Almost everyone wants to save money on their next trip, and fortunately technology is in a position to help us become masters of frugality like never before. There are thousands of travel apps on the market, each seemingly designed to fit a particular niche. Of these, there are a few which are worthwhile and an even smaller number that are actually useful, if not vital, in planning your next vacation. In no particular order, here are my five favorite budget travel apps.
1. Kayak – If you’re going to travel then you need to figure out how to get there. There are a lot of great travel search engines out there, but unfortunately very few of them have converted their sites to a useful mobile app. Most of them simply act as a portal to connect you to their main web site, which is not very helpful while on a mobile device. One of the few companies that has made a highly functional and relatively bug-free mobile app is Kayak.
Kayak is a great site for finding some of the cheapest fares by searching multiple travel search sites at the same time. While it doesn’t always return the lowest fare, on average Kayak provides some of the most competitive prices available.
Another bonus for Kayak is that they have both iPad and iPhone apps and the user never leaves the app during the booking process, a feature I wish every travel company would incorporate.
2. Hotel Negotiator - In preparing this post, I looked at a lot of hotel applications. Most of the major brands have them and there are countless third party sites that have corresponding apps. Many offer very similar services with similar results, which is why I chose this Priceline app as one of the best for snagging a great hotel deal. I have used Priceline many times all over the world and have always been happy with the results. This app is exclusively for hotels and brings the unique Priceline bidding process to your mobile device. Be warned, you have to be flexible and open minded to use this service. If you know exactly which hotel you want, then it’s best to just book with them directly. But if you are open to a certain range in a particular area, then the Hotel Negotiator can help you find a cheaper hotel rate. All you do is select your city, browse from recent deals at various hotel types and place your bid. They’ll let you know right away if you were successful in getting a great deal.
3. Free WiFi Finder - Free WiFi is vital for anyone traveling, especially overseas. Data roaming should always be turned off when you are abroad, otherwise you will incur hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in charges. Free WiFi though is a great way to access the internet and stay in touch with friends and family. Rather than wander around a foreign city looking for a McDonalds or Free WiFi sign, I use this app to help me quickly find the closest free WiFi hotspot. Of course one would think the irony here is that you have to be online to find free WiFi, but not so with this app. You can download an offline WiFi Finder in advance so that you can find a free hotspot anywhere in the world.
4. Goby - Regardless of how far technology advances, I still love having my handy guidebook with me when I’m traveling. There are a couple of areas though where guidebooks stumble: local events and restaurant recommendations. When traveling I always like to know what special events are going on while I’m there, from concerts to special museum exhibits. This is where Goby enters the scene. In addition to being a great general travel resource with information on popular sites and attractions, it provides current information on local events. Goby also succeeds where guide books fail by providing great dining information. The “Where to Eat” sections in guidebooks are usually too small, too incomplete and many times totally off the mark. I don’t think I’ve ever been happy with a restaurant recommended by a guidebook. Goby, on the other hand, lists all dining options in the area, making aimless wandering in search of good eats a thing of the past. Their listings also provide reviews, contact information and directions. Goby also gets bonus points from me for having an iPad app as well.
5. TripIt - If you really want to maximize your time and money while traveling, then you have to be organized. Before finding TripIt, I used to print out all of my various confirmation emails and staple them inside a manila folder. I know, so 1998, right? A reader recommended TripIt, and without exaggeration it has transformed my travel experience and probably saved thousands of trees in the process. Simply said, TripIt organizes all of your travel information for you and generates complete itineraries easily accessed through your mobile device. You can input the information manually if you want, but it’s so much easier (and cooler) to have them do it for you. All you do is forward your emails to them and within seconds a complete itinerary will be generated for you, instantly available in your TripIt account. I am endlessly fascinated by technology and this app really amazes me.
Cost: $3.99 (you can upgrade to TripIt Pro that monitors flight status and tracks your frequent flier miles for $49 a year)
Honorable mention: XE Currency - I always use the XE currency conversion site whenever I need to find the latest exchange rates. I was very happy to find their iPad app which brings the same high quality of their site to the mobile app.
XE is very simple and straightforward. You simply select the currencies you want to convert, the amount and you’re done. It’s a must have app for anyone planning a trip out of the country.