Traveling? Must-Have Travel Apps to Download Before You Go — No more thick guidebooks, paper maps, airline tickets, beastly camera gear, even, in many cases, laptop computers, thanks to technology. So why not showcase tech at a travel show, where people come to shop for vacations?

Last month I moderated the first-ever panels on travel tech — gear, apps and digital photography — at The New York Times Travel Show. My panelists were travel editors, tech editors, app developers, and execs from mobile and camera companies.

Armed with the new Swiss army knife aka a must-have smartphone,  tech-savvy travelers can go pretty far with apps that guide you to almost everything a traveler needs: food, lodging, and places to see. Here are some apps that make travel easier, more rewarding, and more fun:

Get Connected

Sniff out free Wi-Fi using Free Zone for Android or iOS.  But beware Will Robinson, free Wi-Fi connections are notoriously unsecure, even haunted by alien viruses.

Screen Share Pro lets you connect an Android phone with an Android tablet without tethering. You can browse the web and look at pictures on the larger screen and even use the larger keyboard for typing email.

Secure Your Tech

Stop malicious viruses and apps from latching on with Lookout Security. Use the app to find and lock your phone should it get lost or stolen. The basic edition is free. Its paid version lets you erase data from your phone before it gets launched into crime space. Store your passwords securely with the paid iPassword or LastPass, free in some versions, or the totally free KeePass.

Call Home

We are all familiar with Skype, but Libon is a more elegant alternative. It, like Skype, offers free calls to other users and deeply discounted calls to landlines, plus personalized greetings and voice recognition. It can even locate your caller on a map. The Android version will be available soon.

Image credits: Russ Johnson for

Truphone is an app and SIM card that significantly cuts the costs of roaming. It’s a lot easier than carrying a bandolier loaded with SIM chips for every place you visit. But you need an unlocked phone to use it.

Practical Travel Apps

Around Me for iPhone or Android will find the closest gas station, hotel, ATM, hospital or whatever else and show you how to get there.

With Maplets and City Maps2Go you can browse maps without an Internet connection, a real big deal because downloading maps on the go eats up lots of data and can rack up monster roaming charges.

Hotel Tonight helps you find last-minute hotel deals in eight countries. Just check after noon on the day you need a room.

No more dining at the strip mall burger joints with Local Eats. Instead use the app to check out places recommended by local food critics.

Goby is not your typical travel guide. It shows you stuff you can do, not just see. This is especially valuable if you have kids. It only works in the US.

Tripit, also available for Blackberry and Windows, is a big favorite of frequent travelers. Just forward your confirmation emails and it will organize your itinerary and add maps, weather, and driving instructions.

FlightTrackPro tracks your flight and notifies you of delays or gate changes in almost real time. It is $9.99 but works much better than the freebies available.

GateGuru can link with other apps such as Tripit and point you to the best places to eat, stores, and services at an airport and terminal.

Punch a flight number into Trip Advisor’s SeatGuru, for iPhone and Android. Then pull up its seat map to find out what is really available when an airline tries to pull a wait and switch.

Knowing how much you have to spend when you meet the must-but item on your travel gets easier with XE Currency. It converts foreign prices into dollars using real-time exchange rates.

City Papers serves up more than 3,000 English-language newspapers worldwide.

Want to catch up with the news from Bhutan, in English? I like Tune-in Radio, Android or iPhone, which not only locates and streams radio stations in your vicinity but from all over the world. Like maps, listening to streaming audio consumes lots of data, so make sure you are on Wi-Fi and not roaming.

Wikitude reaches into numerous databases, including Wikipedia, Trip Advisor, City Search and Yelp to sniff out attractions, accommodations, restaurants, historical facts, even local Twitter posts. You can use it in augmented reality mode. Just open up your camera and watch data points float around you like mad butterflies.

Digital Photography

There’s a photographer’s motto, “Your best camera is the camera you have with you.” The mobile phone you have with you is probably all the average traveler needs for both still photographs and video.

Need something more? There’s Instagram. The hot trend? Travelers are using it to create running photo essays of their trips.

If you want a top-notch photo-editing app and you don’t need all of Instagram’s filters, your best bet is Snapseed. You have image control usually only available on a computer at your fingertips. Share on Instagram, Facebook, Picasa, Google+ and other social networks.

A Final Warning

Make sure you shut off these apps when you are done with them. They not only drain your battery, some connect to the net and can rack up data charges.

And that’s not all.

One night I forgot to turn off Google’s Field Trip, an app that identifies nearby attractions and alerts you when one is near. An alarm woke me on the morning of my panels to inform me about the fire that destroyed the ocean liner SS Normandie in the port of New York in 1942. An interesting piece of history, but really not necessary at 6 a.m.

Based in Sonoma, California, Russ Johnson is the founder of Travelmedia and a senior editor at covering travel. Email Russ at [email protected] and Follow him @connectedtravlr

Tags: Downtime,Gadgets & Devices,Mobile Apps,Tech Culture
  • Aly

    Cool list of apps; thanks for sharing Russ! Soon I will start to travel a lot for my job at DISH, so I’ll definitely have to make sure to check these apps out! One app I know I’ll be using a lot as a self-proclaimed TV junkie is DISH Anywhere. That app lets me view all of my shows from home, live or recorded, anywhere I go in the world. I’ll use it a lot as entertainment for flight delays and such, but really I’m just excited I’ll be able to use it to keep up with my shows when I’m across the planet!

  • Frannie Williams

    My favorite must have travel app is called Simply Declare. I found it a few months ago before heading off traveling Europe, and it has been so useful I now consider it a go to app. It has real time currency exchange, takes pictures of the receipts I need to keep, and tells me how much I have to spend before I would have to pay taxes when I get back to the states. It’s easy to use and I have had no problems with it.

  • Sam

    Nice article! Thanks for sharing.

    I just returned from Costa Rica where I left my phone in airplane mode most of the time. I really enjoyed the app SpanishDict that works offline to help you translate single words and small phrases.