Summer is here, so what apps and services should be on your must-have list for travel? Here are some options.
Before you go
As an Irish footballer once said: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. And that also applies to your travel plans for the summer, whether they are at home or farther afield.
The first step is booking your stay, and there are plenty of apps and sites to help you get the best deal. Hopper, for example, allows you to book hotels, flights, car rental and so on at your chosen destination. The app will watch for deals and give you a nudge when prices drop so you can jump on one as quickly as possible. If you spot a deal you might like, you can freeze the price and Hopper will cover up to $300 (€281) if the prices subsequently rise.
Every booking made through Hopper will see two trees planted as part of its carbon offset programme. That includes hotels, flights, holiday home or car rental, so you don’t necessarily have to leave the country on a flight to qualify.
Another option is Kayak, which will not only allow you to book your travel and accommodation across a range of providers, with predictions for when prices will rise and fall, but it will also keep track of your travel plans. That also applies to travel you have booked outside the app; you can add non-Kayak trips by forwarding the email confirmation to a specific Kayak address, or by syncing your Gmail or Outlook account with the service.
If you would rather keep things separate, TripIt will do the same thing. You can forward all your travel confirmation to the supplied email address or give the service access to your email inbox, and it will automatically find and file your travel confirmations so you can find them easily when you need them. No more frantically hunting for the confirmation that you have paid for the hotel in full in advance, or the QR code you need to board your flight.
If you want more budget-friendly accommodation, Irish-based Hostelworld offers accommodation in 178 countries, ranging from dorm-style in hostels to en suite private rooms in hotels or campsites.
Accommodation rental site Airbnb has come in for a lot of criticism in recent years – for taking long-term rental properties out of the market for more lucrative short-let bookings – but it remains popular with travellers seeking an alternative to hotel and hostels. There are reasons to choose Airbnb other than finding somewhere to bunk for the night. The website also has an experiences section, where you can find tours hosted by locals. They cover everything from yoga on the beach and horse-riding trails to the best-kept secrets of a city and local food trails.
If you are organised, you might have time to start learning a few phrases in the local language before you go. DuoLingo offers free courses in languages from Italian and Spanish to Japanese and Swahili. You can even learn Klingon and High Valyrian if that’s your thing.
Most of us will have left it a little too late to start boning up on some polite phrases, but there are still tech-enabled options. You can always use one of the many translation apps that are available on your smartphone – Google Translate, for example, or Apple’s own Translate app, both of which translate conversations in real time and cover a wide breadth of languages, free of charge.
We all have that one friend who is a list expert (you know who you are). Everything is perfectly organised because they have a master packing list that they follow for every trip. There is no such thing as a forgotten charger or a missing shoe, because everything is on the list.
For the rest of us, there are apps such as PackPoint. This handy bit of software will take some basic information such as your destination and time of travel, add in some custom data (beach trips? Going to the gym? Planning a motorbike tour?) and generate a packing list for you. It takes into account the weather for that time of year, too. You can add more to the individual lists, or pay up for the premium subscription and get access to custom packing templates should you be a frequent traveller. Premium subscribers can also integrate their lists with TripIt.
While you’re away
Travelling abroad may mean having different currencies. In the past, that meant swapping money and investing in traveller’s cheques, but this is no longer necessary in the current era of digital payments.
However, there are reasons why depending solely on your bank card is a bad idea. For a start, paying in currencies other than your domestic one can lead to extra charges on your account. It’s also more difficult to budget, and you might be worried about card fraud.
That is where fintechs can help. Revolut, for example, offers the ability to quickly transfer your euro balance into dollars, sterling or other currencies, and spend directly from your Revolut card. You can also limit the amount of cash held in your Revolut account and use only a virtual card held in your Apple or Google wallet on your smartphone that can be cancelled once the holiday is done, minimising the chance that someone will gain access to your card number and therefore your money.
Another option is Wise, formerly known as TransferWise. You can transfer your money into different currencies and then spend while you’re away with your physical card, ensuring you can stick to a budget and avoid expensive foreign exchange fees on your return.
If you plan on using mobile data while you are away and your plan doesn’t cover international access, it might be wise to sign up for a pay-as-you-go local plan for the duration of your holiday
There are plenty of apps to help you get around while you are away from home, from Google Maps for local directions to Waze for crowdsourced driving information that includes hazards and traffic in real time. If you are in a big city, check out CityMapper for public transit options, including wheelchair and pram-accessible routes in some areas.
For trips off the beaten path in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, Roadtripper can help you discover new locations and sights. It can help pad out the list of must-see attractions, whether it is the world’s largest ball of twine or a national museum. You can plan your entire trip, from hotel stays and driving directions to rest stops and places to eat.
If you prefer to get around on your own two feet instead of in a car, Irish app Hiiker will provide inspiration for outdoor walks, treks and hikes. It provides offline maps even in the free version, and ranks each route according to difficulty. You can also filter walks by duration, elevation or tags such as “family friendly” or “historic sites”. There are plenty of routes around Ireland, but you can also access routes in the UK, US, New Zealand, France and the Netherlands.
While you are out and about, LocationScout could offer up some photo inspiration. Need a waterfall for your Instagram stories? Or how about an imposing cliff face? The app will show the most photogenic spots around your location, giving you plenty of material for your social media feed. It even shows other people’s photos, and what vantage point they opted for to take the photo. The app covers locations all over the world, too.
Of course, many of those apps will require an active data connection on your phone, which is fine if you are in the EU, where data roaming is part of your contract – although be sure to check the limits for individual networks to avoid bill shock – but not so good for the US or farther afield. If you plan on using mobile data while you are away and your plan doesn’t cover international access, it might be wise to sign up for a pay-as-you-go local plan for the duration of your holiday. Some phones support e-sims, which means you can add a virtual sim card to your phone to use alongside your regular home sim. Otherwise, you will need to ensure that your phone is unlocked from your network and able to work with a different sim card – best to check with your network before you go.