Traveling isn’t just about the destination. Carry On is our series devoted to how we get away in the digital age, from the choices we make to the experiences we share.
Traveling takes a lot of planning, but it also takes a certain degree of spontaneity. Too much planning, and you’re stripping yourself of the opportunity to stumble upon something great by chance. Too much spontaneity, and you’ll find yourself missing out on interesting adventures that require you to plan ahead. The perfect collection of travel apps will help you balance both.
We’ve curated a collection of the best travel apps to help you do just that. Our list will help you plan your trip, explore local hidden gems, navigate cities, and connect with people — all while keeping your wallet happy and your body healthy. Don’t expect to see super-obvious, super-famous apps you already know, though; the Ubers, Lyfts, and Wazes of the world didn’t make the list because we know you’re looking for discoveries.
Best for planning
Hate making lists, but hate forgetting things even more? You might want to look into PackPoint. The app customizes packing lists based on weather forecasts and a questionnaire about your trip — where you’re going, when you’re going, what you’re doing, etc.
You can get all these features with the free app; but with a $2.99 in-app purchase, you’ll also get to create custom activities and save their complementary items for when you return to the app in the future.
Travel planning is stressful, especially when it comes with an expensive price tag. It gets a teeny bit easier, though, when you make it a habit to plan trips around your budget. Hopper can help you with that.
The app watches billions of hotel and flight prices every day and draws on historical data to generate a color-coded calendar based on forecasted prices. What really makes Hopper stands out from its competitors, though, is the fact that it helps keep specific flights and hotels under your watch. Enable push notifications, and the app will tell you when it’s the best time to book, and alert you just before prices rise or right after they fall.
Best for your body
Free for iOS, . In-app purchases available.
Here’s a fact: You’re lying if you say you enjoy jet lag. It makes you sleepy when you’re supposed to be awake and throws your entire trip out of sync. Timeshifter is the one app I wish I had known about before I took a 16-hour flight home to visit my family earlier this year. Astronauts use it, elite athletes use it, maybe you should check it out, too.
The app was developed by scientists based on sleep and circadian neuroscience. It offers advice about when you should expose yourself to bright lights, when you should avoid caffeine, and when you should nap. The best part? It takes into account your habits, routines, and sleep patterns as it devises a personalized jet lag plan for you. A simple timeline detailing the plan makes it all the more easy to follow along. The downside? You only get one free plan. After that, it’s $9.99 per plan or $24.99 for a year of unlimited plans.
Listen, shitting your pants is not a good look. Download this public bathroom finder right this second before you ruin your perfectly-planned vacation outfit. You can thank me later.
But seriously, Flush is as self-explanatory as apps get. Just open it, enable location services or type in your location — and voila, all the public bathrooms near you are listed and pinned on a map, along with logos that indicate whether they are free and disability-accessible. You can even add new public bathrooms to the app if you’re feeling like an extra good Samaritan. Who knows? You could save someone from embarrassing themselves.
Best for managing your money
Free for iOS. In-app purchases available.
Budgeting is difficult enough, let alone budgeting in a foreign currency. Many apps try to help with personal finance, but only a few offer features that help convert budgets and spending back-and-forth between local and foreign currencies with ease. Trail Wallet is among the few that does.
Trail Wallet is built by full-time travelers and road-tested by thousands of travelers, and it’s probably the most intuitive and user-friendly app of its kind — at least among the ones I’ve tested. A cartoon assistant sets you up and walks you through the app, kind of like a video game. Once you’re in, you can set a daily budget and track your spending by the week and by categories. It makes converting currency easy, too — all you have to do is tap your screen while you’re in the app’s dashboard. You can also switch between currencies as you document your spending. You can track your first 25 transactions for free; after that, it takes a $4.99 one-time purchase for unlimited tracking.
This app is iOS only, so Android users can try the free app Trabee Wallet. It’s similar to Trail Wallet, albeit slightly less user-friendly. If you want the app to automatically covert between currencies, though, you’ll have upgrade to the pro version for $1.99.
