Remember when travelling used to be a chore? Back around the time of Phileas Fogg, traversing the globe was a total nightmare. Nowadays, the only mild inconveniences are airport security and the air hostess telling you to switch your phone off. Smartphones have long since supplanted looking out the window as the preferred means of passing the time when you’re stuck in your seat, whether it be in a jet, car, train, boat or Soyuz spacecraft. Though if you’ve managed to pay $30million for the privilege of being sent into space, it would seem wasteful to be mucking about on Concur while travelling faster than Concorde.
Travel apps have changed the way most of us move. At the last count, there were 24,000 travel apps on the Apple App Store, with more being added every day, which is great news if you have just picked up an iPhone 4S contract before you set off on your travels. From currency converters to airport maps, online travel agents to foreign language lessons; suffice to say, they’ve thought of just about everything. But which are the best of the bunch?
It’s worth nothing, first of all, that not all of the 24,000 apps on the App Store are particularly useful. Many are pointless, inane and redundant. The best, however, can be saving graces, providing GPS to ride to the rescue when you’re lost; alerting you to top-rated restaurants in your vicinity and providing a succinct appraisal of car-hire companies and their rates.
For the latter, the Kayak app, available for free and compatible with Android phones, BlackBerry and iPhone/Pad, is the pick of the bunch, and can also return useful results for flights and hotels, allowing you to plan your itinerary in just a few swishes of a smartphone’s screen.
If you happen to be travelling to multiple destinations within a short timeframe, the Trip It Travel Organizer is equally handy. Once linked to your email account, Trip It funnels every confirmation number that enters your inbox into a simple itinerary for your convenience. Flight delays or cancellations are even accommodated, with Trip It updating your schedule automatically.
The popular travel guide Lonely Planet, meanwhile, has entered the app world, offering a service replete with maps, walking tours and audio phrasebooks. While the print guide is still the best way get the full lowdown on your destination, the apps are more up-to-date, and can be used in conjunction with others – like Qtype, for example.
Qtype is a location-based application that puts hundreds of thousands of travel reviews in the palm of your hand. First night in Vien Tien, Laos? Not sure where to go, where not to go and what bizarre local laws you may be violating by having the tattoo of a naked lady exposed on your left deltoid? Qtype can help you locate the best nightlife and eating spots, before showing you the way with a helping hand from Google maps.
If you’re a budding travel photographer, the Photosynth app stitches together your scenic photos to create panoramic vistas and 360-degree views that would normally take a weekend of intensive Photoshopping to achieve. Even postcards can now be sent via smartphones, with the Postagram app. Snap a pic, write a message and Postagram will despatch it back home, all for the cost of a regular postcard. Alternatively, you may wish to simply look up the Skype app and video call your family for free. These days, anyone can travel around the world with 80 apps. With a little planning and a universal phone charger, anything’s possible.