We live in a great age, where instead of dragging around a heavy guidebook, we can bring up any information we need with just a wifi connection and swipe of the finger. But with so many apps available, how do we find the ones that are actually useful? Here’s my tried & tested list of the best apps for travel that will help you on your adventures, wherever you’re going in the world.
I’ve done all types of travelling, from backpacking to glamping to luxury travel. I’ve traveled with friends, partners, family, on my own and with colleagues. I’ve lived as an expat and digital nomad. I’ve traveled by plane, bus, car, train and boat. And through all these experiences, I’ve tried hundreds of travel apps – some were helpful, others were unfortunately just a waste of phone storage space.
Personally, I think traveling should be about the experience. I enjoy putting my phone down and looking around me. I love getting lost and discovering interesting hole-in-the-wall places that don’t show up on internet searches or in travel guidebooks. But I also know how helpful travel apps can be – they’ve allowed me to book accommodation last-minute, find my way to hospitals when things have gone wrong and translate conversations so I could better connect with locals.
Below is my complete list of the best apps for travel, each of which can be used in many countries around the world. Some of the apps listed have paid upgrades, but all of them allow you to use a basic plan for free. Download links are provided below each description. (Note: I am not affiliated with any of these companies, however I may receive compensation from any discount codes used.)
The big list of free travel apps
Geosure is a fantastic app that shows the safety score of cities and towns around the world. The overall safety score breaks down into categories such as Women’s Safety, LGBTQ Safety, Theft, and Health and allows you to personalize the scores based on things like your gender, nationality and whether you’re traveling solo or with others. The app also lets you share your own experiences, both positive and negative.
Having used the Rome2Rio website for years, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only just discovered they have an app. This is a great resource for finding your way from one place to another, regardless of where in the world you’re traveling to.
Just type in your starting city and where you want to go, and the app will find all the different ways to get there, from busses to flights to rideshares, along with estimated prices and timings.
TravelSpend is my personal favourite app for keeping track of spending while I travel. It allows you to enter your budget, the dates of your trip and your home currency and keeps track of your funds as you enter them. When you enter each purchase, you can select the currency you’re paying in or mark it as a credit card transaction. The app then calculates the total amount spent and the daily average, as well as how much you have left out of your budget.
FLIO is an awesome airport app which tells you everything you need to know about the facilities and resources inside the airport you’re traveling through. The app allows you to see a schedule of arriving and departing flights, a list of dining options, local weather, transportation options, and much more. The flight schedule shows times, terminals and gates, which will help keep you updated if things change while you’re shopping or enjoying a meal while you wait for your flight.
This is the perfect app for anyone who has an interest in Geology. Choose a route manually, or use GPS in the air to find out what interesting things are happening on the earth beneath you. You can select the kinds of info you want to see – from fossils to volcanoes – and view details as you pass over them.
It’s a great way to stay occupied during a flight – make sure to book a window seat for best results!
MiFlight is the best airport app you never knew you needed. Just type in the airport you’re traveling through, select the terminal, and the app will tell you approximately how long it will take you to get through security. This great travel app has a database of both US and international airports, and allows users to manually input wait times as they go through.
Available for iPhone.
TripWhistle is the best app you’ll hopefully never need to use. It uses your location to let you know the numbers for local police, fire and ambulance services. You can call the emergency services directly through the app, which also notes your current location with GPS coordinates. It’s a great app to give you more peace of mind about your personal safety, particularly if you’re traveling solo.
Available for iPhone.
This is a fantastic travel app that puts together a packing list based on your gender, destination, the duration of your trip, and the activities you plan to do. It also shows you the forecasted weather for the time you’ll be there and you can add items to the list, as well as customize the amount of each item you plan to pack.
A premium version is available with more customization, but the free version is good enough for a single destination trip.
LoungeBuddy changed the way I feel about waiting for a flight. If you have to spend an extended period of time in an airport, you can use this free app to see a list of lounges with their locations, prices, and amenities. At the bottom of each page are reviews from other travelers, which can help you decide whether or not the lounge is worth the entry fee.
BONUS: Use code 5YuFn9seOc and receive a free $10 credit!
Available for iPhone.
GlobeTips is a great tool for finding out how much to tip around the world. It’s got a gratuity calculator that auto-detects the country you’re in, and can be manually changed in the settings if needed. You can also use the Country Tipping Guide to see the customary amount for restaurants, porters or taxis. The app offers a paid full version (which can be unlocked free for 24 hrs by watching a short ad) though everything you really need is available in the free version.
