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One of my favorite parts of living in San Francisco is that we get first exposure to a lot of apps and new app features. While the apps that you might use to explore or navigate a destination don’t often reach international markets quickly (or at all), they will often spread out into other North American cities once they’ve found success in Silicon Valley.

For travelers, that means there’s an overwhelming amount of app technology to help you eat, drive, sleep, and explore your way across North America. So which ones should you use? After testing apps and surveying other tech-centric travelers, below is a helpful list of the most essential travel apps to download for North American trips.

Table of Contents

Get Around: Apps for Driving, Taking Public Transit, & Flying

Whether you’re driving or trying to navigate North America’s (less than awesome) public transit, below are some apps that will help you figure out the best route, when to leave, and — yup! — even where to park.

Public Transit: Moovit & NextBus

Moovit

I love that Google Maps has a public transportation option, but it still doesn’t always have the most accurate departure times. However, apps like Moovit and NextBus pick up the slack. Both work in various different North American cities and give real time updates on train/bus departure times.

Taxis: Uber & Lyft

Lyft

Just in case you weren’t familiar with these two car hailing app behemoths, Lyft and Uber can help you hail a car to get a quick and affordable ride in any of the cities where they operate.

While Uber works in dozens of global markets, including Mexico and Canada,  Lyft is only available in the U.S. Both have very similar services, like the ride-sharing Lyft Line / Uber Pool, but Lyft tends to be (or be perceived as) the friendlier of the two.

Airlines: Hopper

Hopper

While Hopper isn’t exclusively a North America only app, it’s helpful for finding and comparing flights to, from, and within North America. Use Hopper to search for flights, get recommendations on whether you should wait for a better price or buy now, and track flights that might drop in price later on.

Airport Security Line Wait Times: MiFlight

miflight

  • Price: Free
  • Download for iPhone

Wondering how long the security line at JFK is? MiFlight might be able to help. This app’s purpose is to show real time updates on wait times at airports. Although I love the concept of this app (and haven’t run into issues the three times I used it), I’m not fully convinced of its accuracy, as it relies on other flyers to record their wait times and report out to others.

Navigation: Google Maps vs. Waze

Waze

  • Price: Free
  • Waze: Download for iPhone or Android
  • Google Maps: Download for iPhone and Android

I rely on Google Maps for directions anywhere, especially since I like being able to toggle between walking, driving, and biking directions (Waze is a car only navigation app). However, my car-owning-and-driving friends swear by Google-owned app, Waze.

Both Google Maps and Waze are step by step navigation apps but Waze has a social network aspect that allows drivers to report accidents, police sitings, and more. Waze also has a feature that lets you search for the cheapest gas nearby and one that lets you choose a celebrity voice to give directions.

Bus & Train Tickets: WanderU

WanderU

  • Price: Free with in-app purchases
  • Download for iPhone or Android

On those rare routes where taking a bus or train is more comfortable, affordable, or practical than driving or flying (e.g. between major Californian cities, or driving up and down the eastern seaboard between Montreal, Boston, New York, Baltimore, Philly, and D.C.), WanderU can help you find the best bus or train route. It does not search airline routes.

Rental Cars: Turo

Turo

  • Price: Free with in-app purchases
  • Download for iPhone or Android

Turo is yet another app-child of the sharing economy. Just as you might rent someone’s house in Airbnb, you can rent someone’s car on Turo. In some cities (San Francisco included) it can be cheaper than renting from traditional services in city centers and there’s usually a discount for renting on a weekly or monthly basis. With Turo, you’re also more likely to get a pickup point that’s nearby, rather than trekking out to an airport.

If you’re considering using the app, just make sure to register a few weeks in advance of your trip. Like any car sharing app (like Zipcar), Turo still needs to run and approve your driver’s license.

All that said, I’ve found that renting from companies at the airports is still usually the best deal.

Parking Apps: Parking Panda & Spot Hero

parking panda

Do you want to end the struggle of driving around in circles looking for a parking spot in urban areas, and spend more time enjoying your trip? There’s an app for that — several, in fact.

Parking Panda and Spot Hero are apps that map out (paid) parking lots and garages near your current location. Both work in multiple major cities and include prices so you can quickly find the cheaper option. Parking Panda also has exclusive deals with some lots and allows you to pay for your parking in the app.

