Until recently I used to be a little old school when it came to traveling. I would tote around a plastic folder stuffed with print-outs of plane and hotel bookings, even reams of restaurant and tourist attractions.
But you can teach old dogs new technology tricks. The biggest change for me was buying an iPhone and discovering the Apple Wallet – it was like a bolt from heaven! A place where I can store boarding passes, hotel loyalty cards and more? Sign me up!
But the more I travel, the less I want to take with me. So along with my iPad, headphones, lip balm and travel insurance, several pairs of inappropriate shoes, I also ensure I have with me an arsenal of travel apps on my phone.
I have compiled a list of my most used and most useful travel apps – food, flights and a few more. Obviously I haven’t included ones I use daily in my non-travel life like Google Maps and the ASOS.com app (cough).
A word of advice, some may not work or be relevant in certain countries, but like Facebook in China and FaceTime in the UAE, there is always an alternative!
These guys have worked hard in recent years to improve their app and it shows – they weren’t voted airline of the year 2017 for nothing! As a loyal Qatar Airways frequent flyer, I can check my flights, book new ones to one of their 150 global destinations, connect with the airline and even download my Privilege Club details. You can download the app here. Whichever airline you fly, they are sure to have at least a version of an app.
2. Google Trips
Where has this been all my life? This app will organize your plane tickets and hotel reservations, offer editorial guides to more than 200 cities, and make recommendations based on your Google history. Want to find the best pizza in NYC but within walking distance? This app is the one to help you. While the personalized nature of the app can be a little creepy at first, I’ve found it very useful on my recent trips. One great feature is that it lets you download everything for use offline. Saving you roaming data fees. Speaking of which…
On a recent trip to Ireland the Immigration officer asked when I was in Dublin last. I sheepishly admitted it was 20 plus years ago. “Well. we have wifi now!”. But free wifi is scarce in some countries (I’m looking at you Australia!), so this is a godsend to the hyper-connected and those who just want to send a Whatsapp!
Truth be told, my (manageable – really!) online shopping addiction means I use this app a little more than I should admit to. It’s a brilliant resource, especially in smaller countries and those where the currency is a bit of a mystery (for me – India!). Around 25 years ago on my first Europe trip, my horrific mathematics skills meant I ended up paying $400 for a plane ticket rather than the $40 I convinced myself it was. So, used regularly.
4. My hotel apps
You can keep most hotel bookings in your Apple Wallet, but the apps for most of the big hotel chains enable you to contact the hotel directly, keep track of your loyalty points and many other small but important pieces of information. Quite a few times I have used the app installed on my phone to quickly source hotel information when questioned by an Immigration agent. My most used apps are Hyatt, IHG and Marriott as I stay in these chains frequently.
This is the Australian government’s travel advice app (I am an Australian citizen). Most foreign ministry’s have similar versions where you can register your travel plans in case of emergency as well as check for any security alerts. In the case of the Smart Traveller app they will send you updates for countries you select. Honestly, before booking my tickets, this is a must-check app for me.
Everyone loves a little comfort one a flight. This app version of the wildly popular website includes color coded maps of most airline fleets, to help you choose the best seat. For entertainment value, you can also read flight and seat reviews from travelers.
7. A Car Service
In all consciousness, I can’t recommend a certain car company starting with U and ending in BER. But each country has a decent alternative. On a recent trip to the US, I loved Lyft – drivers were polite, prompt and knowledgeable. In Qatar I have used Careem and loved them (they also drive in several other countries). A luxe service with an app in London is Black Lane – I have used them for airport arrivals and departures and found them well-priced, comfy and generally excellent.
I have booked tables in some of the best restaurants in the world using this app (as well as some great neighborhood eateries), especially on trips to the US and Thailand. It shows you available timings for your chosen restaurant, allows you to book and sends you a confirmation. When you arrive, the restaurant has all of your details and you get to enjoy the evening and the food! The app is available in a number of formats and enables you to keep track of your upcoming and past reservations. A foodie dream.
Here is a confession – sometimes, I delve deep into my inner soul, and indulge in vegan food. This mainly happens when I travel. This is a cute app for finding vegan food options I discovered and tried when I was in the US last year. It uses your location to find the nearest vegan havens to you. It also allows you to add a new place. It even lists some Doha outlets!
Not all airports are created equal. There is nothing better than being able to retreat to an airline lounge for a sneaky glass of freebie vino before a flight. A word of advice, this is a not a free app or service. Rather, you pay a yearly fee to access more than 1,000 airport lounges in 500 cities across 130 countries. This is regardless of the airline you fly or ticket you hold. This is especially useful when flying an unfamiliar airline. Priority Pass sells three types of memberships, depending on your budget and how often you expect to need lounge access. The app as the lounge directly and lists other perks as well as your lounge history. It also means you don’t have to carry around the card. They are currently offering a 10 percent discount on their three programs…worth every riyal!
Regardless of how far technology has come, there are still some times when old fashioned paper or a book will only do. For example, in India, most airports won’t let you enter without a valid, printed boarding pass or ticket.
What apps do you rely most on when you travel?
*Please take the time to read this disclaimer.