Caroline Ghisolfi

Summer is the time for travel.  We all love it and we all do it differently.  Some long for lazy days on white tropical beaches in faraway lands, sailing on sea blue catamarans and soaking up the sun for a perfect tan.  Others seek adrenaline-charged adventure, and dream of road-tripping in old classic Italian cars with music blasting and nothing more than a backpack full of belongings.

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We all have that one free-spirited friend that books last minute tickets and discovers the world as she goes.  And we’ve all experienced the rush of trying to keep up with a calculated, tactical itinerary that leaves nothing to chance.  In this post you’ll find tips and tricks about travelling, planning, and sightseeing, plus personal reviews of this year’s best travel apps for iOS and Android. For the thrill-seeking globetrotter and the self-caring voyager, the meticulous planner and the spontaneous wanderer, make this the year you experience your perfect summer vacation!

Pick Your Style

Planning a great vacation doesn’t have to be time-consuming.  The first step is to know what you’re looking for. Rile up your travel buddies and pick a vacation style:

1) The single-destination bliss

This summer, you just want to unwind.  No big adventures, no tiring sightseeing, no movement whatsoever.  Your only desire is to lie down on the beach with a glass of champagne and your new designer sunglasses, enjoying the warmth of the best season of the year.  I will refer to you, my dear, as the self-caring voyager.

2) The cultural pilgrimage

You know it’s cliché, but you love being a tourist.  You aren’t embarrassed to sightsee on tour buses and move around in large groups of foreigners.  You want to visit museums and parks, monuments and theaters. At one point of our lives all of us have been this type of traveller: the traditional tourist.  You know what you want and how to achieve it. Find a few digital gems to make the most of your journey below.

3) The adrenaline-boosting adventure

You’re all over the map.  You want to discover hidden treasures of local cuisine and fashion, immerse yourself in nature, meet locals at pubs and restaurants, experience  the nightlife, all in just a few days before you move on to your next destination.  I know you, my friend, because I am you: the restless, thrill-seeking adventurer.  Don’t miss the ‘Extras’ section at the very end of this post, and be forewarned that you might download an overabundance of apps!

Pick Your Apps

Whatever it is, 'there’s an app for that!'  When it comes to travelling, this famous catchphrase, coined in 2009 by Apple, is absolutely true.  In fact, there are so many vacation-planning apps today that navigating the boundless realm of iOS and Android mobile travel tools has become a real challenge.  I’ve tried dozens of travel apps and online tools; many have failed, and some have beautifully succeeded.  I’m sure you’re all well acquainted with the resourceful tips of TripAdvisor, Yelp and Expedia; and the essential affordability of Kayak and Airbnb (as well as Airbnb’s twin competitors VRBO and HomeAway).  Today, I’m here to tell you about the most innovative, ingenious, original, and functional apps you haven’t heard about yet!  Allow me to suggest the perfect travel apps for each phase of your summer vacation:

Packing

Packpoint IOS & ANDROID | FREE | Style: All

Regardless of your vacation style and destination, you have to try Packpoint.  Everyone hates forgetting things, especially when travelling to a foreign country where you might not speak the language, and some items might be hard to find.  Packpoint instantly creates a personalized packing checklist based on your destination, the length of your vacation, the local weather forecast, and your day trips and planned activities.

Packing Pro IOS | $2.99 | Style: Cultural pilgrimage & Adrenaline-boosting adventure

Take packing to the Pro level!  If you're a meticulous planner like myself, Packing Pro will become indispensable in no time.  This app lets you take full control of your packing process, allowing you to customize not only your lists, but the looks and the design of the app itself.  You can list items for the entire group or family, and add to-do lists for each destination.

Booking the Basics: Accomodations and Flights

SkyScanner, EasyJet & Hopper IOS & ANDROID | FREE | Style: All

Booking flights can be a stressful process.  In my experience, that’s when I usually realize that my supposedly low-budget holiday is going to require more funds than expected.  Skyscanner, EasyJet and Hopper— three apps that have become synonymous with money-saving in Europe— will help you stay relaxed and on top of your budget!  All three apps use sophisticated technology to analyze and compare hundreds of travel websites daily, offering you the cheapest and shortest flights on the market.  If you haven’t set your heart on a specific destination or date yet, make sure to check Skyscanner’s ‘anywhere’ and ‘monthly view’ search features.  If you can’t be too flexible this summer, no worries!  Hopper offers another magical feature--‘watch’--which predicts when the prices of your preferred flights will drop, and alerts you just in time (see more info here).  Finally, if you’re travelling around Europe, please do take advantage of Easyjet’s ridiculously low airfares.  Last year, I booked an Easyjet flight from Milan, Italy to Mykonos, Greece at less than 15 bucks!

Hotel Tonight IOS & ANDROID | FREE | Style: Adrenaline-boosting adventure

Your flight just landed.  You’re already exhausted, but that’s ok because a fluffy, cozy white bed is waiting for you at the hotel… or is it?  Last minute cancellations are dreadful, but they do happen.  Thankfully, Hotel Tonight provides just what it promises: an instant reservation in a hotel that same night (at discounted prices too!).

Home Exchange IOS & ANDROID | FREE | Style: Single-destination bliss

Full disclosure: I haven’t tried this one yet.  But it’s #1 on my bucket list!  Home Exchange has been around for over two decades and has become hugely popular all around the world for providing high quality home swaps.  And here’s the best part: you pay once (way less than you would at any hotel, by the way) and you swap houses as many times as you want for a year.  This app is not quite top notch yet, but make sure to check their stunning website and read these NYT Home Exchange 101 tips!

