Posted: 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
By Jamie Beckman
From trip planning to packing to getting around a foreign city—and even speaking the language—let these easy-to-use apps power your next vacation!
When you're mapping out a game plan for a trip, searching for good recommendations can be a crapshoot. Desti's mission is to extract "meaningful" reviews of destinations like wineries and hotels in more than 14,000 U.S. cities using artificial intelligence, or "machine learning" that culls information from pre-existing reviews. The app "reads" others' assessments for keywords about, for example, cleanliness and good value. The result is similar to a Zagat guide. "It will tell you what keeps repeating in reviews, for instance 'Guests love the free breakfast' or alternatively 'The breakfast is mediocre, according to most reviewers,'" says Desti CEO Nadav Gur.
One advantage of Desti is that you're able to be incredibly specific with long searches, typing in multiple details about what you're looking for in, say, a hotel—price, child-friendliness, proximity to beaches, number of rooms, etc.—and get back the best match. Sure beats relying on Google alone.
You'll never have to run out to a drugstore in an unfamiliar city again with Packing Pro, a crazy-extensive list-maker that lets you create checklists that include everything from contact solution to foreign cash.
Packing Pro has been around for a few years, but a new feature enables users to filter a list by person or bag (or both). That means you can create a list for your separate carry-on, and see what your child plans to throw into a bigger family suitcase. The lists are reusable, so you don't have to start from scratch each time, and iCloud auto-sync lets multiple viewers edit and view the same list.
The $2.99 price tag is hefty for an app, but it has the potential to pay for itself relatively quickly. "Packing Pro has already saved me several times its cost, by not having to repurchase these easily forgettable items: toothbrush and toothpaste, iPhone recharger, belt, and electric shaver," founder and developer Quinn Genzel says. "Also, as an international budget traveler myself, I have been to places where certain things aren't even available for purchase, or would require some expensive transportation to locate and acquire." On a purely practical level, if a bag were stolen, the saved list is useful for insurance reimbursement purposes.
If you want to be as hands-off as possible, you can harness the power of the app's "Expert List Generator," which creates lists for you based on number of vacation days, temperature at your destination, domestic or foreign locale. If only it could actually pack for you too.
The day you make your way from home to the airport is can be a hectic melee if you're time-crunched or traveling last minute, but GateGuru—TripAdvisor's latest app acquisition - aims to fix that. The app's new FlightBoard feature gives you real-time information on the airport you're flying into or from, so you can spot flight delays and get gate information before you've arrived.
"I was on my way to the airport once and was browsing the Flightboard. I knew my departure gate because I was tracking my flight," says GateGuru community manager Zachary Einzig. "I took a look at Arrivals on the Flightboard, found my gate, and I saw that the flight coming into that gate, which I assumed was going to be my plane, was delayed. I immediately called Delta and although they hadn't posted a delay for my flight yet, they too saw this situation and I rebooked my flight."
Currently, the app covers 214 airports—in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, and 10 Australia. Once you're actually at the airport, the app can help you find cheap eats and net you discounts on merchandise and last-minute car rentals. Plus, the deals and airport maps are pre-downloadable, so you can avoid roaming fees in foreign countries.
For those long layovers when your flight has been delayed… and delayed again… it's nice to have in-airport options that don't make you feel trapped. Smart Layover finds activities like day-use hotels for a nap and sightseeing tours that are close to the airport, along with maps and directions, so you can take advantage of a long layover.
"We only display activities that people will have time to do during their layover window," says Smart Layover CEO Sam Makaryan, "and we build in enough time to go from the airport to your destination via driving or public transportation, do the activity, and get back to the airport and through security with plenty of time. We also provide security wait times for all major U.S. airports so there are no surprises when you return from exploring."
If you don't want to stray far, though, and would rather purchase a tablet to read a book on, rent a DVD, or grab a snack, Smart Layover provides deals with InMotion electronics stores, restaurants, and retail stores. You pay 10 percent of the deal up front via the app, then the rest of the purchase price at the store via QR code. For now, you have to type in your credit card each time you buy something, but Smart Layover eventually plans to add credit-card storage to the app in an upcoming update.
Last-minute hotel booking app Hotel Tonight has gotten major buzz for its swanky, user-friendly app that unleashes discounted day-of bookings at high noon every day.
"Just recently, we had hotel rooms in New York selling for under 100 bucks over the Fourth of July weekend," says Jared Simon, COO and co-founder of Hotel Tonight. "Similarly, we sold $99 rooms country-wide on New Year's Eve in 2011." The app reaches 12 countries in North America and Western Europe as of right now.
