Want to book a luxury suite in Luxembourg, or find a restroom in Rome? There’s an app for that, and then some. An estimated 17,000 travel apps are now available. We’ve tried a lot of them, and even produced two ourselves. Here’s a look at some of the most useful, straightforward, do-what-they-promise travel apps. They have gotten us out of travel jams, acted as cyber-concierges, and hooked us up with what we needed in a flash.
No more will we fumble through file folders containing trip details, or lose the slip of paper containing that crucial confirmation number or contact name. Now, we organize all the details of our trip, including schedules, flights, hotels, rentals cars, and reservations, with this app. We simply forward e-mail confirmations (air, train, car, hotel), and the easy-to-use app organizes everything into one master itinerary. If that’s too much work, you can also set it up to scan your e-mail inbox for confirmations and it will automatically import this information into your itinerary. We plug in notes and contact information, check weather and flight status, get directions, and even make restaurant reservations from the itinerary. This essential app will make your life on the road much easier and more organized. Free for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone; www.tripit.com
We will never pay for a text message again, no matter where we are in the world. Instead, while traveling, we use this money-saving app to send unlimited free texts. All you need is a Wi-Fi or 3G connection to send texts and group messages, and share photos, videos, and audio clips. You — and your contacts — must have the app (similar to using Skype), but texts can be sent between any kind of smartphone. The program will automatically scan the existing phone numbers in your address book to locate those using WhatsApp. $.99 for iPhone; free for the first year (then $.99 a year) for Android, BlackBerry, Nokia S40, Nokia Symbian, Window Phone; www.whatsapp.com
Stuff happens: Flights are canceled, connections missed, itineraries change, and we need a last-minute room for the night, without busting the budget. This app has saved us many times. It’s fun, simple to navigate, and lets you make last-minute bookings in 65-plus cities throughout North America and Europe. Even better: Hotels hate unsold rooms
and are often willing to offer deep discounts at the last minute. Hotel Tonight posts last-minute room rates, sometimes up to 70 percent off normal rack rates, in a range of categories like Basic and Luxe. Searches pull out same-day availability; you can’t book before noon, but you can book more than one night at some properties. We’ve used this app for impromptu, closer-to-home getaways, too, when the prices were too good to pass up. Free for Android, iPhone, iPad; www.hoteltonight.com
Need to ask “Where is the nearest Metro station?” and your high school French is failing you? This app can translate text between more than 60 languages and can speak the words back in the native dialect of 17 languages. Simply talk into your smartphone and it translates words and phrases into the language of your choice. With a push of a button, you can navigate between languages and from text to speech. It even offers pop-up word suggestions. Free for Android,
iPhone, iPad; www.google.com/mobile/translate
FREE WI-FI FINDER
Soon, we suppose, the entire universe will be a Wi-Fi hot spot. But we’re not there yet. This simple app by JiWire reveals nearly 500,000 free and paid wireless connections in cities throughout the world. Enable the Wi-Fi scanner to locate hot spots or search within a directory. The program also provides directions and phone numbers for locations. Free for iPhone, iPad, Android; www.jiwire.com
This sweet freebie (not to be confused with the slightly creepy Girls Around Me app) has saved us hours of searching and aggravation. Need to find an ATM or a gas station in a hurry? Want to know the closest pub, supermarket, or movie house? You name it: hotels, theaters, parking, pharmacies, restaurants, banks, hospitals . . . pretty much whatever you’re searching for anywhere in the world, this will send you in the right direction. It also provides phone numbers and GPS-driven directions. Free for Android, iPhone, iPad; www.aroundme
If you love it on your laptop, you’ll adore it as an app. This comprehensive search engine mines mountains of datafor the best prices on airlines, hotels, and car rental sites. Flights can be sorted by price, duration, number of stops,airports, and layover time; we love the “buzz” feature, which shares the best fares foundby other users. (Fare history is envy-inspiring, but ultimately useful.) You can reschedule missed or canceled flightsdirectly through your phone, too. With hotels, you can search for deals for tonight or by rating, price, brand, or distance from wherever you want to be. Free for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone; www.kayak.com/mobile
No need to pay top dollar for freeway fill-ups on your next road trips. This app locates the nearest gas station and shows approximate price per gallon; stations and prices throughout the United States and Canada pop up on a map. Free for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry; www.gasbuddy.com
Stuck with a long layover or a flight delay? Meet your new TFF (travel friend forever), a guide to more than 700 of the world’s airport terminals. (It found us rocking chairs near a live pianist at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, which helped make a six-hour delay bearable.) Find food, terminal, and gate locations, restrooms, shops, and other services. Free for Android, iPhone, iPad; www.ifly.com
The king of crowdsourcing, Yelp’s opinionated bunch of 50 million contributors offer their insights on restaurants, hotels, and services. Mostly, we use it to get advice for eating on the fly in an unfamiliar neighborhood and are rarely disappointed. Free for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Phone; www.yelp.com/yelpmobileDiane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.