Do you long for the days when one had to go through a travel agent, yes a human one, to help organize world travel, find the best airline fare, book a hotel room and set an itinerary for the greatest adventure ever? I personally don’t. Today, you can do it all on your own using a smartphone and mobile apps while sitting in your living room enjoying your favorite TV show.
I am on the road quite a bit, for both business and pleasure; within the last twelve months, I have been to Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and at least a dozen other cities in the US. And, I owe it to the apps I keep in my pocket for helping me be more organized and my trips somewhat hassle free. These apps provide information at my fingertips, literally, and help inform most travel decisions I make. These decisions range from booking the flight with the most suitable departure time to picking the restaurant that serves the best Peking Duck in Beijing.
In addition to standard apps such as Weather and Apple Wallet, I use several other apps for my travels. Some I use regularly such as airline and hotel apps, others less frequently like SeatGuru, and there are a few I honestly don’t think I can travel without, one of which is Google Maps.
Drumroll … here are my apps, in no particular order:
Smart Traveler: this app is developed by the US Department of State for US travelers. Through this app I subscribe to and receive travel advisory alerts for the countries of my choice. I also use it to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which automatically enrolls me with the US embassy or consulates in the country I am visiting.
GeoSure: this app is a recent addition to my collection, and I find it useful. It provides safety and security scores by city and in some cases by neighborhood. The developers claim to gather information from sources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations, and local authorities to compile their scores. I use the information for awareness and get a sense of what to expect.
WhatsApp: this app allows me to stay connected with family and friends via phone calls and text messages at no additional cost, when my phone is connected to wifi. For some reason, WhatsApp is not as popular in the US compared to other parts of the world. Be aware that some countries may restrict phone calls using this app, like the UAE. Not sure if they still restrict it or not!
Airline Apps: I have several airline apps and use them regularly. I use the apps to check prices, book flights, check-in and get boarding passes, select or change seat assignment, access mileage account, etc. The ones I keep installed all the time are: American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Emirates and Singapore Airlines. These have a permanent status because I have mileage accounts with each airline. In addition, I have installed several others in the past to use with specific trips, they include: United, Southwest, Qatar Airways, ANA, Scoot, Thai Airways, Iberia, and Vueling. However, I removed them after my trips were complete.
momondo: this is a useful app when looking for cheap flights and hotels. It searches multiple airlines as well as online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia, Orbitz, etc. Tip: my use of momondo has dwindled since I discovered Google Flights. It is more robust when it comes to searching for flights across multiple sources. And, I love the calendar format to determine which dates offer the cheapest flights. Google Flights is not an app, it is a website: google.com/flights. However, for easy access I added a shortcut to my phone home screen.
SeatGuru: this app helps me find the best seats available on a flight, and which ones to avoid. I use it when traveling on an airline for the first time or I have never flown in the same aircraft configuration before.
FlightStatus: in general, I rely on airline apps for flight status. However, I found this app to be more accurate in some cases. As an example, when a flight starts to get delayed this app may have more reliable information, especially with airlines that share information about flight delays in a drip .. drip fashion. Wink, wink, American Airlines. I have also used this app to check on arrival times when receiving family or friends at the airport.
Hotel Apps: similar to airlines, I have a handful of apps to help me determine where I would stay. Here are the ones I have: Marriott, Hilton, SPG, Booking.com, Agoda, and Airbnb. And, I use them to compare prices, book rooms, check-in when available, and review my hotel loyalty account information. Tip: if I am traveling to Southeast Asia and paying out of pocket, I’ve found Agoda to offer better discounted room rates.
Currency: this is one of the apps I don’t think I can travel overseas without. It helps me convert local prices to US Dollars, and I use the information to decide when presented with multiple options.
Google Maps: if my choice is limited to only one app I could have while traveling, Google Maps will be it. Enough said, right? This app offers more than city maps. I can check traffic and best routes, read reviews of places, save favorite locations to visit later, etc. Sorry Waze fans, I have it and use it sporadically. Google Maps trumps Waze in my book.
Maps.me: This app compliments Google Maps for me, and I use it when I am not connected. You can download maps ahead of time, and later delete them to save on storage space once you are done with your trip.
Uber: I have always had a love-hate relationship with Uber – but that’s for another blog post. Nevertheless, I have used Uber extensively while traveling. And, sometimes you can’t beat the price; as an example, while in Kuala Lumpur a three-mile trip was less than a Dollar! Yes, I know I could have walked – but for less than a Dollar, no, especially when it is hot and humid.
TripAdvisor: I use TripAdvisor extensively to read and write reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. TripAdvisor has a neat future, where I can create and manage trips with the ability to add activities and attractions to each one. I also use it to compare hotel prices and ensure I am getting the best deal available, especially if I am comparing the use of hotel points versus paying for my stay out of pocket. TripAdvisor has also become the platform where I provide my reviews; I am a Level 5 Reviewer and among the top 5% reviewers in Phoenix. Whatever that means!
Yelp: this app is similar to TripAdvisor, however I find Yelp useful when exploring restaurants in the US and Europe. Recently, I’ve downloaded Zomato to use in other countries where Yelp is not available – however, I haven’t used it yet.
Viator: when I travel to a new destination, I sometimes prefer guided tours to get the lay of the land before venturing on my own. Viator lets me explore tour packages, from daily trips to longer adventures. At a minimum, I read what others say in their reviews about attractions and tours. To be honest, I have not booked any tours directly with the app as of now. After I gauge prices and reviews, I book the same tour using points on credit card travel sites. Yes, I know, I am not getting the best value of my points this way, I just like to minimize my out of pocket cost.
PackPoint: this is an app I’ve started using recently. PackPoint helps me create a packing list based on the weather forecast at my destination given the trip dates combined with activities I will be engaged in like business meetings, swimming, or hiking.
PriorityPass: I am a sucker for airport lounges, with this admission out of the way; this app helps me find lounges that are part of the worldwide PriorityPass network. What I love about the PriorityPass network is, in addition to classic lounges, it also includes MinuteSuites where I can take a free one-hour nap as well as some restaurants in select US airports. It is worth mentioning that the PriorityPass membership is not free, however I acquired mine through the AMEX Business Platinum card, which gives me free access to this network of lounges.
Photo editing apps: while on the go, I sometimes find it necessary to edit travel photos before posting them on Instagram or sharing with family and friends. For this purpose I have Lightroom CC and Photoshop Fix installed.
Apps for specific countries
Have you ever had to get apps for a specific trip? Affirmative on my end. For instance, I’ve gotten the following three apps downloaded for an upcoming trip to China:
DiDi: this is the Chinese equivalent to Uber.
WeChat: a multi faceted app, that offers chat messaging as well as a mobile payment wallet. In the Chinese cash economy the WeChat wallet adds convenience, however I have not been able to link my US credit card to it, yet. The other benefit of this app is that you get to send a message in English and the recipient will receive it in Mandarin or their choice of supported langauge.
MetroMan: a guide for the metro system in multiple cities in China.
Installed, but haven’t used them yet
In addition to the apps listed above, I have the following apps installed but haven’t had chance to use them yet: Hopper, Google Trips, Zomato, Sidekix and Splitwise.
With all that said, I think we can all agree the travel agent profession has now become extinct. And while these apps have helped us take control, stay connected, be informed and increased our efficiency, it’s my belief that there is still more room for improvement. There is a lot of waste in dealing with this many apps – wouldn’t you agree? Ideally, I would love to have one app that combines multiple functions in one. At a minimum, it will reduce the number of accounts I have to manage.