Free for iOS.
Different countries have different tipping customs. No one likes to spend extra money tipping when they don’t have to, or worse — not tipping when they’re supposed to. GlobeTips can help with navigating different tipping norms across countries.
Once you select a country, you have the option to either manually enter the bill amount or let the app’s bill recognition technology do it for you. Use the sliding scale to adjust tip percentages based on the app’s suggestion, and it will calculate and display both the tip and your total. Splitting the bill? The app will calculate that, too. You can also customize the app so that it’s set to include or exclude taxes in its tip calculation.
You can peep at tipping basics for each country on the free version, but you’ll have to upgrade the app for $4.99 if you want to read the tip guide in full. This app is for iOS users only, however. Sorry Android heads, you’ll just have to Google.
Best for local experiences
You probably already use Airbnb to book short-term rentals for your trips. But did you know you can use it to book experiences and activities with locals, too?
With Airbnb Experiences, you can learn to roll pasta from scratch with a grandma in Italy, or make mole with an indigenous cook in Mexico. You can go on a music history and culture tour with a DJ in Cuba, or adventure in the desert with a local from Oman. The app offers more than 3,000 cooking experiences in 75 countries; 1000-plus animal experiences guided by biologists, conservationists, and animal lovers; and over 500 multi-day, all-inclusive trips led by locals. The options are abundant, really.
Secret concerts are fun enough. But secret concerts in a city you’re visiting for the first time? Even better.
Sofar Sounds traces its origin to an intimate gig in a London apartment, where the founder and seven other people gathered for a low-key performance by a musician friend. Today, the app reinvents everyday spaces — living rooms, retail shops, etc. — to host hundreds of secret shows every month across 444 cities. Some shows you can purchase tickets for right away, others require that you enter a lottery. You’ll receive an email with an address to the concert the day before the event, but you won’t actually find out who’s playing until you get there. They say traveling is all about being open-minded; with Sofar Sounds you’ll get to do that through music.
If we’re being honest, half of traveling is just experiencing the local cuisine. And there’s nothing more disappointing than when you’re expecting good food but end up at a tourist trap. Well, eating with locals is one way to avoid that.
Eatwith hand-picks locals from more than 130 countries to host dinner parties, food tours, and cooking classes. You can take a paella cooking class in someone’s private garden, dine in a London tube train, or enjoy a gourmet dinner at a Michelin chef’s kitchen. Want to keep your belly happy? It might not be a bad idea to look into one of the 5000-plus dining experience Eatwith offers.
Great minds think alike, and they get together with the help of Meetup. Maybe you’re looking for a fellow photographer to capture the beauty of the city you’re visiting, maybe you want to join in on a protest while you’re around, or maybe you’re just looking for an open mic or a stand-up show for fun. In any case, Meetup will help facilitate that.
The platform is all about connecting people with similar interests. It has more than 44 million users and more than 333,000 meetup groups, so you’re bound to find something. Once you find a group that interests you, you can request to become a member and attend its events. The app is free unless you’re trying to organize groups and events yourself — in which case you’ll have to pay for a subscription starting at $9.99. What better way to experience a city than connecting with locals?
This app by long-time travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet is a great go-to companion for all your trips. It’s a comprehensive app with 8,368 city guides and a search engine that lets you explore places you can see, eat, shop, and sleep in each city. Each guide comes with a list of must-sees, a handful of tours and tickets you can reserve via the app, and the ability to create a bucket list. It also comes with insights into the city, tips for getting around, neighborhood overviews, phrasebooks of the local language, and budgeting advice based on local spending trends.
Don’t expect to get all those features for free, though. While the app itself doesn’t cost money, you’ll have to purchase a subscription that starts at $4.99 a month if you want to read beyond the few pages of free preview the app offers.
