The Connected Traveler: 20 Travel Apps To Check Out Before You Go

Written by Russ Johnson

Our expert about all things travel, Russ Johnson, aka The Connected Traveler, has been at the LA Times and New York Times Travel Shows testing and talking about apps. He suggests 20 top Apple iOS and Android apps to check out before taking your next trip. — Sometimes we techies go a bit overboard. Like 90s-vintage VCRs, we often sport too many buttons and blinking lights. Do we really need to carry a laptop, an e-reader, an iPad, a mobile phone, and a bulky camera with an arsenal of lenses when we travel? I still see tourists as beasts of burden shuffling through airports. For most of us, especially if we’re not traveling on business, a smartphone, the 21st Century Swiss Army Knife, can be quite enough and can really make travel easier, more rewarding and more fun.

Smartphone With Travel AppsPhoto Credit: Russ Johnson

At our Connected Traveler Technology Showcases, at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times Travel Shows, we demonstrated gadgets and apps and moderated panels of experts who travel all the time. Here are 20 road-tested apps we like:

Find free Wi-Fi hotspots using Free Zone for Android or Apple iOS. But make sure your anti virus is working as free Wi-Fi connections are notoriously unsecured.

Screen Share Pro is a new Android app that lets you view and manage what happens on your smartphone on the larger screen of your tablet without paying for a tethering account. You’ll like using the bigger keyboard to type email.

Lookout Security AppSecurity
Lookout Security
can stop malicious viruses and apps and find and lock your phone should it get lost. It is free but its paid version lets you erase the data from your phone before the goons steal your identity. Store your passwords securely with the paid iPassword or LastPass, which are free in basic versions, or the totally free KeePass.

Phone Home
If you use Skype, you’ll find Libon a more elegant alternative. Offered by the French telco Orange, it, like Skype, offers free calls to other users and deeply discounted calls to land lines, plus personalized messaging and voice recognition. It can even locate your caller on a map. Interestingly, Libon competes against its own corporate owner.

Truphone is a tried and true app and SIM card that can lop off the cost of roaming between 30 and 60 percent. Carrying a bandolier loaded with a SIM chip for each place you visit may be cheaper, but Truephone works in 220 countries. You need an unlocked phone to use Truphone.

Around Me AppMust-have Convenience Travel Apps
Around Me for iPhone or Android will find the closest gas station, hotel, ATM, or hospital and show you how to get there.

With Maplets and City Maps2Go you can browse maps without an Internet connection — a big deal because downloading maps on the road consumes copious amounts of data and incurs monster roaming charges.

Need a last minute hotel deal? Hotel Tonight will help you find a hotel special in eight countries.

Eat like a local with Local Eats featuring restaurants recommended by local food critics.

Goby is not your typical travel guide. It shows you stuff to do, not just to see. Especially valuable if you have kids. It only works in the US.

Tripit Screen ShotTripit, also available for Blackberry and Windows, is a huge favorite of frequent travelers. Just forward your confirmation emails and it will organize your itinerary and add maps, weather and driving instructions.

FlightTrackPro tracks your flight and notifies you of delays or gate changes in almost real time. It is $9.99 but works much better than the freebies.

GateGuru can link with other apps such as Tripit and point you to the best places to eat, stores and services at an airport and terminal.

Punch a flight number into Trip Advisor’s SeatGuru, iPhone and Android, and pull up a seat map to find out what is really available when an airline tries to pull a wait-and-switch.

XE Currency will prove to you that the US dollar no longer has that John Wayne swagger. It converts foreign prices into dollars using real-time exchange rates.

City Papers lets you read more than 3,000 English-language newspapers worldwide.

I also like Tune-in Radio, Android or iPhone, which not only locates and streams radio stations near you, but from your home town station and stations from all over the world. But beware. Listening to streaming audio consumes lots of data so make sure you are on WiFi and not roaming.

Wikitude AppWikitude reaches into numerous databases, including Wikipedia, Trip Advisor, City Search and Yelp to sniff out attractions, accommodations, restaurants, historical facts and nearby twitter posts. You can even put it into augmented reality mode — open up your camera and watch data points float around you like fairies.

Digital Photography
“Your best camera is the camera you have with you,” has long been a photographers’ motto. The mobile phone you have with you is probably all you need for both still photographs and video.

Of course, we all know Instagram. Some are using it to do running photo essays of their travels, with sequences of pictures.

If you want a top-notch photo editing app and you don’t need all of Instagram’s cornball filters, your best bet is Snapseed, which offers you image control usually only available on a computer. You can upload to Instagram, Facebook, Picassa, Google+ and other social networks.

But Watch Out!
Make sure you shut off these apps when you are done with them. They not only drain your battery, some also connect to the net and can rack up data charges. And make sure you really shut them down by going into the Active Applications menu of your phone. Just clicking your home button won’t do the trick.

And not only that:

One night I forgot to turn off Google’s Field Trip, an app that identifies nearby attractions and notifies you when one is near. It woke me up early the morning to tell me about the fire that destroyed the SS Normandie just outside of my hotel window in the port of New York in 1942, an historical fact that I wasn’t ready for at 6AM.

1 Comment

  • Thank you for sharing Russ! I travel a lot for pleasure and business for my job at DISH, so most of these apps will really come in handy for me. I’m looking forward to downloading them before my next trip! Another app that I enjoy on my travels is DISH Anywhere. I’m a TV junkie so I like that with the app I can watch all of my shows from home, live or recorded, anywhere I go in the world! There were a lot of shows I missed back in the day without the app, but now I’m happy to know that will never have to happen again when I’m across the country! :)