Eat: Apps for Finding Places to Eat or Make Reservations

When it comes to finding food anywhere in North America (Mexico and Canada included), Eater is my go-to guide for foodie favorites. They don’t have an app, so I usually sweat through the less-than-optimal mobile experience (hey, it’s a tricky responsive design situation, I get it). As far as apps go, below are some essentials:

Where to Eat: Foursquare & Yelp

Foursquare

Chances are, you probably already know and use Yelp or Foursquare. Both list out places to eat, drink, or explore near your location, along with photos and user reviews. Since both are used by locals and travelers (unlike TripAdvisor), users tend to view them as having a less tourist-only swath of options.

The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that Yelp users seem to have slightly different tastes than Foursquare users when it comes to food. To find your tribe, try looking up your favorite restaurant on both and see where it was better reviewed.

Also, a little known Yelp feature: You can search by emoji, which is really helpful if you don’t speak the language or are dealing with a bilingual situation (bonjour-hello, Montreal).

Make a Reservation: Resy & Opentable

Resy

Do you want to make a dinner reservation at a restaurant? Or browse openings for tonight? Use Resy or Opentable. Actually, I use both since some restaurants will let you make a reservation through Opentable and Resy, while some will only be available on one or the other.

One cool feature about Resy, though, is that you can ask to get a notification when and if a last minute availability opens up at a booked-up spot you’ve had your eye on.

Home-Cooked Meals: Feastly & EatWith

  • No app

Although neither service has an app yet, both of these companies are unique enough to warrant highlighting. For a home-cooked dining experience, look no further than Feastly and EatWith. Through either platform, you can book a dinner with a local cook (amateur or professional) — often hosted in their home. Think of it like an adventurous dinner party, where you don’t really know anyone but you come away full of food and conversation.

I’ve always had a lovely time with Feastly (eating in their San Francisco headquarters is definitely a treat) but EatWith operates in more cities both in and outside of North America. Feastly has options just within the U.S. for the time being.

Explore: Discover Things to Do in North America

You’ve arrived, and you’ve been fed. Now, did you know your phone could help you find stuff to do too?

Audio Walking Tours: Detour

Detour app

This relatively new app, Detour, is an immersive audio walking tour app that lets users have a guided walking tour — without a real life guide. Currently, they have tours available in San Francisco, LA, New York, Chicago, and Austin (as well as a few international cities) but, as a growing startup, they should continue to expand their options.

Go for a Hike: National Parks by REI & All Trails

REI app

If you’re looking for hiking recommendations in national parks, the National Parks app by REI is pretty great. User friendly, it gives you all the essential information you’d need to know when trying to find a hike nearby (is it good for the kids? How long is it? Where is it? What are the closest parks to me anyway?).

However — and I find this to be the case with a lot of hiking/trail resources — they don’t do a good job of navigating you to the trailhead. I use Google Maps to fill that gap.

Similar to National Parks by REI, All Trails helps you find hiking and biking trails near you (though Strava is better for mountain and road bike routes). Not as user friendly as the REI app, it does include results from city and state parks as well as national parks.

Tours & Experiences: Viator & Peek

Viator

  • Price: Free with in-app purchases
  • Viator: Download for iPhone and Android
  • Peek: Download for iPhone

If you’re looking to book an activity like a helicopter tour, kayak rental, or foodie-walking tour of a city, Peek and Viator can help you browse your options and book… all in one platform. Both offer different options — like some of the other app pairs on this list — but Viator is more established (re: more options) and has multi-day tour options as well as half, or one-day activities.

Airbnb Experiences

airbnb app

  • Price: Free with in-app downloads
  • Download for iPhone or Android

Though not a separate app, Airbnb recently added the option to book local experiences in addition to homes within their app (and website). For a fun, quirky, or out of the box travel experience, I know it’s going to become my new go-to.

Events: Eventbrite

Eventbrite

  • Price: Free with in-app downloads
  • Download for iPhone or Android

Eventbrite isn’t just for booking events, shows, and concerts — you can also explore fun things to do in their app. This app does a wonderful job of highlighting things to do near you, and includes a wide variety of categories to choose from. Depending on the city, you can sometimes grab museum tickets from their app as well.

Sleep: Book Camping Spots, Hotels, & Vacation Rentals

Although you may have booked up all your places to stay well in advance, accommodation apps are essential for anyone who travels spontaneously and leaves bookings up to the last minute.

