Like it or not, almost everyone has a cell phone these days. And if you’re trying to relax and get away, your phone can help you travel with less stress.
Whether you’re heading out solo, with friends, or on a family vacation, there are tons of apps that make things easier. That is – if they work correctly and you know how to use them.
I’ve done quite a bit of testing and found some of the best apps out there are free. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite free travel apps below.
While everyone is different, I hope my list will give you a few ideas and inspire you to find what you need for an easy, stress-free vacation.
Tips Before Using a New App On Your Trip
Trying to load and use an app for the first time while you’re on your trip is a recipe for disaster. You may not have enough signal to load the app, or it doesn’t work well with your phone, or you must create an account, or you can’t figure out how to use it.
Your life will be a lot easier if you choose the apps you want, load them up, and test them before leaving the house.
Many of the apps mentioned below have competitors, so if the pick below isn’t your cup of tea, just grab another one that suits your style. Test them out to see which one you like best and delete the ones you don’t want.
Another great tip is to create a folder on your phone, label it “Vacation”, or something similar, and load all the apps in there for easy access.
Apps to Help Plan Your Trip
Load and set up the apps for any airlines you’re flying on. This will save you a lot of headaches and help you avoid the lines at the airport.
Most airline apps allow you to check in using the app and provide a QR code that’s scanned at security. No more worrying about that paper ticket.
You can also track your flight and see alternatives if you run into any delays.
Most online booking companies have apps and they’re often easier to use on the fly than trying to log into the websites.
The same is true for many travel agencies. Check to see if they have an app they use for easy access to your itinerary and other information.
I highly recommend loading the app for any hotel you’re staying at. Airbnb and VRBO also have apps if you used those services.
In addition, there are two more you may want to consider.
HostelWorld is a great booking site with a solid app. They help locate and book hostels all over the world. Depending on your location, options may be limited, but it’s worth a try. Hostels often have more turnover than hotels and can be more flexible.
Hotel Tonight is another app you should have. It helps find last-minute, discounted hotel rooms. While I wouldn’t randomly fly somewhere and try to find a room last minute on the app, it’s helpful if you run into issues with your booked accommodations, or you want to try for a spur of the moment side trip.
Car Rental Apps
If you’re renting a car, the app is the way to go for most companies. No more waiting in lines or hoping someone remembered to put your rental slip on the board. Everything is online.
Safety Apps to Load Before Your Trip
Before you load a ton of “locate me” apps on your phone, be sure to turn on your phone locator and allow specific friends or family access to track your location. I like to add at least three people. When you need help, counting on one person to be paying attention isn’t setting the odds in your favor.
Learn how it works and set it up before you leave. Let your friends and family know when to be concerned and be sure to check in regularly.
If you won’t have signal for a bit and know this ahead of time, prep them so they won’t worry.
I used this app on my trip to Chile where internet security is non-existent. It downloaded easily and there were no issues using it on my phone or laptop.
While not technically free, they have a 30-day trial with a no questions asked cancellation policy. You will need to sign up and pay for one month. If you love the app, you may want to keep it. Otherwise, you can cancel when you get home, and your money will be refunded.
In the United States, you know to call 911 in an emergency, but what about other countries? There are over 70 different emergency numbers.
TripWhistle will dial the local emergency service for the area you’re in with a single touch. It also shows your exact position to help emergency providers locate you.
Apps To Make Your Trip Easier
This sounds odd, and you’re thinking you already know what can and cannot go in your carry-on bag so you don’t need it. But hear me out.
This handy little app has actual information on average wait times at airports. Search for a day of the week and it provides a graph of wait times by the hour. While not real-time data, it’s still helpful to see how early you should plan on arriving at an unfamiliar airport.
It also has a map of the airport. You can expand the map and find restaurants and stores in the terminal.
I love this app so much, I use it near home too. It locates public restrooms in your area on a map. Click the one you want and it goes to your default mapping app with directions on how to get there.
One thing I’m not crazy about is that it shows all restrooms in the areas, and we know some locations only allow customers to use the bathrooms. However, the app often provides the name of the business so you know if it’s a restaurant, grocery store, or gas station.
Google Translate is my favorite translation app. Anyone like me who can’t type on their phone will love this app. It has a feature where you speak into the phone, and it automatically translates and then reads the translation out loud.
If someone is speaking in a dialect you can’t understand, or going too fast, you can hold up the phone and have them talk normally, then let the translator work its magic. You can even have a conversation where you speak and it translates aloud, then they reply.
It’s also perfect for conversations no one prepared you for like, “I would like black beans without seasoning and gluten-free bread”.
But wait, it gets better. Can’t read a label? No problem. There’s a camera feature so you can scan the label and it will translate it for you.
I found this app while traveling in Ushuaia, Argentina where the conversion rate was crazy. A $1000 peso taxi ride was $1.38 USD. The drivers accepted US dollars, but it was difficult to figure out the conversion. This app helped me out a lot.
This app does exactly what it says it will. It converts currencies.
There’s a free and paid option. The free option is all you need, just ignore the flashing ad at the bottom of the screen.
I prefer Currency Converter to other apps because it just converts, it doesn’t have a money transfer option. Call me paranoid, but I don’t want anything that can become a security risk on my phone.
When you’re outside the US, everything is metric, it can be difficult to comprehend how far 3 meters is.
I also use it a lot converting Celsius to Fahrenheit.
Eventually, your mind will adapt, but until then, the app will help you out.
Apps for Getting Around While Traveling
Mapping apps are a must when traveling. Whether you’re using Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, or something else, be sure you have one loaded before heading out.
Beyond driving, they’re helpful if you’re on foot and get turned around. You can easily find landmarks and get yourself back to a known location.
Uber and Lyft
Before heading to another country, check to see what rideshare is popular and load the app. In general, Uber is commonly found in many countries.
I like to load two to four apps just in case one doesn’t work as well.
In many areas taxis are not safe, but check before you leave and you can also ask where you’re staying.
Apps to Find Things to Do
Viator allows you to search and book tours. Tours are a great way to see highlights of an area, have a unique experience, or learn about hidden gems.
I really like Viator because they have several options from personal guided tours to horseback riding to street art. If sitting down is more your speed, there are many trolley tours.
It’s location-dependent, but I feel they have the most to offer.
Get Your Guide is another tour booking app. I would load both apps because sometimes an area tends to rely more on one than the other.
Staying in Touch
My trick to avoid international phone fees when traveling is to turn my phone on Airplane mode, then manually turn on Wifi. This means you’ll only be able to send and receive if you link to a WiFi signal nearby. For short trips, this is the easy way to go.
If you have an iPhone, you can text another iPhone using Wifi only.
I only get a SIM card if I’m traveling for an extended time with limited Wifi, or if I’m in a group and we think we may need to communicate on the fly throughout the day. Otherwise, Wifi is generally all you need.
To help boost your WiFi-only communication, download WhatsApp.
With WhatsApp, you can communicate with anyone else on the platform using Wifi. The platform is fully encrypted for safe communication.
You can also create groups. This is great if you’re traveling with friends or family and split up. Everyone in the group can see the messages. You can also share photos and locations.