If you’re a traveler and an iPhone or iPod Touch isn’t in your pocket, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful tools for road warriors. Much as Add-ons extend the power of Firefox, thousands of available iPhone/iPod Touch applications enable users to customize these devices exactly to their needs. Several of these apps, targeted at travelers, are the sort of tools that once you use them, make it difficult to imagine travel without them.
What follows is a list of the best iPhone/Touch apps I’ve found valuable while on the road; they range from the exceedingly simple (Room) to whimsical (Urban Spoon) to the powerful (Flight Track Pro). In a couple of cases I’ll actually list pairs of apps, one free and one with a fee; both have something of value to offer…
TripIt is a free app that enables you to have all your trip information in one place, regardless of where you made your travel arrangements.
Just forward your trip confirmation email (whether from your agency, Kayak, or any source) to firstname.lastname@example.org, and TripIt automatically creates a “master itinerary” for your trip.
You can check flight status, view your confirmation number or a map of the flight, and pull up the number for (iPod Touch) or call your agent (iPhone) right from the app. Another handy feature is the ability to email your itinerary to friends right from TripIt.
A Pro version ($7.99) is available which adds instant updates, the ability to automatically notify friends (or coworkers) about each of your itineraries, track your awards points, and find alternate flights quickly, should you need to do so. Some of the user reviews I’ve seen have been tepid, so when it came time to look for an upgrade to the free version of TripIt, I opted instead for Flight Track Pro (below).
If you’re simply looking for a neat, automated way to have your itineraries and key data in one place on your iPod Touch, the free version is just fine.
The iPhone version adds some functionality over the Touch version, such as the ability to post your itineraries to Twitter (a private account, I imagine… ?) but I can’t comment on this as I’m using an iPod Touch.
2. Flight Track Pro
Flight Track Pro also relies upon TripIt for itinerary information, but it includes real-time updates that are pushed to your device without any subscription requirement.
Not only do you receive updates automatically, but you can view live flight maps with radar. In addition to being able to email your itineraries, you can Tweet them as well, including updated flight information – in case someone is meeting you at your destination airport.
Flight Track Pro has received a number of glowing recommendations from tradition media, and user reviews are quite positive, although you should note that some users have complained about pop-up ads which promote other products from Mobiata.
3. Next Flight
You know the scenario: you’re sitting there, thinking your flight will be on time with plenty of time for your connection, and then the captain announces you’ve been put in a holding pattern. Which drags on and on. Helplessly, you watch the minutes tick away. When you land, you have to scramble, calling your airline and trying to score a seat on another aircraft or airline.
Next Flight is a great little app that does all the legwork for you. All you need to do is input your departure city and destination; you can do this when your itinerary is imported into Flight Track Pro or TripIt or, of course, on the fly. (ha)
When you’re in need of another flight since you missed your connection, fire up Next Flight, click on Find Flights, and in an instant you’ve got a complete list of flights from your current airport to your destination. You can also filter the results if you prefer to stick with certain airlines.
Provides data for 4,200 airports and 1,100 carriers; results are shown for the current date and the next day only. NOTE: Next Flight only provides information for direct flights.
Have you ever checked into a hotel late at night, gone off the next day for a day’s worth of meetings or other activities, returned to your hotel late that day only to stop and think, “What was my room number??”
If you have a cell phone equipped with a camera, just take a shot of the room number when you first get to your room. If not, there’s Room.
This app couldn’t be much simpler: launch it, enter your room number (there’s also a section for notes, e.g., “North Tower”), and you’re done.
When you scroll to the page where this app is located, your room number is prominently displayed (see upper right in image to the immediate left).
That’s it – simple and easy to access!
5. Urban Spoon
How can you combine a slot machine-like interface and a restaurant finder? Why, Urban Spoon, of course!
Choose or search for the city you’re interested in (with iPhone, let the app find you via GPS) and shake your iPod/Phone (or tap the “Shake” button), and choices come up, by cuisine and cost. If you wish, you can lock on a certain neighborhood, cuisine, or cost range.
If you don’t feel like playing the slots, you can use the “Browse” feature to search for the type of cuisine, the neighborhood, or feature (delivery, free Wi-Fi, gluten free, etc.) you’re interested in.