Camping: Reserve America

Reserve America

Reserve America, the U.S. National Park Service’s campground booking engine, has never been great (that’s why they created HipCamp, right?) but the app is surprisingly decent. At the very least, the app is better than the website, letting you search campgrounds on a map and book on the same platform.

As for a Canadian or Mexican equivalent, I’d love to hear from you about that in the comments; I’m still looking.

Vacation & Home Rentals: Airbnb & VRBO

VRBO

Airbnb is an obvious inclusion on this list, as it’s quickly become many travelers’ favorite accommodation booking platform for vacation rentals, affordable rooms for rent, or even legit mom and pop B&Bs.

VRBO is next up on the list as a great Airbnb alternative for vacation rentals. I’ve also found that it sometimes has more options if you’re booking a house for a large crew.

Last Minute Hotels: HotelTonight

hotel tonight

  • Price: Free with in-app purchases
  • Download for iPhone or Android

HotelTonight lets you book last minute hotel reservations (less than a week out) at a discount. Although the search engine isn’t as comprehensive as Kayak or Hotels.com, it is the best way to find a deal on hotels and snag a room right as you roll into town.

Hostels: HostelWorld

Hostelworld

  • Price: Free with in-app purchases
  • Download for iPhone or Android

North America — or, the U.S. at least — isn’t exactly known for having a ton of hostel options. But there are some. HI USA, for example, has family-friendly hostels located in spots where there are no other accommodation options (like Point Reyes, CA). To search hostel options near you, HostelWorld’s app is perfect for searches on the go.

All the Hotels: Kayak

Kayak

  • Price: Free with in-app purchases
  • Download for iPhone or Android

Kayak works for searches both in and out of North America. If you’d rather see all your options for hotels, B&Bs, and hostels, Kayak is a truly comprehensive app for accommodation searches.

TL;DR

I may pack light with my suitcase, but I always travel heavy with the apps. If you’re looking for travel apps to download for North American trips, you’ve got a bunch of great ones to choose from.

  • Getting around: Citymapper, NextBus, Lyft, Uber, Hopper, MiFlight, Google Maps, Waze, WanderU, Turo, Parking Panda, and Spot Hero
  • Eating: Foursquare, Yelp, Resy, OpenTable, Feastly, and EatWith
  • Exploring: National Parks by REI, All Trails, Zozi, Peek, Eventbrite, and Airbnb Experiences
  • Sleeping: Reserve America, Airbnb, VRBO, Kayak, HostelWorld, and HotelsTonight

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“This is my favorite thing you’ve ever made, Pat.”

It’s December. I’m messaging our product designer, Patrick, because I’ve just received product samples for the Outbreaker accessories. Once again, I’m blown away by his brilliance. He chuckles and messages back, expressing gratitude. The gratitude is genuine, but the chuckle happens because I’m constantly telling him that the new thing in front of me is my favorite thing he’s ever made. Favorites, by nature, require a person to be choosy. Not everything can be my favorite. I have to pick one favorite. Yeah, yeah.

Since we’re a remote team and don’t have an office full of samples for me to review, every precious storage section of my tiny NYC apartment is peppered with something Tortuga. The Outbreaker travel backpacks are precariously perched at the top of my coat closet. They fall out every time I reach for my grocery bags. Six different packing cubes are unceremoniously shoved under my dresser. I had to give away my V2 Tortuga backpacks, because I simply ran out of room.

What’s most exciting, though? The basket on my desk is filled with the soon-to-be-released Outbreaker Duffle, Daypack, and Wet/Dry Bag. I suppose I should remove the new packing cubes from under the dresser and put them in the basket so that all of the coming-soon accessories can exist together on my desk as one happy accessory family.

Here’s a preview of the daypack and duffle:

I’ve used the new Outbreaker accessories almost daily for the past several months. They aren’t designed for everyday life – they’re designed for travel – but that doesn’t stop me from carrying the duffle to dance class and the daypack to my favorite coworking space. I love carrying them around NYC, but I didn’t appreciate their full potential until I traveled with the accessories.

The Outbreaker Collection is Growing

Very soon, we’ll add the following to the Outbreaker collection:

  • A daypack that can hold a 15″ computer and all the stuff you need for a day of adventure
  • A personal-item-sized duffle
  • Updated and upgraded packing cubes that fit perfectly in the Outbreaker travel backpack
  • A Wet/Dry bag to separate damp or soiled clothes from the rest of your stuff and keep clean clothes clean

To prepare for our launch, and in order to write our product pages, I’ve been traveling with the accessories since December. I’m hooked. My new ideal packing setup is as follows, for trips up to a week:

  • Outbreaker Duffle, for clothes
  • Outbreaker Daypack, for computer and in-flight essentials
  • Outbreaker Packing Cubes, to give the duffle a bit of organization

I’ll bring the travel backpack for a longer trip, like the one I’m taking to Europe this summer, since I’ll want a bit more room.

