I’m amazed at how immersed in phone culture we’ve become. But I can’t live without my iPhone while traveling, so using a smartphone for travel is a must for me.
My smartphone keeps all the details I need for my trip in one place. Of course cell service or a wifi connection is a must, but it’s rare not to have access to one or the other long enough to check your details.
As a backup in case cell or wifi isn’t available, I also use an app like Tripit to keep all my departure and arrival times handy. Notes in my Notes app on my phone are a handy place to store key codes for Airbnbs, local telephone numbers for hotels or B&Bs and anything I may need quick access to on the fly.
I’ve found these apps are all relatively easy to use so if you’re not a techie don’t worry. There’s many more apps to choose from but these are the ones I use daily.
Here’s my 7 best FREE travel apps:
Tripit is an easy to use trip planner to store all your travel details in a chronological itinerary. It’s super helpful when your trip includes planes, trains, hotels and car rentals.
Download the app and sign up using the same email you use for your booking confirmations.
Give your trip a name (ex England, France and Scotland Fall 2020). Then forward your confirmation emails to Tripit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tripit collates them into chronological order. Magically it extracts all the details to give you a snapshot of each reservation. It even tells you which gate your flight is leaving from and updates you if a flight is delayed.
You can also manually enter or edit any details. For example if you’re going on a tour and the confirmation email doesn’t include your day to day activities, add those manually.
If you don’t get a confirmation email from Tripit that your details have been added (a Setting on the app) email them directly. Sometimes a tour operator or airline changes their email format. Email email@example.com and let them know.
I can’t tell you how helpful it is to know where you’re supposed to be each day! Being able to look at your entire trip at a glance is priceless.
Trip by Concur- Free
TripitPro – $49 a year
iOS | Android
2. GOOGLE MAPS
Google Maps is an invaluable mapping resource to get step by step or turn by turn GPS directions anywhere you need to go.
Use Google Maps to estimate how long it will take to walk, drive or use public transportation. The app isn’t foolproof. For example it’s not dependable to use as a GPS or sat nav while driving. With a US cell phone provider your signal may be unreliable on country roads. Make sure your rental car comes with built in GPS capability.
I use Google Maps as a backup to any printed directions or maps. I’ll even write down the sequence of turns on a sheet of paper if I’m driving to be prepared for low or no signal.
Google Maps is handy if you need public transportation options or need to know how to walk from one location to another. Type in your destination and hit Directions. Tap either the car, bus, walking, cycling or plane icon to get the correct bus, or train and departures. Tap the double arrow icon next to your destination up top to get directions in reverse.
Bus and train schedules change but Google Maps is a good starting point if you want to see when the next bus or train is leaving. I use it to pre-map out a trip to make sure I can get from point A to point B via a combination of walking, train and bus.
Download a map of a city or town to save in case you lose cell or WiFi service. Your directions won’t be enabled if you’re off line but you’ll have a map to refer to. Simply swipe to past Directions to the right to Download or Share your map. I downloaded a map of Gatwick Airport so I would have a general sense of where I needed to drive to once I got there.
Google Maps – Free
iOS | Android
3. WHITE NOISE
I use this app at home to get a good night’s sleep but I’d be lost without it when I’m traveling. Having your own personal sleep sound mix is invaluable to help mask the random noises that can keep you awake when you’re staying in a different environment like a hotel or Airbnb .
White Noise app contains a library of sounds such as white noise, rain fall, ocean waves and even vacuum cleaner! It’s easy to create your own custom mix. For example, I like a deeper sound so I mix brown noise with waves for my custom ambient sleep sound. The paid version of White Noise also lets you record your own sounds!
Use the app Settings panel, to adjust your personal preferences. I set Background Audio to ON and Auto Sleep Clock to ON. Before I turn out the light, I simply tap the app and turn on my personal mix. From here I can adjust the sound volume. If I’m in a hotel with more noise, I’ll turn it up a little more than at home. White Noise will play until I turn it off. Once I’m awake, I tap to turn off the volume and close the app.
White Noise by TMSoft – Free
iOS | Android
What’sApp allows you to call or message home for free from any country- what more can I say?
I use it to call the US when I’m in the UK and vice versa. When US cell plans charge up to $3. per minute for calls, What’sApp is a money saver and super convenient. Of course you can also text, send photos and videos.
When you’re traveling your plan may have less cell data to use than the unlimited plan you may have at home. For this reason I recommend using WhatsApp on WiFi as it will suck your data allowance down very quickly.
