Are you a techie? I’m not. At all. I only got my first smart phone about 7 years ago. Previously when I traveled, I relied on paper maps, Lonely Planet Guides, memory, and intuition to get around a new place. But technology has made traveling life better. Here is my early Christmas present to you – two FREE applications you can install on your smart phone that will make your traveling life so much easier. They help you organize your trip, eliminate worry, and even save money. The two best free travel apps are Maps Me and TripIt…
Best Travel App #1: Maps Me (or “Maps dot me”)
Maps Me is a disconnected map app where you can download individual regional maps and use offline. It uses GPS to pinpoint your location. Map pins are crowd-sourced. Every accommodation on booking.com, even apartments can be found on Maps Me, so it’s great to know you can find your accommodation even though you don’t have data, wi-fi, or a paper map.
Examples of use on my recent trip in the Balkans:
- The app allows you to bookmark places, so I would map and bookmark places I was planning to go later in the day, and those places were easy to retrieve from the bookmarks.
- We arrived at a Monastery far in the country with not a huge amount of local currency, thinking we could use Euros or credit cards to pay for part of our stay. But the cost of staying in the Monastery rooms, transportation, and three meals was more than we expected, and we thought we’d run out of money. Google maps was showing the closest ATM was over 12 miles away. me showed there was an ATM in the parking lot of the monastery.
- We reserved an apartment on booking.com and followed the pinpoint to exactly the front door.
- When arriving in a new town, we could map the distance and the elevation gain to our destination and decide if we could walk or if a taxi or bus was needed. In many cities, we found the walk was less than half an hour, and we saved much money by walking instead of catching a cab.
- When riding in a taxi, we could make sure the driver was taking us directly to our route rather than for an expensive ride.
- When riding a bus from city to city, we could watch our progress and know when we arrived at our destination. Previously, I’d need to sit on the right side of the bus and have close watch on the mile markers, or ask the driver or another passenger if we had arrived in my final destination at every bus station. I feel I can relax much more on long bus rides with this app.
- Many hiking trails are on the map – not only hikes in national parks, but also lesser known hikes.
Disclaimer about GPS and Maps me – since the GPS is reliant on satellite, there are times the app won’t find your location. For example, if you are in a large building or in and out of railway tunnels.
Best Travel App #2: TripIt (by Concur)
TripIt is an app that stores your calendar entries and details of certain bookings. All you need to do is download the app, set up an account, and forward your transportation and accommodation bookings to email@example.com. Then you can open your app and you will find all of your bookings in chronological order (no more sifting through old emails to find your booking details).
TripIt allows you to share your trip with other people – so you can share your itinerary with travel partners. For safety, you could also share with a friend or family member at home.
Once you’ve sent your plans to the app, you can view many details offline. Details viewable offline include:
- Booking numbers
- Flight, train, bus times
- Hotel details – address, phone number, check-in and check-out time (how great is it to sleep in or have a bit of a walk around the town and be able to confirm the checkout time)
- Rental car details
- Booking prices – this has been handy, on occasion a hotel has tried to charge a higher rate than promised at the time of booking.
Both of these best free travel apps are very compatible with booking.com, a website to see reviews and to book hotels, apartments, and hostels. I like this booking site and have found if you set up an account, you are eligible for “genius” discounts. We saved 10% off the rack rate at several places we stayed in the Balkans from this discount.
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