and not using 3G/4G.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

Isabel Eva Bohrer is a writer and photographer based in Madrid, Spain, where she publishes MADbudget: a local's guide to Madrid. Learn more about her work at www.isabelevabohrer.com.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her email address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:

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