What’sApp is owned by Facebook, so it’s easy to add your Facebook contacts and start calling. Group your contacts together so you can message two or more at once, handy when you’re communicating with family. Create a WhatsApp group with husband, wife and kids for example so everyone gets the message.
What’sApp – Free
iOS | Android
5. MOBILE PASSPORT
My boyfriend was green with envy when I breezed through customs ahead of the line with Mobile Pass. The app is officially recognized by US Customs and Border Protection. Mobile Passport works for US citizens and Canadian visitors to the US. It’s one of my must have travel apps.
After you download the app, simply take a selfie, fill in your passport details and you’re ready to travel.
Wait until you’re within 4 hours of landing at a US airport to activate your entry form. I wait until we touch down and I have a WiFi signal. With Mobile Pass you won’t need to fill out a landing card.
Mobile Pass currently works at 27 US airports and 4 cruise ports.
Once you complete the sequence of entry questions your app will create a QR code.
For example, at Denver International, there’s a separate line for Mobile Passport or Global Assist once you enter the customs area. Walk to that line and you’ll be directed to a customs official. Have the Mobile Pass app open- be sure to enable cellular data for the app in your Settings. You’ll be asked to scan the QR code on their desktop device.
Customs may still ask you questions about your stay in the US, but it cuts out having to fill in the landing card on the plane and waiting in a longer line once you debark. Worth it!
More details and to apply.
Mobile Passport by Airside – Free
iOS | Android
6. APPLE WALLET
Although technically not an app, Apple Wallet is invaluable for quick and easy credit card payments on the go. Use it to store your boarding passes, train and event tickets too.
I started using Apple Wallet in England after I got tired of signing for every single purchase on my US credit/debit card.
If you’re traveling to Europe, your US credit cards will trigger an request for signature which can slow you down and have you digging for your wallet and a pen.
In Britain (and Europe), most credit card POS machines are contactless making Apple Wallet a clear choice. Simply add the credit card you want to use to Apple Wallet (I use one with no foreign transaction fees). Hold your phone up to the POS machine, or open Apple Wallet. Select which card you want to use if you have enabled more than one.
If you use touchprint recognition on your phone, lightly hold your phone and touch the home button with your thumb. Or key in your phone’s security code. The phone will beep “Done” once it accepts the card. Most contactless transactions are limited to under $50. (£30) but each merchant and bank may have different limits.
Apple Wallet – Free
iOS | Android users, check out Android Pay
I’ve written about the Trainline app before. If you plan to travel by train in the UK, it’s an invaluable resource. Since train service has been deregulated, booking can get a little confusing. You need to deal with multiple train networks throughout the United Kingdom and each one has its own website and rates.
Trainline is an aggregate site where you can book any overground train on any line in the UK and most of Europe.
Keep in mind, if your journey leads you through London as ours did from Brighton to Edinburgh, you’ll be responsible for booking any underground or tube travel from one train station to the other separately.
Trainline will allow you to book point to point, single or return fares at the lowest fare available. The app allows you to book and pay for the tickets; then pick them up at any station ticket machine. I store a CC in the app so I don’t have to key in details each time. Some rail lines allow for mobile paperless tickets.
The app allows you to see details such as your trains’ journey tracker and when the next train is to your destination (handy when your train gets canceled!). I buy my ticket ahead of time and the app stores them under “My Tickets” on the app.
If you’re planning on any train travel within the UK I highly recommend Trainline. You can also book on their website if that’s more convenient. The app is free but Trainline adds a small fee of up to £1.50 to each ticket you book.
Trainline – Free
iOS | Android
Now you know my go to travel apps aka phone magic to make my travel a lot less stressful and paper free. The only hitch is you need cell service, data or wifi connection to make it all work. If you’re carrying your US cellphone your cell service may not be very robust. Be prepared for slower loading times or service dropping altogether. Especially when you’re traveling through countryside on a train!
Most trains, buses and public spaces have free WiFi so take advantage, just be aware of using public wifi for any sensitive transactions.
Although you may want to switch off cell roaming to save on data charges, remember to enable cellular data for any travel app you plan to use.
Last but not least. I rely on my phone and apps to keep me on time and on track, but I also use local intel such as train or airport departure boards to double check my departures. Trains get cancelled and flights get delayed.
Here’s my favorite travel resources to check out before you go.