Good tech makes for better vacations. No matter how tightly we hold on to our old-school ways, a few solid apps help direct and enhance our experience. There are loads of them out there for all manner of travel. I tend to prefer the simple and streamlined. Apps that aren’t overloaded with extra information. These are the top five I’ve come to consistently use in the US and abroad. And they’re all FREE:
1.) AllTrails: AllTrails
Search for anything from nature walks to ridge trails anywhere in the world. Information on elevation, number of miles, hike difficulty and reviews. In addition to the basic stats, it really is a community of avid hikers who love to share their experiences. With all of the useful information, I will say their “rating system” isn’t terribly comprehensive. I’m not sure what they use for their criteria but what might be called a “hard” hike might just mean physically challenging. Like a paved path with a 45% incline might be rated hard as would a ridge hike with vertical drop-offs and rope climbing. Plus it depends on everyone’s ability level. And the weather, and who you’re with, and how you’re feeling. That said, the reviews will give you insight that the ratings do not. The app usually lists if a trail is closed or on private property. And most of the trails have a section describing how to get to the trailhead. I like the save feature to keep up with the hikes I’ve done and those I want to tackle!
2.) Tidetimes: Google Play iTunes
This is a simple app for coastal vacations. It’s important to be aware of high and low tides, especially for certain snorkle spots or coastal hikes. High tide can either make for dangerous conditions or change when and how you enjoy the location. The app also lists wind speed, sunrise/sunset, lunar cycles and currents. You can look ahead nearly a month, which makes for great advanced planning. Especially if, like me, you geek out on that kind of stuff. I spent two years planning our trip to Europe!
3.) Flight Tracker: Google Play iTunes
I’ve tried a ton of these types of apps and this one is consistently accurate and easy to use. Figuring out how to save the flight is a little confusing, but once you learn the trick you can track multiple flights at a time, watch real-time progress and keep the flights you’ve tracked until you delete them. It’s even pretty good about updating for flight delays and early arrivals. It saved my butt when picking up someone at the airport who arrived 30 minutes early. And just for fun, when I’m tracking a flight for someone coming to visit I like to take a screenshot of their flight. Then I send it to them showing when they were flying over a particular state or the ocean.
4.) Surf-forcast: Surf-forcast.com
This isn’t an app, but I save the web site on my phone’s browser so I can quickly access it. I use this app all the time for wave action. For surfers (which I am not) it is brilliant. But it’s also helpful for those who want to be in the water to swim or snorkel. The level of detail will let you know if you’re heading to calm waters or crashing waves. The trick to this one is the locations are listed in “surfer” lingo. In other words the actual surf spot listed on the web site might not be the same as the corresponding beach. But there is a map feature where you can choose where you want to go. Also, the wave height and strength listed is the surfing sweet spot so it will likely be a bit off-shore. Just know the waves may be calmer closer to the beach. While it takes some getting used to, the accuracy and detail make this one worth using for a layer of information. If a place lists 10-foot waves and I want to snorkel I usually find a different spot.
5.) TripAdvisor: TripAdvisor
While a popular site when researching places to visit, I’ve found TripAdvisor a bit cumbersome. Just too much information that can send the user in too many directions. Plus ads disguised as tips lead to Internet rabbit trails. Nevertheless, the shear amount of information is enough to use this app as a resouce when researching travel destinations. It’s a storehouse of businesses with ratings, photos (both stock and from users), reviews, maps and instructions. Often you can check availability and even book activities right from the web site. Plus, this is another resource where the users have created a community for helpful tips, guidance and information. Ask a question on the travel forum. Compare a business’ advertisment photos with those who have actually visited to get the real scoop.
Other Helpful Apps:
Groupon, Yelp, Opentable, XE Currency Converter, Kayak, Airbnb, Uber, Lyft
*Paper: (No app needed)
Let’s hear it for old-school! Relying on our phones or computers makes for a well-informed vacation. But one dead battery or lost signal can turn a blissful holiday into a frustrating nightmare. Have a backup of maps, phone numbers, addresses and confirmation numbers. It’ll seem overkill, until you’re on your way to a romantic evening at that lovely cabin in the woods and lose signal at dusk. Now you’re just lost in a dark forest with no way to reach anyone. There are movies made of this scenario. Be safe and print off your details.
Vacations are more fun when we have a plan. Even if it’s a general idea of what we want to do. (I myself prefer colour-coded spreadsheets, but hey, not for everyone.) A couple of good apps can help find the fun and make the most of limited time, even if you like a more spontaneous trip.