Available for iPhone.
I know, it’s on every list. But it’s a great app that has tons of information on what’s around, approximate transit times and offline maps. It also gives you the ability to save places to lists, download maps to use offline, and contact businesses directly through the app. This app is a classic for a reason, and it’s personally the one I use the most when I travel.
The free version of this app is all you need, allowing you to compare the conversion rates up to 10 different currencies at once. This is also one you can use offline, so you can easily find out if you’re being ripped off at that street market or currency exchange booth. It’s especially great to have if you’re hitting more than one country on your trip.
Tap is a great app that shows the nearby places you can refill your water bottle, helping you stay hydrated while avoiding single-use plastics as you explore a new city. The app shows the approximate walking distance from your current location to each nearby bottle refill stations. It shows free public fountains as well as the more costly drinking water ATMs, and its database covers most major cities around the world.
There are tons of wifi finder apps out there, but this is the one I’ve found most useful for finding free hotspots. The app shows a map of wifi hotspots near you, as well as passwords for some of the public password-protected networks.
The map pulls up your current location, but you can also search for a city and download the map for offline use.
Of course, nothing beats trying to learn at least a few phrases in the local language, but Google Translate can be extremely useful when traveling. I was really glad to have it when I had to go to a hospital in a small town in Spain where nobody spoke English, and don’t know how I would have managed to get around China without it. This great free app features the ability to translate pictures, voices and even handwriting.
This awesome bucket list app allows you to see categorized lists, view maps, and search thousands of destinations & experiences to create your own personalized travel bucket list. Each item has its own page with photos, ratings & tips from other users, a detailed description of the place/activity, links to articles that will give you more information about the destination, and a submenu of related items which you can also add to your list.
This brilliant app was developed by the Exchange Initiative, an American organization dedicated to fighting sex trafficking. Simply take a photo of your hotel room and upload it onto the app with the name of the hotel and your room number. Investigators will then compare those photos with online advertisements posted by sex traffickers in an attempt to catch and prosecute them. It’s an easy way to help make a difference.
I used this one often as a flight attendant to check the flight loads on my upcoming trips, and I still use it while shopping for flights. All you need to do is type in the flight info, and the app will bring up a seat map showing the available seats.
This app can help you know if you should book a flight right away, and can also give you a better idea of the best seats to select. It’s especially useful for anyone flying standby.
Available for iPhone.
I haven’t added any accommodation apps to the list above, mainly because the accommodation booking apps I use are featured in pretty much every other list of the best travel apps. I would suggest that you try different ones out and find out which ones work best for you. Having said that, these are the accommodation booking apps I personally find useful:
Most of my booking is done through their app and website, and I’ve only had good experiences with it. Though this is my personal favourite, there are other similar apps such as Agoda, Expedia and Hotels.com – I encourage you to find out which one is best for you. Keep in mind that while the rates through these apps are generally some of the cheapest, the rooms may not be as good as booking directly through the hotel’s website. For iPhone or Android.
This is one I’ve used less over the past couple of years as I now prefer hotels, but I’ve had some great experiences the many times I’ve used it. Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to meet people if you’re traveling solo, and gives you a chance to get a local’s perspective on a place. However, you should be aware that Couchsurfing isn’t for everyone, and you’ll likely have a more difficult time finding a place if you’re traveling with others. You should also always use caution by reading reviews and talking with the host before you commit to staying at their place. For iPhone or Android.
I have never actually booked an Airbnb, but it’s on the list because I know many people who have had good experiences using it and I do check it before every trip to see if I can find a place cheaper or more convenient than a hotel (so far I haven’t). Again, use caution as there are many scammers out there. For iPhone or Android.
This app lets you book hotel rooms for the day, or even a few hours, which is great if you’re on a short stopover and need somewhere affordable to sleep. Many of the accommodation options are 4-star and 5-star hotels, which means you can enjoy some comfort at a fraction of the regular price. For iPhone or Android.
This is a great database of hotel reservations that others have purchased but can no longer use. This app not only gives you a cheaper deal on your hotel stay, it allows you to help someone who can’t get a refund on a booking they can’t use themselves. The app also lets you compare rates from TripAdvisor and HotelsCombined, so you can see how much of a deal you’re getting. For iPhone or Android.
