The Best Travel Apps to Download Before You Leave

Flashpackers are budget travelers with means. People who travel with their electronics and are cost-conscious but wouldn’t stay in a sketchy hostel just to save a few dollars. Nomadic Matt claims that we’re all flashpackers now. We agree.

Traveling with a laptop was once limited to the workaholics who couldn’t disconnect. Now everyone carries a smartphone or a tablet on the road.

Travel companies jumped on this trend so now you will find an app for anything you need. You can hail a private car, book a place to stay, and pick which sites to see all from your phone. You don’t need your computer to book or plan any part of your trip.

Below, we’ve listed the best travel apps for booking your trip, finding things to do, and getting around.

Quick navigation: Accommodations, Flights, While You’re on the Road

Accommodations

For Finding a Place to Stay: Airbnb and Hipmunk

Airbnb app search results

Airbnb space in Athens, Greece

When visiting a new city, I prefer to stay in an Airbnb rather than at a hotel. Airbnb lets me stay right in the heart of a neighborhood, not in the tourist-choked hotel zones of most cities. You might even meet a friendly local host who can show you around or recommend things to do.

Airbnb’s app is great. The only downside is the back-and-forth necessary to book a place to stay. You’re working directly with individuals, not a hotel. Make sure to plan ahead and give potential hosts time to respond. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with an immersive experience in a new city.

Get $25 off your first Airbnb stay when you sign up using this link.

Hipmunk app hotel search results

Hipmunk hotel search results

If you prefer to stay in hotels or don’t have the time to sort out an Airbnb booking, I recommend the Hipmunk app. You’ll have plenty of options sorted by ‘Ecstacy,’ a combination of “price, amenities, and reviews.”

You can filter the results by minimum rating, price range, type, or chain. Sorting by chain is useful for building up points with your brand of choice. I have a Starwoods AmEx card, so filtering for Starwood hotels helps me earn more loyalty points.

For Last-Minute Hotel Bookings: Hotel Tonight

Hotel Tonight app search results

Hotel Tonight search results

If you have the risk tolerance to book your hotel on the day of your stay, you can save 10-70% on a room by booking with Hotel Tonight. Every day at noon, Hotel Tonight releases a short, hand-picked list of rooms in dozens of cities in North America and Europe.

The app makes it easy to choose from a few handpicked hotels per city and to book in just a few taps. Hotel Tonight chooses simplicity before options. This is a worthwhile tradeoff for travelers booking last-minute.

If you’re outside of Hotel Tonight’s network of hotels, try region-specific copycats like Check In Tonight in Asia. We outlined all of our favorite last-minute hotel-booking apps in a previous post.

Get $25 in Hotel Tonight credits when you sign up using promo code FPERROTTA.

For Booking a Hostel: WeHostels

WeHostels app search results

WeHostels search results in Berlin

Hostels are a great way to save money and meet people when you travel. If you go to bed early and can’t party like you used to (that’s me), book a private room to take advantage of hostel perks without dealing with the negative stereotypes.

Think hostels are all bare bones with thin mattresses and lumpy pillows? Think again. A new wave of designer hostels are nicer than many hotels.

Hostelworld is the 800 pound gorilla of hostel-booking, but their app is atrocious. Hostels are a great example of a niche being totally rethought by a mobile-focused newcomer. To book a hostel before or during your trip, use WeHostels.

(Disclosure: I previously consulted for WeHostels.)

Flights

For Booking a Flight: Skyscanner

Skyscanner app search results

Skyscanner search results

You probably won’t need to book a flight last-minute or when you don’t have computer access. If you must book a flight from your phone, use Skyscanner. It’s available for every platform and jam-packed with options without being overwhelming or confusing to use.

While You’re On the Road

For Tracking Your Itinerary: TripIt

TripIt flight times

Your email inbox isn’t the ideal place to store your reservations and confirmation numbers. A better solution is to forward those emails to TripIt. Then you’ll have all of the information you need stored in the TripIt app.

The app organizes your itinerary into chronological order with all of your flight, hotel, and rental car information, maps, and more. With a paid subscription to TripIt Pro ($49/year), you can also get flight alerts and use the app to track your frequent flyer miles and other points.

For Finding Restaurants and Activities: Foursquare

Foursquare app search results

Foursquare results for coffee in Venice

Foursquare is the best app for finding nearby restaurants, coffee shops, sights, shopping, and nightlife.

The app started as a way to “check in” to locations and meet up with friends. But Foursquare really became useful for travelers when it added the Explore feature. Just tap the box at the top of the app, then pick the category you’re interested in (Food, Nightlife, Arts, Sights) or search for something more specific.

Foursquare will show you a list of relevant nearby places with pictures, maps, ratings, and reviews. These recommendations are my favorite way to find restaurants and lesser-known attractions in a new city.

If you rely on guidebooks for restaurant recommendations, you’ll be eating at crowded, overpriced places that are past their peak. Foursquare can highlight where the locals are eating right now.

Read more about how to use Foursquare for travel.

Another option for sightseeing is Wikipedia Nearby’s mobile page. The page automatically shows you Wikipedia entries for places around you. Bookmark that page on your phone then open it up the next time you’re wandering around a new city.

For Messaging: WhatsApp

WhatsApp travel messaging app screenshot

Sending maps and videos via WhatsApp

The new wave of messaging apps are great for staying in touch with friends and family around the world. These messaging apps use data, not messaging, plans and are therefore location agnostic.

Don’t worry about a messaging plan when you travel, just get a data plan and use WhatsApp.

With WhatsApp, you can send text, picture, and video messages to any of your contacts regardless of their location. You can stay in touch with people in multiple countries and continue to do so seamlessly when you travel.

Depending on where you and your friends live, you can use another app like LINE (Japan), WeChat (China), Kik, or Viber.

They all work nearly identically to each other and to your phone’s native messaging app.

Download WhatsApp to stay in touch with friends and family when you travel.

For Getting Around: Uber

Uber app set pickup location

Setting your pickup location in Uber

At home in San Francisco, I’ve stopped hailing cabs and now exclusively use Uber. With the Uber app, you can hail a professional driver and pay for your ride from your phone. Aside from the benefit of going cashless, the drivers are also far better than cabbies. They’re friendly, they drive like sane people, and they don’t yell into their phone the entire ride. Uber is active in 19 countries, so you can use it in most major cities.

You can choose from multiple car options depending on how much you want to spend. At the high end, Uber offers SUVs and black cars. They’re nice if you want to look like a baller but aren’t worth the price. At the low end are taxis.

In the middle is my suggested form of transportation: UberX. This tier is mostly Priuses and similar hybrids. They’re cheaper than the black cars and nicer than taxis for roughly the same price.

To hail a ride, open the app and set the pin to your location. Uber will tell you how long you’ll need to wait and show you where your driver is. After your ride, re-open the app to rate your driver and approve the payment. Uber is the easiest way to get around when you’re willing to spend money to skip public transportation.

Save $10 on your first Uber ride when you sign up using this link or promo code 99fm4.

For Finding WiFi: Wi-Fi Finder

Wi-Fi Finder app map

Wi-Fi Finder results on a map

If you need to use your computer to get some work done or just don’t have a local data plan, use Wi-Fi Finder (iOS, Android). Download the app before you leave and sync up their database with your phone. Then you can find WiFi hotspots offline while you’re abroad.

You can even filter the results by venue type (coffee shop, internet cafe, restaurant) or WiFi provider in case you have a membership with Boingo or AT&T. Remember that WiFi is a flashpacker’s best friend, especially when you’re out of the country.

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