We know how much you love to travel — it’s rewarding and fun. But planning, getting there and navigating unfamiliar territory — not so much, right? And it can be especially stressful if you’re headed abroad.
The key to keeping your trip care-free is to stay organized — and ensure all the information you could possibly need is at hand when you need it most. These tips and apps will help!
Get a trip itinerary planning app
Travel planning apps keep every detail of your upcoming trip – flights, hotels, rental cars, meetings, activities — in one handy place.
They are simple to set up: Just forward your booking confirmation emails to the app. The app automatically organizes them into a day calendar, adding any additional information you’ll need on the fly, such as hotel phone numbers, maps, local transit options, websites and more. No more fumbling through dozens of saved emails to look up confirmation numbers or directions to that cooking class!
Best of all, these apps notify you whenever anything changes. They’ll alert you to flight cancellations, show your airport terminal gates, and notify you when it’s time to check-in online. (They even add a direct link to do so!)
Three of the best are TripIt, TripCase and Kayak MyTrips. Each has its advantages.
TripIt is the most well-known. It organizes conflicting schedules most intelligently, has many additional “smart” features that find information pertinent to your travels, and has the ability to attach notes and photos. This is a good choice for professional travelers, but with so many features the display can sometimes seem complex.
TripCase has all the features most casual travelers need, but with the most inviting, easy-to-scan layout.
However, our favorite is Kayak MyTrips. It has a simple and elegant design, but most importantly, it was the first to send notifications for schedule changes and airline check-ins–even quicker than the airline apps! (This proved to be a real advantage on a recent trip with flights that had first-come first-served seating.)
Download maps before you leave
You’re already familiar with map apps such as Google Maps and Here, and if you’re like us, the turn-by-turn GPS navigation has gotten you out of more sticky situations than you care to admit. But did you know that if you download the maps in advance, they work even when there is NO cell service available?
If you get lost easily, this is a game changer. Your phone’s GPS always knows your location, even when you’re out of cell or Wi-Fi range. If you’ve saved the maps to your device, you’ll always be able to see where you are. So now you can go ahead and explore those back roads after all.
You’ll save money too. After you’ve downloaded the maps, your phone won’t need to continually have to reload map information, saving you both data and battery life. And they can eliminate the need to add that costly GPS unit to your next car rental.
We like having both these apps on hand for different reasons:
Google Maps is probably already on your phone. It will identify all the restaurants, attractions and stops along the way. However, as of this writing, the live turn-by-turn navigation only works when you have an active cell connection. If you know a particular journey you’ll be taking, you can always run that search in advance and print out the turn-by-turn directions. Old school, but effective.
Here Maps for Android or iOS doesn’t have the wealth of roadside information that Google Maps has, but it does offer you live voice navigation without the need for a cell connection. Map downloads are easier too.
Get a translation app
If you’re headed to a non-English-speaking country, open your world up with Google Translate. No other app comes close to this app’s capabilities right now. We recommend downloading the language of the country you’re visiting. That way, even if you’re in a remote area, you’ll always have a way to communicate with locals.
Type or speak into the app and it can translate English into dozens of languages. It will speak the translation out loud for you. And here’s the kicker: It listens for a response, and translates their reply back into English! This means you can have conversations in real time without learning the language.
Another cool new feature: You can now point your device’s camera at a sign and it displays the English translation right on your device. (This feature is not available for every language, but new ones are being added all the time.)
Tip: Be a good ambassador. Even though Translate will help you communicate, please take the time to learn a few key phrases in the native language. Your efforts will be appreciated and will create goodwill. At the very least, learn how to say Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, Please and I’m sorry. (Although “How much?” and “Where is the bathroom please?” are always helpful!)
Free and cheap calls and texts
Let’s just get this out of the way: As of this writing, T-Mobile is a traveler’s best friend. Their Simple Choice plans give free data and international roaming, so you can use your phone pretty much exactly as you do in the States. No hassles, no bill surprises when you return.
But no matter what carrier you have, if you have a Wi-Fi connection, you can receive and make calls and texts for free or cheap. Get a VOIP app such as Google Voice, Skype, FaceTime, Whatsapp or Line.
Google Voice and Skype let you load a few dollars into your account in advance, and then charge you only a couple pennies a minute for international calls. Incoming calls are free.
Tip: If you have a particular person you want to communicate with regularly, have both parties install the same app. Then when you’re both on Wi-Fi, you can talk all night at no charge.
Save your documents online
We can’t emphasize this tip enough. Take a photo of your driver’s license, passport, Global Entry card and the credit cards you’ll be bringing with you. Upload these cards to a cloud storage site (such as Google Drive). Or you can email the photos to yourself (Save the email!)
If your documents get lost or stolen, you now have permanent access to your information.
If you’re really cautious, you’ll also scan and print your ID documents to take with you in your suitcase…just in case. If you trust your in-room safe and don’t feel like wearing a bulky money belt, you can leave your originals at the hotel and carry the paper copies with you during the day.