This is progress. I’m the girl who packed a V2 Tortuga backpack and a large checked bag for an 8-month RTW trip in 2016. I was new to long-term travel, okay? I know better now. Carrying only a small duffle and daypack makes me feel like part of a special club of people who have Global Entry (I do!) and are always somehow in Zone 2 on flights regardless of seat choice (how??) and never, ever pack too much stuff. Click to continue…

In 2014, I paddled a paper canoe 200 miles down the Hudson River. And it was awesome. This is that story.

When people find out that I’m a travel writer, everyone expects stories like the sentence I just wrote. Everyone always asks “What’s the best/coolest/most exciting place you’ve been to?” It’s a fair question, but I usually shrug and give a pat answer—Peru, Iceland, New Zealand—it varies. Don’t get me wrong—I love all the places I’ve been and all the people I’ve met along the way, but when people ask me about my favorite spot, I never have the heart to tell them the truth.

I don’t have a favorite place

Travel isn’t about where you go, it’s about what you do and how those experiences change who you are. The trips you tell stories about years later don’t have anything to do with places you visit or the pictures you take. The best travel stories are all about purpose.

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “travel can change the world” articles. It’s just a story about a wacky little canoe trip I took a few years ago, and how that adventure in my own backyard changed the way I see travel.

I still don’t have a favorite destination, but I’ve got a few favorite tales from the road. Here’s the story of how I found myself paddling a paper canoe 200 miles down the Hudson River. Enjoy.

Paddling 200 Miles Down the Hudson River: In a Paper Canoe

paper canoe river trip
In 2014, I got an email about a boat building class at the North Brooklyn Boat Club. I figured, “Why not? Boats are sweet.” Little did I know that we’d be making paper canoes. Full-size ones. For a real river expedition. Down a real river. For days on end. It was a strange first conversation:

“Wait. We’re making paper boats? Like little origami decorative ones?” I asked, curious why I’d biked to a “boat-building workshop” that was beginning to look like an origami arts and crafts class.

“No. We’re making paper boats. Like regular ‘boats” — canoes actually — to paddle down the Hudson River. They’re fully functional two-person canoes that just happened to be made out of paper,” replied Jean Barberis, member of the art collective Mare Liberum, and the Frenchman currently leading the boat building workshop in the narrow outdoor alley space at the mouth of Newtown Creek in Brooklyn.

Jean noticed my blank, but polite expression and continued (a little more slowly). “We’re making full-sized paper boats. For people. They’re like any other boats, they’re just made out of paper,” he explained for what must have been the twentieth time that day. I can still hear the exhaustion in his voice.

I glanced at the upturned canoe shell covered in reams of paper. I quickly discovered that we were using the (perfectly functional) REI canoe as a mold for our fleet of paper boats. I looked back at Jean, “So, it’s like a big origami boat?”

Jean’s shoulders slumped, and he gestured for me to follow him back to the construction project taking place on a series of wooden A-frames in the boat yard.

Building a Paper Boat: Papier Mache Crash Course

Making a paper boat isn’t actually all that hard. All you need is a few rolls of craft paper, some wood glue, varnish or sealant, a canoe to use as a mold, and time. Lots and lots of time. So, so, so, so, much time.

Here’s a printable set of instructions if you feel like making your own. I highly recommend it if you have a few weeks to kill.

Basically, all you do is cut the rolls of paper into arm length, four-inch wide strips. Then you dip each strip into a trough of watered-down wood glue, wipe the excess glue from the paper, place the strip on the canoe overlapping the previous piece by about two inches. Dip. Wipe. Place. Repeat. Layer after layer. The process is hypnotic, and the regular V-shaped herringbone pattern that emerges is kind of impressive, even if you don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s not 100% paper though. We added two simple wooden gunwales (the “lips” of the boat), a few staves for support at the bow, midship, and stern, a platform for a seat, and you’re ready to hit the high seas, sailor. Or at least the river.

paper canoe river trip

https://vimeo.com/hypergeist/seachange2014 Click to continue…

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