Once you find a restaurant that you sounds just what you’re looking for, click on it and you’ll see the results of Yelp user ratings, can read user reviews & blog posts, and can even view its location on a map.
Of course the restaurant’s phone number, and in many cases, hours of operation are displayed. You can also contribute reviews and take menu photos so as to contribute to the Urban Spoon community. The app covers hundreds and hundreds of U.S. cities.
6. Local Eats
Recommended by USA Today and The New York Times, Local Eats‘ claim to fame is that it helps you find the best local dining – its slogan is “Where The Locals Eat” – for 50 top U.S. cities.
As with Urban Spoon, if you’re using an iPhone you can let the GPS find you, or you can simply search a scrollable list of cities. Once you’ve identified your city, you can either check a list of the Top 100 restaurants for that city or a (much shorter) list of the very best restaurants in that city.
Unlike Urban Spoon, Local Eats does not offer any chain or fast food restaurants.
Once you’ve found a restaurant that looks promising, you can learn more via a series of buttons at the bottom of the touchscreen. Detailed descriptions, maps, user comments, and even photos are available. Restaurant landing pages also feature links for directions and the restaurant website; iPhone users can call directly from the app.
7. Around Me
Next up is an app designed to help you find attractions and services near your current location. First is the free “Around Me.” As you might imagine by now, your iPhone can identify your location automatically via GPS; with an iPod Touch, click on the globe in the bottom left corner of the 1st screen, type in your city name, and hit search. Locate your city from the resulting list, and you’re off and running; Around Me presents you with a lengthy list of items from which you can choose.
Choose a category, find an item that looks like a fit, and click on it. It’s instantly mapped (2nd image). Click on the greyed-out highlight, and you’ll see additional detail including a street address, phone number and a link to a map with directions.
This app is very easy to navigate and has a ton of information available for the traveler. Also available in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese.
8. MOMPF Currency Converter
First of all, MOMPF stands for mobile multi player fun; the company’s primary focus is on multiplayer games played on cell phones. That out of the way, this is a neat little currency converter. Why a currency converter when the internet is loaded with free ones? In the author’s words: “This application for your iPhone or iPod touch is a small but clever currency converter. It’s perfectly fit for a trip abroad, since it does not necessarily need an internet connection and therefore does not cause fees for international data roaming.”
With Currency Converter, you can update exchange rates once a day or whenever convenient; the MOMPF server updates exchange rates once a day. If you prefer, you can also manually enter the data.
It’s simple to pick the two currencies you want to work with, and you can leave them stored in the app. If you use several conversions, say Euros to Dollars, Pesos to Dollars, etc., they remain in the app. Tap on one of them, and it moves to the top of the screen and is ready for use.
Very simple, but exceedingly handy.
9. Wi-Fi Finder
Boasting a directory of over 270,000 locations in 135 countries worldwide, Wi-Fi Finder makes finding a free or paid hot spots simple.
If using an iPhone, Wi-Fi Finder will tell you exactly how far away each hot spot is, and how to get there.
If you prefer certain providers, you’ll be able to see which hot spots are served by those providers.
Phone numbers and directions are provided to each hot spot; you can bookmark ones that you want to return to.
Another dead simple app. I almost always carry a small light with me, but if you don’t and you need to get up during the night, Flashlight is a great little option.
As the name implies, tap on this app’s icon and your iPod Touch / Phone turns into a serviceable light.
Also, completely superfluous, you can change from different “bulb” images and colors, so woo hoo!
In any event, it beats a stubbed toe, and it’s free.
I love the concept, but it only applies to the GPS-equipped iPhone, but Take Me To My is a great way for you to bookmark certain locations (your car, your hotel, etc.) so you can easily find your way back. It’s $ .99
Also, for globe trotters, Lonely Planet has a series of foreign language phrasebooks which provide common phrases and their phonetic pronunciations. Not cheap at $9.99 a pop, they’re nevertheless easy to navigate and effective.
A different approach is taken by Babelingo, which also offers translations of common phrases. Instead of encouraging you to try to speak the phrase, Babelingo translates it and displays in on your screen in large type: you just show it to your waiter/cab driver/pickpocket/etc.
How about you? Have you found any killer travel related apps for the iPod Touch or iPhone? If yes, please join the conversation by commenting!
The Fine Print: I have no connection to any of apps mentioned here, nor to their creators.
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