The Best Travel Apps to Make Life (on-the-go) Easier

Sean and I? We’re seasoned travelers. And on our adventures, I have discovered a few things that make life easier. Today, I will tell you about my top five best travel apps.

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Lifesaver 1: TripIt

  • Cost: Free with paid option (we paid the extra)
  • Best for: Both frequent and infrequent travelers — who have multi-tier reservations with hotels, flights, rental cars, etc.
  • More detail: TripIt is an app that organizes your itineraries so you don’t have to. Gone are the days of printing off a binder full of driving directions, confirmation numbers, etc. Once you set it up to upload directly from your email account(s), TripIt takes any email that comes in that has an “itinerary” and loads it into the app automatically. So when you go to the airport for a trip, you can pull it up to view your times/dates of departure, confirmation numbers, customer service phone numbers, amount you paid, and more. This app makes life so easy… and Sean and I both use the same account so that when we’re traveling alone, the other has easy access to when and where the traveler is at any given time. TripIt also alerts you when a flight is delayed and tells you whether you should make your connection or not. Sometimes, it knows about the delays quicker than the airport screens!
  • Caution: When traveling internationally, we’ve learned that some airports are still old fashioned and won’t accept an itinerary/confirmation email from your smart phone. We print off our confirmation emails for flights and store them in our carry-on luggage, just in case. We use the app for easy access.

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Lifesaver 2: Apple Maps

  • Cost: Free (talking version requires that you have an iPhone 4S or 5)
  • Best for: Independent women who are tired of relying on their short-fused husbands to navigate from the passenger seat.
  • More detail: Now, this might be a heated debate for die-hard GoogleMaps people, but hear me out. I use Apple Maps for one main reason: So I can navigate with a talking GPS so Sean doesn’t have to, and so that when I’m alone, I don’t have to balance holding my iPhone in one hand and scrolling through written directions while I drive. It’s like a dishwasher — a peacemaker in our marriage. Another added benefit is that I can click into the app and search a specific businesses (e.g. Starbucks) and it will search for all the nearby businesses with that name, and I can click through to a Yelp review directly from the map. Also, if I’m zoomed in on a location, it will show gas stations, restaurants, and lodging options — also with easy one-click access to the Yelp reviews. As a budding Yelp-reviewer, this is extremely helpful for us when we travel!
  • Caution: When you have the talking GPS function on, it has a tendency to drain a battery. I bought a suction-cup holder for the windshield to hold the phone and invested in a good USB charger for the 12V power outlet so I can charge while navigating. Those things come with me wherever I go, especially for rental car situations in a new city.

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Lifesaver 3: Spotify

  • Cost: Free to a point, but worth paying the monthly fee for mobile, offline use
  • Best for: Folks who love getting new music legally for free — and those who have the time to add songs to playlists.
  • More Detail: Sean brought Spotify into our life about a year ago, and we’ve been chronic users ever since. We pay about $10/month for full use of the website and all the songs it has. You log in, and instantly have access to any and every song you can imagine… for free. As we understand it, you don’t OWN those songs (because you didn’t buy the record), but as a user of Spotify, you have access to those songs because you’ve paid for the app. For travel, you create playlists on your computer, select the “available offline” option for that playlist, and then connect to the same WIFI network on your computer and your smartphone. The Spotify app will automatically “download” the songs to your smartphone from the internet so that you don’t have to be connected to 3G or the internet to listen. If you’re OK with not being an “owner” of the music, but having it available to you on-the-go, then this app is for you. It also doesn’t take up as much space as actual music does. 
  • Caution: As lovers of great, live music, Sean and I make a point to support the artists we love by purchasing their records through iTunes or in-person whenever possible. Although each artist gets a kickback from Spotify each time their song is played, our research tells us that kickback is pretty darn small.

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Lifesaver 4: 1Password

  • Cost: $49.99 for the desktop app and $17.99 for additional mobile app
  • Best for: People who have a ton of website logins to keep track of and use a laptop while traveling.
  • More detail: When a friend first told me about this app, it sounded like a big commitment. For $50 + $18, I would have to take all my logins from my unorganized, hodgepodge of sticky notes and type them in. The app has one password for immediate access to all your passwords — essentially you remember that one initial password, and never have to remember the rest. I’m here to tell you that the upfront time cost is TOTALLY worth what this app can do for you. The mobile app is good for when you’re on-the-go without a computer and need to know logins, but it’s the desktop app and browser plug-in that really shines.
              Here’s how it works: You download a desktop app that’s extremely intuitive for typing in all your usernames, passwords, credit cards, software keys and more. Once you have those in, the rest is a cinch. You download the browser plug-in, and then every time you create/use a login for a website, it asks you if you want to store it. You click yes, and it loads everything for you automatically. Then, when you want log into that page in the future, you click the 1Password icon (shown in the screenshot below), it brings up the correct login on a menu, you click it, and VOILA! It enters all your info and it clicks “enter” for you, getting you logged in at lightning speed. Let this sink in: You don’t even type your own usernames and passwords. 1Password does it for you.

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  • Caution: There are some glitches with certain websites, but you learn how to navigate those as you use the app more and more. In that case, the plugin has a “copy” function where it copies the username, password, or credit card number for you so you can easily paste it into the correct box on the website. Still: You never need to remember the logins on your own!

Lifesaver 5: This American Life

  • Cost: $2.99 (worth it!)
  • Best for: Road warriors on long journeys across the country AND those on short trips who forget to upload podcasts to their iDevice beforehand.
  • More detail: I am a chronic procrastinator before trips, and thus things like “Upload Podcasts to iPhone” usually don’t make the cut. Rather than getting frustrated and succumbing to the radio, I recently downloaded the This American Life app, which automatically organizes podcasts from WBEZ’s infamous show right there on the app. I had been using my podcast app prior to this, and after I’d listened to all those, I found myself anxiously awaiting the new one. With the app, you can easily go back in time and listen to old episodes easily so there’s ALWAYS something new to listen to.
  • Caution: I haven’t quite figured this out, but I’m pretty sure that you need to be in a full service area when you’re first loading the podcast. After that, I think you can go in and out of reception while listening.

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OK — your turn! What apps did I miss that you think are worthy of the top 5?

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