Another useful feature is the app's ability to snag last-minute hotel rooms in cities hosting big events, like the Super Bowl. The bargains aren't quite as good then, but if you're bound and determined to stay in a certain place at a certain time, it's a good tool to have in your arsenal.
If you need general facts about the city you're in and you need them now, TripAdvisor's Offline City Guides are a no-nonsense way to get an overview of what's going on. Download maps straight from the app for free, without Wi-Fi—useful for foreign cities to avoid roaming fees. When downloaded, the guides take up a big chunk of memory space on your phone, but the lists of restaurants, hotels, shopping, nightlife, tours, and attractions are extensive, all with TripAdvisor's signature reviews and ratings.
A few other fun (free) features: You can check out suggested itineraries, see public transportation information, and send virtual "postcards" via Facebook, text, or email using the app's instagram-like filters in quirky customizable frames that feature sentiments like "Greetings from New York City," "Miss You," and "What a View!"
Languages as common as Spanish and French and as obscure as Esperanto and Pashto are included in the 20 languages Jibbigo can translate via text or voice. The free app requires a Wi-Fi connection, but if you pony up for Jibbigo Plus, you can download the translators and use them offline anywhere. Prices range from $2.99 to $4.99 for "language pairs" like English/German to regional packages (Asia, Europe) for $9.99. Twenty-five bucks buys you the complete "world" package.
The app is still working out some Siri-like bugs with the voice translator, but you can tap that spoken text and edit it to make sure it "hears" you correctly, says Elizabeth Criss, communications coordinator for Jibbigo. You can also share the translations via text, email, or social media if you find a translation particularly compelling—or particularly funny. More telling: Facebook liked the company behind Jibbigo so much that it recently acquired it.
"I can't tell you how many customers write to tell us how the app saved them on a travel adventure," Criss says. "When you are in a foreign land, you don't have Wi-Fi, and you don't know the language, Jibbigo is your best friend."
Making your Instagram followers jealous is now easier than ever with Picfari, a photo hunt app that shows you where to get the best shots of landmarks and vistas and encourages you to snap the best photo opps in popular locales ranging from Atlanta to Istanbul.
"It's like scouting a location that professionals do when shooting a movie or planning a photo shoot," says app co-founder Scott Herr. "Depending on the time you have in a place, you can choose an Express Picfari—the four to six best shots of a location—up to the longer, more comprehensive All-Star Picfari, 10 to 15 shots."
Plan far ahead and store Picfaris in your phone before you hit a locale (no Wi-Fi necessary), or be spontaneous with the Picfaris Around Me function, which leads you to hunts right around where you're standing. You can't push the photos to social media through the app yet, but that's on the horizon for one of Picfari's future updates.
For pros who have skills beyond pointing and clicking, the app publishes Exchangeable Image File data with each photo, including shutter speed and whether if a flash was used, etc., to help experienced photographers choose a lens for their high-tech cameras. Later, at your computer, you can upload your tour to Picfari and kindly share your best shots with other photo hunters who are using the app.
Wading through reviews to find the current best restaurants in the city you're visiting can be frustrating if you don't know who's recommending them. Eater's specialized, country-wide blogs have developed a reputation for staying on top of trends and openings in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. With the brand-new Eater app, you can find out which are near you, in either a map view or list view. What makes this app worth the 99 cents is that you know you're getting the cream of the crop, lessening the chances you'll unknowingly walk right into a tourist trap.
Alongside recently recommended "essential" restaurants on Eater's top 38 lists, the app incorporates the site's popular Heat Map, which gives you the scoop on which restaurants are currently the most trendy and sought after. Those hotspots are indicated on a Google map with a little flame. Tap the restaurant, and you get a photo of the restaurant, a short review, a directions button, and an option to call the restaurant. The mini reviews are particularly useful and easy to scan quickly, giving tips like "a solid choice for date night" and "be ready for crowds," so you know what to expect before you unfold your napkin.
Taking a dream vacation is rewarding when you're there, but remembering exactly what you did and what your destination looked like is easier said than done, especially if you have to go through the trouble of uploading photos from your digital camera and putting them into an album. The Evernote app is great for a lot of things, but one of its specialties is travel.
While you're on vacation, treat the app as though it were a living notebook. Brochures, menus, and maps can all be uploaded as mementos, so you won't be stumped when someone asked which trail you hiked or what you ate at a particular café or restaurant. (Those docs become searchable too once they're in Evernote's system.) Or, use audio and visuals to craft "rich notes" for intensely original moments, like a photo of a church and the sound of the church bells ringing.
Every "note" you create is stamped with the time, date, and the location in which it was made; use the Atlas view to see where you've gone and what you did. That's particularly useful when you're vying for bragging rights with other frequent-traveler friends.
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