When I started traveling in 2006, getting online meant you had to find an Internet café and spend a lot of money. Few hostels had computers, none had wi-fi, and there were no smartphones. Information was a lot harder to find. Over the years, as it has improved, technology has made traveling a lot easier by helping us find hidden ways to save money, connect with locals, and become more informed about the destinations we visit.
The rising availability of this information on smartphones has put the power of all human knowledge into your hands, and as such has created some great travel applications that can help you save money. Below you’ll find a list of my favorite travel apps that will do just that:
TripIt (free) – TripIt organizes all your trip details—from flights to train tickets to hotel reservations—in one master trip itinerary. The app also sends reminders and delay notifications, tracks your points and miles, and provides reviewer tips about things to see, do, and places to eat nearby. It’s a must for frequent travelers who need to organize multiple trips in a short amount of time. There is also a pro version that costs $49 per year and comes with Hertz Gold and Regus memberships.
Currency (free) – Currency offers up-to-the-minute exchange rates, allowing you to budget your trip and convert 180+ world currencies on the go so you’ll never be caught off guard. It has a simple interface, making it easy to use. There are a lot of currency apps out there (XE being one of the most popular), but I prefer Currency due to its simplicity.
TripSaver ($1.99) – TripSaver tracks your travel expenses and monitors how much money you’ve got left based on your pre-set budget. It also provides a recommended budget based on the destination, and shows you whether you’re spending more or less than the norm. Disclaimer: I was involved in the making of this app.
HotelsTonight (free) – This is the best app for last-minute hotel bookings. I’ve used it in numerous locations and have gotten up to 70% off the listed price. Using your location, it will show you nearby hotels and what the current discount is. Recent updates even allow you to book multiple days in advance. This is a must-have app for every traveler.
OnTheFly (free) – This search engine app is based on the ITA Matrix software, which is owned by Google. It lets you custom-search a huge range of flight dates, times, durations, airports, and airlines—and the easy-to-read display makes flight comparison a snap. The ITA Matrix is a staple for serious travelers. ITA is heavily US-based and tends to search large airlines. For an app that searches smaller budget airlines, use Skyscanner or Momondo. Both are free.
Skyscanner (free) – One of the best airline search sites has a very robust app that lets you search for flights around the world. It features many of the smaller budget airlines that won’t appear in OnTheFly’s search results. Using the two together can help ensure you find the best flight deal.
Google Maps (free) – Google Maps’ latest update features incredibly accurate maps and detailed, real-time transit information—everything from bus and train routes and timetables to voice-guided GPS navigation for walking, biking, and driving. It also pinpoints nearby restaurants and attractions to help give you a better lay of the land. I use this app for everything from looking up directions to finding things to do to discovering places to eat.
Yelp (free) – In a new city and not sure where to eat? Yelp it! I constantly use Yelp to find affordable places to eat near my current location. We often aren’t near a local who can point us in the right direction and hotel staff will usually lead us to a tourist restaurant. In situations like this, I turn to Yelp—it is an invaluable resource for finding delicious eats all over the world.
HostelWorld (free) – Need a hostel last minute or want to look up what’s available at your next destination? Then Hostelworld, the biggest hostel-booking site in the world, is for you.
With a select few apps, you can make your travels easier and more affordable. I don’t use many apps when I travel. You don’t need to either. It’s better to look up from your phone and experience what’s around you than to always be looking down at your screen. But when you’re on the road and something does go wrong or you need a good restaurant or hotel in a pinch, having the right apps goes a long way.
Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel website Nomadic Matt and is the author of the new travel guide, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, available January 6th in bookstores and online. His tips and expertise has appeared in Time, CNN, National Geographic, BBC, The Guardian, and the New York Times.