Many travel apps, while great in principle, are too complicated, wonky or simply not helpful enough to earn a spot on your smartphone home screen. Some, however, can make travel easier. And who doesn’t want that during the frantic holiday season? Besides, now that smartphones can be used during takeoff and landing, there’s no time like the present to turn yours into a personal travel assistant. So whether this season’s travels take you up in the air or on the road, here are a few of my favorite apps to make the journey smoother.
Free Wi-Fi Finder: You’re touring an unfamiliar city and in need of Wi-Fi — make that free Wi-Fi. With the tap of a button, this app (also free) uses your smartphone’s GPS to find nearby public Wi-Fi hot spots. Free Wi-Fi Finder, which also allows you to search for a particular Wi-Fi spot, works in more than 100 countries, including the United States, Japan and Italy, and allows you to star favorites so you can easily find them again.
HeyWire: When traveling internationally, certain apps can save you money by enabling you to send text messages and photos without the usual phone company texting fees. WhatsApp is among the most popular, but another player, HeyWire, has some fun time-sucking features, like the ability to place digital stickers on the photos you’ve taken (who doesn’t want to slap a propeller cap on their travel companion?). A “meme” button allows you to add bold, all-caps text to your photos. You can also post photos to Twitter or Facebook through the app. Texts between you and anyone else with HeyWire are free anywhere in the world.
When you download HeyWire, you’re assigned a United States phone number, which is what people who don’t have the app will see when you message them, so be sure to let them know it’s you.
HotelTonight: This free app enables you to find and book discounted same-day hotel rooms (thanks to unsold inventory) in more than 200 destinations worldwide. HotelTonight has been around for a few years, but it became more useful late last month when it began posting its daily deals at 9 a.m. local time, instead of noon. According to the site’s executives, the lowest rates this holiday season can be had on Sundays, followed by Fridays.
IExit: We’ve all been there: driving on a freeway, hungry and in need of gas, a Starbucks, a Holiday Inn or all of the above. IExit enables you to push a button and see what’s coming up at major exits. The “lite” version is free but has advertisements; a 99-cent version has no ads and enables you to set up alerts for food or lodging and to see 150 exits down the road (as opposed to just 10 exits in the “lite” version).
Uber: Cabs can be hard to come by, especially in bad weather. Enter Uber, which makes ordering a black car or taxi on demand in more than 20 countries — including New York, Paris, Berlin, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo — as easy as ordering in dinner. (If Uber is not available where you’re traveling, there are other taxi and car service apps you can try, like Hailo, Taxi Magic and MyTaxi.)