While many people go on vacation to unplug and get away from endless phone calls, e-mails and texts, that’s becoming harder and harder to do thanks to the proliferation of smartphones. And according to one recent study, the vast majority of smartphone owners bring their phones and other mobile devices with them when they take their show on the road.
It only makes sense, then, that application developers would capitalize on travelers’ need for information and guidance while away from home with apps that do everything from translate foreign languages to monitor flight times. Apps have largely replaced the cumbersome guidebooks and paper maps that once weighed down traveler’s bags. Now, everything anyone could possibly want to know at any stage of their journey is accessible with a few swipes of the screen.
With so many apps on the market these days geared toward travelers — literally thousands — it can be difficult to determine which ones are the most useful. Check out this list of five of the best new apps and download a few before your next trip.
Developed by a former airline captain, this app for Apple and Android platforms offers all of the information you could possibly want to know about airports in the U.S. From terminal maps to dining options, TSA security rules to airline policies, Airport Life is a one-stop reference for the information you need, whether it’s where to score a cheeseburger in Cleveland or the chance of rain in Seattle. The free version of the app is packed with features, including the ability to share information with other travelers via the Airport Wall, while the paid version offers additional capabilities, including the ability to track changes to your itinerary and note where you’ve parked your car in the airport lot via GPS.
This free app for Android answers the eternal question of all travelers: What should we do? Using Google Maps and GPS technology, when you turn on the app it will list nearby attractions, restaurants and interesting facts about the area surrounding your exact location. You can also set the app to send you deals and discounts for places along the way.
If you’ve ever missed a flight and stood in line hoping to rebook before everything’s full, you know how useful Next Flight can be. This inexpensive app allows you to search for all of the available flights between two destinations for the current day and two following, as well as find specific departure information including the terminal and gate. With this information, you can avoid the long rebooking lines and call the airline to request a specific flight and grab a seat before most of the other passengers even realize that the flight’s been cancelled. If there aren’t any flights, the app helps you find a place to stay; simply use the search function to find San Antonio hotels (or lodging in any other city) or a rental car to get you home.
It’s happened to everyone: You score a table at a great restaurant, only to be overwhelmed by the menu options. Everything looks so good! That’s where Foodspotting, a free app for Apple and Android, comes in. Foodspotting takes advantage of the trend of diners snapping pictures of their food and posting them to social media to provide a source of recommendations for others. Simply open the app, enter the restaurant you’re at (or want to visit) and any photos of the food that other users have shared will pop up. You can also search by dish, person or city, and share your own delicious finds via Instagram.
B4 You Board
This app may have been released in 2012, but improvements in early 2013 make it worth a second look. B4 You Board lets you skip the expensive and not-so-tasty airplane food by ordering from terminal restaurants right from your phone. Instead of waiting in long lines to grab a sandwich or settling for fast food, you can pre-order a tasty meal to be delivered to the gate when you want it. The app is currently limited to select airports, but new sites are being added all the time.
So while you might want to head out of town to unplug for a few days, keeping your smartphone with you can actually enhance your trip, thanks to these new apps. Just remember to put the phone down and enjoy the scenery now and then.
Travel writer Lacey Butler covers the latest news and developments for business travelers on her blog. Her favorite app is Instagram, where she has shared hundreds of pictures from her adventures.