Having just completed a bit of traveling around Europe and Asia, I’ve come to rely on a couple of apps to help get me around in unfamiliar territory. I didn’t have an international plan set up on my phone so couldn’t just use my default Maps app, and while I did purchase travel guides, there were times when I didn’t have them at hand like I do my phone.
So here are a few app recommendations for anyone who’s about to go overseas.
A free digital guidebook on your phone. This app has several lists based on what you might want to do in a city: take a cultural tour around the landmarks, or hit up the best restaurants and bars. Stay also has a search feature to find specific shops and places. While the results are not incredibly extensive, each listing usually has photos, an address and a descriptive review.
You can create your own city guidebook and bookmark the places that are of interest to you, and then share it with anyone else who might be accompanying you on the trip. They, in turn, can add their own to-do items. The app also allows you to add a place, say if someone recommended a restaurant that isn’t on the app, but you’ll have to enter in all of the info manually.
While the reviews are a nice starting point to find what to do or where to go, it’s not quite as trustworthy as sources that have multiple user reviews. Sometimes you may find the author’s tastes aren’t exactly in line with your own. However that’s a minor drawback because the tradeoff for the next feature.
Perhaps the main benefit of this app that I’ve found is that once you find a city and guide on the app, you can download all of the content onto your phone so that you can access it with out carrier or wifi service. This includes all the reviews, and a scalable map of the entire city that you can zoom into for finding specific streets. The map became my best friend on several occasions, wandering around foreign streets with no wifi. And if you do come across wifi/phone service, the map will locate you and your orientation.
The problems with the app are that it’s mainly for well known, popular cities. So if you’re not going to London or Paris, the app may be useless to you. Also, despite a map that can locate you automatically if you’re connected, I found myself wishing I could drop pins directly onto the map to remember locations. And searching for specific addresses or cross-streets becomes difficult if you’re not sure what general area to look in. A search function would’ve been helpful then.
Pros: Free, downloadable for offline use, scalable map, shareable
Cons: Only for large cities, no pinning on maps, limited/one-sided reviews
The next app becomes useful when you have a complicated itinerary. Such as if you’re traveling to different cities, staying at multiple hotels, or using various modes of transportation. On my latest trip, I had a flight, a car rental, a train, a shuttle bus, and various hotels and apartments to check in and out of. Keeping all of that information straight and together was an ominous chore.
TripIt however allowed me to compile all of that data in one place, arrange it chronologically and provided maps of each event location.
The app also allows you to place all of the pertinent data for each event automatically, such as flight check-in numbers, how much the hotel had charged me, car rental policy info. All of it was amazingly placed into the app automatically. The only thing I had to do was either allow TripIt to gain access into my email or for me to forward TripIt any emails from the airline or booking agency. This feature includes culling data from vendors and sites like AirBnb.
Within the app, you can also add events, such as dinner plans with all the location and time info needed. However you have to do this manually.
You can also add notes and photos to each event. As with Stay, you can share your itineraries with others who can then also add and modify the information.
But you also have to take the good with the bad. All that automated process is a life and time saver, but it also keeps you from looking closely at the information until you really need it. So any errors usually go unnoticed until it’s too late. On my trip, one of my hotel check-outs was listed as two hours later than it actually was, which caused a bit of confusion and chaos when the hotel called to kick us out. And one of the event locations was nowhere near the spot that the app’s map told us it would be. Whether these are the app’s fault or typos in the booking emails, I’m not sure. But the problems stemmed from my reliance and assurance towards the app.
There were also additional features, such as the ability to check in to a flight, but those are only unlocked with a paid version of the app. I didn’t find the features invaluable enough to warrant paying, since the app’s main use is to keep all the data in one place. Things such as check-ins were easy enough by clicking on the vendor site’s web link.
Pros: itinerary compiled into one place, all pertinent info automatically inputted, shareable, each event is editable
Cons: easy to overlook any errors in the data, some features are locked in the pay version