For those who like to be organized, itinerary apps are great. I have used them for travel planning in the past and they’re a fantastic way to keep track of your tickets and schedules. There are several to choose from, with a basic membership that’s free, and though each is slightly different, I haven’t found one to be better than another.
TripIt is the app I’ve used most frequently in the past to keep track of my itineraries. You can enter the details of your flights, accommodation and any activities you plan to do, including places you want to eat, and it shows a neat itinerary for each day. Clicking on each item brings up a detailed screen that includes flight information, addresses, contact info and other notes. For iPhone or Android.
TripCase has pretty much the same functionality as TripIt, but with a different look. You can enter all the same information about each aspect of your trip – flights, hotels, activities, restaurants – but the itinerary screen shows a bit more information without having to click on it to bring up details. To be honest, I’ve never been able to choose which of the two apps I like better. I suggest trying both for yourself to find your preference. For iPhone or Android.
This is an app I’ve discovered recently and it’s a bit different to the two listed above. While this might not be the ideal app for business travelers, it’s great for anyone who wants a bit more of an interactive experience – each travel itinerary offers the ability to add details of accommodation, transportation and activities, and has a built-in chat, which is great if you’re sharing your trip with others. There’s also an expenses tab that shows your total spendings in any currency you enter, a map and travel guides, which include reviews by other users. For iPhone or Android.
Travel apps for flights
Everyone has a different technique for booking flights. I personally like to use a couple of different apps to find the best prices, then book directly through the airline’s website. There are a couple of great apps that help find the cheapest airline fares – however, I suggest using caution when booking through any third-party airline ticket app as there may be hidden fares, or they might direct you to another less-than reputable booking site.
Once you’ve booked your ticket, I recommend downloading the app for the airline you’ll be traveling on. This usually helps to make check-in easier, and often allows you to keep an eye on timings and seat options.
Type the cities you want to fly between into Hopper’s search screen and it will show you the cheapest (and most expensive) days to fly over the next year. Once you pick the date you’d like to travel, the app will show you whether the price is expected to rise or fall – if you choose not to book right away, you can sign up to watch the fare for any changes. The flight details also show you how many seats are still available on the flight. For iPhone or Android.
One thing I love about Skyscanner is their complete search flexibility. You can use the “anytime” option if there isn’t a specific date you need to travel, and you can use the “anywhere” destination option if you’re simply looking for any cheap destination to fly from where you are. I usually use this app first to find the cheapest fare, and then use Hopper to see whether or not I should book now or later. For iPhone or Android.
It’s always a good idea to travel with a VPN (virtual private network). There are some countries where you’ll need one to access certain websites, and it will help protect your privacy when you’re connected to public wifi networks.
I’ve used many VPN apps over the years, particularly while I was in the Middle East and Asia, and it’s very common for countries that practice internet censorship to block certain VPNs, which is why I don’t recommend any particular app. My advice is to download a few VPNs with free trials and good reviews before your trip and try each one out when you arrive. If the free version works, it may be worth paying for a full monthly plan to give you full access over the time you’re there.
How to stay connected while traveling
Although most of these great travel apps have offline features and there are many places around the world that offer free wifi if you need it, I recommend looking at data options for your trip so you always have internet access if you need it.
If you’re in a place for an extended period of time and have an unlocked phone, try to check out the local phone companies, who might have affordable prepaid plans (usually between 7-30 days duration). Many phone companies also offer regular promotions during the first 1-2 months, which can save you a lot of money. Most airports will have booths where you can inquire about or purchase plans, and some may even offer special tourist SIM cards.
Another option is to purchase a worldwide SIM. When I was a flight attendant, I usually used KnowRoaming’s travel SIM card on layovers. These travel SIMs are fantastic if you’re traveling to several different destinations for short periods of time, though they aren’t ideal for longer trips, as charges can add up.
Ready for your trip?
I’ve created a printable travel planner that will help make trip planning a breeze. This 7-page PDF has spots to fill in hotel and flight details, emergency info, must-do activities and more. It is available as an instant digital download in the Onwards + Upwards shop.
Be sure to also check out my guide on how to choose the best hotel for your trip. I’ve compiled a list of tips based on my own experiences as a tourist, flight attendant, and hotel front desk clerk. Once you’ve found your perfect accommodation, you can read my advice on how to stay safe and healthy at your hotel.
*Please note that this article was written prior to the Covid-19 pandemic so some information may have changed.