Up until the last few years, travel technology offerings had mostly consisted of online travel agents like Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and others. These sources help travelers book flights and hotels, rent cars and find other deals.
Then along came the iPhone and the application or “app” ecosystem, which also includes Android and BlackBerry.
Even though I am a technology enthusiast I never got too excited over apps and smart phones as I prefer using a larger screen. I don’t find squinting at a tiny screen for long periods of time enjoyable.
This year has marked a turning point for me however. On a recent trip I’ve become a convert and 2012 has been “The Year of the Travel App” for me.
In the list below, I’ll share with you several free travel apps that have made our (my wife & I’s) life easier while on the road by saving us time, money and headaches.
Trip Advisor is best known as an indispensable source of reviews for hotels. It also has reviews for virtually every other type of lodging available including motels, hostels, B&Bs, guest houses and other kinds of specialty accommodation.
Generally the review system works well; however, some of the comments left by reviewers are just ridiculous and not well thought out. If you are staying at a 2 star hotel, don’t get upset because there are no bathrobes available!
Trip Advisor also has reviews for restaurants, nightlife, tours, attractions and shopping.
Trip Advisor City Guide
**No internet access required!
While the original app from Trip Advisor is great, it can’t be used offline (with no internet connection). With the free City Guide you can forget about purchasing an expensive data roaming package for your phone. Just download the appropriate guide for the major city you’re going to. You can look up places to go or things to see without having to carry around a bulky guide book.
The best feature of the city guide application is that you can locate nearby hotels or restaurants using the built in GPS and compass which are available on many smart phones. You can read a review for a restaurant, tap a button and the application will point you in the right direction and tell you the distance to get there.
I doubt the application is smart enough to route you around water or other obstacles so use good judgement when following the compass!
AirBnB is a website that specializes in vacation rentals by the owner. While their mobile application doesn’t differ much from their full website, having the app makes finding a property on the go easy. This website lists some really beautiful unique properties like tree houses, castles, converted windmills, boats and the usual apartments and houses.
I had no idea what a Yurt was before visiting this site!
Many of you will be familiar with booking.com as it’s a major portal for booking accommodation. The mobile application has additional features that let you save reservations to your phone’s calendar and take a screenshot of the booking confirmation to make checking in easier.
You don’t need to carry around paper booking confirmations anymore. It also utilizes the phone’s GPS to find hotels near your present location.
Europe Offline Map
**No internet access required!
This is an offline map application that lets you browse or search by country, then city. It’s a great companion for exploring current or future travel destinations without the need for internet access. You can find offline maps for various locations around the world.
For owners of the Amazon Kindle you can also download a Kindle application for your smart phone. When you purchase Kindle books they will be downloaded both to your Kindle and to your smart phone. This gives you the ability to only carry around one device.
Travelers can download a Kindle version of their favorite guidebook and have it on their phone and not have to carry around a more bulky eReader.
While paper maps, thick guidebooks and brick and mortar travel agents are useful tools, they are slowly being replaced by travel technology. It has taken me a few years to migrate over to the “app” versions but the switch has been worth it.
Smart phones are just too convenient not to be used while traveling. These applications will go a long way to reducing stress while lightening your luggage on your next trip!
Andrew Martin is a personal finance and investing blogger from Toronto, Ontario with a background in technology and a passion for travel. His blog, She Thinks I’m Cheap aims to help Canadians make more money by sharing facts, stories and advice.