Booking High-Quality Restaurants Instantly…

…In Europe

Thefork IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Quandoo IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Bookatable (UK) IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Agriturismo.it (Italy) IOS | FREE

… In North America

Opentable IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Reserve IOS | FREE

… In South America

Restorando IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Kekanto (Brazil) IOS & ANDROID | FREE

… In Asia

Zomato IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Chope (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Beijing, Bali and Jakarta) IOS & ANDROID | FREE

PocketConcierge (Japan – website only)

ClickATable (Israel – website only)

… In Africa

Zomato (South Africa) IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Dineplan (South Africa) IOS & ANDROID | FREE

… In Australia

Opentable IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Quandoo IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Happy Cow (vegan and vegetarian) IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Each app listed above facilitates reservations, and provides reviews, price-ranges, ratings, pictures, and sometimes a full PDF detailed menu of a wide variety of local restaurants. If you are looking for a more luxurious experience, don’t miss the worldwide Michelin Guide Apps.

Organizing: Day Trips, Nightlife, Events and Activities

Google Calendar & Google Trips IOS & ANDROID | FREE | Style: Single-destination bliss

The old classic, Google Calendar, now comes with a new twist: Google Trips.  The app is sleek and colorful, and does pretty much everything for you.  Just login, and Google will find your flight bookings and hotel reservations in your Gmail account, arrange them chronologically, and suggest more fun events and activities for your trip!

TripIt IOS & ANDROID | FREE | Style: Cultural pilgrimage

Have you done all your research and made each and every reservation, but now you’re just too burned out to organize it all?  TripIt will be your best friend this summer.  All you have to do is forward your confirmation emails to the TripIt team and wait to be amazed.  They will arrange all of your info into a fun and simple itinerary which you can then access on any device at any time, and share with your travel companions.

Roadtrippers IOS & ANDROID | FREE | Style: Adrenaline-boosting Adventure

I just recently learned about this app and I’m already lovin’ it.  If you're planning a road trip for this summer, download Roadtrippers right now.  The app tracks your movements and provides you with real-time info about nearby shopping, sports, motoring, entertainment and nightlife, restaurants, hotels, camping sites, scenic viewpoints and so much more.  It even has a ‘weird stuff’ section!

Trip30 Website | FREE | Style: All

Trip30 does not have an app yet, but it’s still my absolute favorite digital planner.  It’s flexible, versatile and perfect for any kind of trip!  You can build a timeline of your vacation on their colorful website, and visualize your itinerary through their custom map.  When you’re done, Trip30 instantly generates a smart itinerary which you can then access on your laptop and smartphone, or download in an elegant PDF file and print out.

 

Fun and Useful Extras

WifiMap IOS & ANDROID | FREE

I’ve become addicted to this one.  WifiMap doesn’t just map out all the free WiFi hotspots near you, it gives you real WiFi passwords and lets you share them with your friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Whatsapp  IOS & ANDROID | FREE

In the US, WhatsApp might not be that popular, but everyone has this easy-to-use (and free) messaging app in Europe and Asia!  With Whatsapp you can message, call and even share your favorite holiday pictures with all of your contacts anywhere in the world. And, unlike iMessage and Android Messages, Whatsapp always delivers all your cute emojis and pics to your friends regardless of their operating system.

iRunCities IOS | FREE

Want to stay in shape while you travel?  Then iRunCities is a must.  The app guides you through the city’s top sights and charming local secrets, all while narrating information and anecdotes about its history and culture.  You’ll get great thighs and a cultured visit: the best of both worlds!

FLIO IOS & ANDROID | FREE

If you hate layovers as much as I do, then don’t forget to download FLIO.  This app gives you the full airport experience: you can find the best nearby restaurants, book lounge access, check departure times and track your flight status, and even quickly scout the nearest WiFi and charging stations.  

Waze & Gas Buddy IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Two apps that will not disappoint!  Waze is a community-based GPS app with real-time traffic and road info (and speed camera warnings!).  Gas Buddy tracks gas prices and helps you find the best deal near you. Together these apps are just what you need for a smooth and comfortable road trip!

Hotspot shield IOS & ANDROID | FREE

If you’re visiting a country where the Internet might be censored or monitored, this is the app for you!  Hotspot Shield encrypts your WiFi connection and allows you to browse freely on your favorite social media, sport, and streaming websites whenever and wherever.

Bing IOS & ANDROID | FREE

Last but not least… Bing.  I know… who actually uses Bing?  Well, now you do. While it doesn’t really add much as a search engine, Bing has a hidden mobile feature for iOS: it will translate all your web pages while you’re abroad so you can keep up to date with local events and news.  See this article for more info!

Congratulations, you’ve reached the end of this post and you’ve proven your commitment to making this year’s summer vacation epic!  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this guide. Let me know what you think in the comments below, contact me directly on bSmart, or shoot me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  I wish you all a perfect summer vacation.

 

Caroline Ghisolfi studies Communication at Stanford University.  She is interested in visual and multimedia arts, data journalism, education, and cultural diversity.  She is originally from Milan, Italy, where she hopes to one day work as a journalist.  In her free time, Caroline volunteers at the Haas Center’s Kids With Dreams organization and enjoys painting, storytelling, and video editing.  Follow her on Instagram at @caroghisolfi.

 

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