It’s indisputable that technology has changed the face of travel over the last decade. We can now book flights from our iPads, check-in with our smartphones and bring our entire music collections with us wherever we go.
I make no secret of using technology a lot when I travel. I’m not sure I could survive the volume of travel I do for business in a paper and pencil world. Having everything backed up in the cloud, combined with apps that provide up to date notification, is a godsend.
So here’s a summary of my favourite and most-used travel apps. And before you say anything, yes I know that Netflix isn’t a travel app – but it gets used non-stop while I’m on a flight to Tokyo, so it definitely counts for me!
Kayak is pure genius. I’m surprised they don’t charge a fortune for the service, actually. You simply forward your email travel reservations to your Kayak account and the system puts together a very neat and accessible travel itinerary.
This includes all your booking references, travel times and the original booking emails should you need them. A lot easier that rooting around in your email app.
Not only that, but Kayak sends you notifications when your gate is announced or if there’s a delay to your flight. It consistently out-performs airports as far as I can tell – I get these updates long before they appear on information screens around me. So a few times, Kayak has made all the difference as I dash from one gate to another.
You can subscribe to your trips using your calendar app of choice, so your flights and hotel stays appear like magic alongside your other appointments. This is infinitely faster than manually typing in your travel details! You can then share this calendar with friends and family, or export a detailed itinerary and share if they need to know where you’ll be.
I did this for my family on my recent trip with my nephew to Tokyo and it was great for them to see the details of our visits and reservations.
You want to make it even easier? Well, if you use gmail and receive your travel confirmation emails into that account, you can link gmail to Kayak so that no email forwarding is required. Google recognises travel bookings and enters them into Kayak for you. Yes. Your reservations appear like magic into your Kayak account.
It just couldn’t be any easier.
Kayak also copes with train reservations and only very occasionally does it make a mistake. It’s had me flying to Barcelona in South America rather than Spain a few times – leaving me slightly confused about travel times! But 95% of the time, it interprets emails just fine and saves me a whole heap of time.
The web interface and the app are both super easy to use, if a little basic. But I’ve never found an app to beat it and now rely on it for every single journey I make.
2. Google Maps
Another freebie! I find Google Maps to be a life-saver when abroad. I like preparing for long trips or visits to new places by marking up google maps with my hotel, the airport, points of interest and recommended places to eat. This helps me get my bearings and see just how far apart things are.
It’s not 100% accurate all over the world, obviously. That said, I’ve found it super-accurate in Seoul, Madrid, Barcelona, Kyoto, Tokyo…the list goes on. It’s also great for helping me decide whether I’ll walk somewhere, get public transport or take a taxi.
I like to walk everywhere, weather and distances permitting, and Google Maps makes this possible, helping me avoid the inevitability of getting lost. Its public transport info isn’t available for every city in the world, but the list is increasing and super-accurate.
In fact, when I’m in Tokyo I don’t use travel apps, I just plot my route on the metro using Google Maps and if I’m planning a trip for one or two days later, I add the metro journey to my calendar app.
Aside from finding your way around the place, Google Maps is also excellent for finding recommendations. I’ve discovered several excellent restaurants and bars in Barcelona, Seoul and Tokyo just by having a look through Google Maps reviews.
And while I’m definitely and Apple fan-boy, Google Maps is still superior to the in-built Apple Maps. For now, at least.
3. Apple Wallet
This one’s for the Apple users out there. I love – just love – how I can store (most of) my train tickets and boarding cards for my flights in Apple Wallet. It saves printing things out and minimises the chance that I’ll lose something so important.
When traveling out of London, I keep my Heathrow Express ticket, my boarding card for my flight and virtual copies of my various airline and hotel frequent fliers cards. Saves me carting them around and, since using Apple Wallet with gusto, I’ve slimmed my wallet right down!
Digital tickets and cards are the way forward – I just wish more hotel chains supported this technology and allowed check-on from your phone (hello, Hilton!).
4. Google Photos
Another Google recommendation? Yes, most definitely yes. My iPhone and iPad are littered with Google’s best! This time, I’m recommending Google Photos due to its unlimited back-up policy.
For me, travel is as much about the memories as it is the immediate experiences. So I take a ton of photos when traveling. And it would be horrible if anything happened to them…
Basically, once you have a Google account (free), they will back up every photo on your smartphone for free, saving standard resolution (as opposed to super high, or RAW files). I’ll be honest – the standard files are more than enough for me and this back-up gives me such piece of mind.
I’ve not lost an iPhone when traveling (yet!) but if it happened, I know that every photo I’d taken on my travels would be safely backed up in the warm embrace of a Google server, ready for me to access on basically any other computer or phone on the planet.
Sharing from Google Photos is easy too, as is creating albums. An amazing app, which kicks Apple’s clunky version into touch every time.
These apps aside, I regularly explore new arrivals and try out app-based city guides. But really, they tend to get neglected as I rely on those above. The only other apps I would add to the list are my note-taking apps – whether it be Evernote or Apple Notes, where I keep packing lists and (sometimes) a list of possible places to see and things to do, which I share with @TheFrankFlyer.
That’s my lot – what are your favourite travel apps? Anything you think I’ve missed and should be on this list?