Think of Culture Trip as a hybrid between a city guide publisher and a digital media company. With the app, you’ll get to explore a city’s personality, culture, offerings, and intricacies through original video series, stories and listicles like “New York City Hacks Even Locals Don’t Know,” “The 10 Best Kept Secrets in Amsterdam,” and “The 8 Best Boutique Hotels in Tokyo.” The app is great for if you want to experience a city beyond the obvious tourist attractions. The best part? it’s all free.
Best for navigation
Sometimes, the best way to experience a city is through its public transportation system. It’s a cost-efficient way to surround yourself with locals and get a feel for the city’s daily hustle and bustle. Alas, many navigation apps are built and designed around driving; Citymapper is not one of them.
Citymapper’s interface looks similar to most other navigation apps, but it’s laced with simple, thoughtful touches that make a big difference for public transportation commuters. Once you select a city, the app will direct you to a local map where you can easily view built-in public transit maps, schedules for transportation nearby, and alerts of route changes, tardiness, etc.
The maps in this app are also built specifically to reflect the nuances of, and differences between, each city’s public transportation offerings. Citymapper’s version of New York City, for example, includes information about the subway, buses, shared bikes, trains, ferries, and PATH (which connects New York and New Jersey); in Hong Kong, it offers information also about trams, minibuses, and what locals call the “red van.”
For now though, Citymapper is only available in 41 major cities. While users can vote and help decide which maps the app should develop next, those who are road-tripping or traveling to places outside of City Mapper’s coverage will probably have an easier time using something like Google Maps.
AllTrails is for travelers who love the great outdoors. The app offers access to more than 100,000 trail maps alongside a filtering feature that lets you sort them by difficulty, distance, elevation, activity type, attractions, accessibility, traffic, and user rating. Looking for an easy, dog-friendly trail for bird-watching? AllTrails can help you with that. An off-road driving trail that passes a waterfall, a wheelchair-friendly camping trail near a river, a running trail with beautiful wild flowers? Check, check, and check. The app also features a GPS-tracking function that keeps tabs on your location, progress, pace, elevation, and speed. Hate the wilderness? It’s still a great way to explore nearby parks.
You’ll get all the features we just mentioned with the free app. But if you’re an avid outdoor junkie looking to navigate trails offline, receive off-route notifications, or share real-time location with safety contacts, you’ll have to upgrade to the pro version for $29.99 a year or $59.99 for three years.
Best for connecting
Google Translate may be helpful for lazy students looking to cheat their way out of Spanish class, but it’s helpful for travelers heading to places where they don’t speak the language, too.
The app supports 103 languages for basic text translation and 59 languages for offline text translation. What really comes in handy when you’re traveling, though, is the instant camera and conversation translation features. Point your camera at a sign, and the app will detect and translate the text for you as long as it’s within the 90 languages it supports. Speaking to a taxi driver or an Airbnb host? Use the bilingual conversation feature to communicate with them on the fly; it supports 43 languages.
The app is free with no strings attached. So just download it, and you’re ready to go.
Wifi Finder + Map
Free for iOS. In-app purchases available.
We could be recommending a number of messaging apps you already know about here, but what you really need is internet access. Sure, apps like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, FaceTime, and WeChat can connect you with friends and family abroad for free; but they’re all useless without the internet. Wifi Finder + Map, which draws information from a crowdsourced database about Wifi locations and speed, can help solve that problem.
As soon as you open the app, you’ll see all the WiFi spots near you. They come with labels based on their locations — hotel, cafe, restaurant, bars, etc. — which you can use to filter through based on your needs. What differentiates this app from other WiFi locators, though, is the fact that it shows you how quickly each network responds to what you’re trying to do — e-mailing, web-browsing, gaming, streaming, or video-chatting. To access and use the finder without internet though, you’ll have to purchase a subscription for $7.99 a year or $4.49 for three months.
WiFi Finder + Map is currently available only on the App Store. Android users can try WiFi Map, although it does not offer the same speed analysis as Wifi Finder + Map.