Must-Have Travel Apps
There are so many travels apps out there that it can be hard to know which are the must-have travel apps for family trips and which will just clog up your phone and waste your time.
Our aim is to make it easier for families to travel, so we’ve put together our list of the travel apps that we use and recommend. (We’re not being sponsored or paid by anyone to say nice things either!)
Best travel planning apps for families
TripIt (free and paid versions – I use the free)
TripIt is one of my favourites. It’s the travel organising app that automatically creates a master itinerary for every trip, so you can access all your travel plans, anytime, on any device. You can also share itineraries with your family and friends.
Once you’ve made your travel bookings, you simply forward your flight, hotel, car rental, tours, insurance and other travel confirmation emails to email@example.com, and TripIt uses the details in your confirmation email to automatically create a comprehensive, master itinerary that you can access anytime, on any device.
The paid version is TripIt Pro, which costs US$49 a year. It gives notifications on things like when it’s time to check-in, your flight status (on-time, delayed, or cancelled), if your gate has been changed, the most up-to-date information about your connecting flight, including your gate number and terminal.
Airbnb has changed the way we travel. It has opened up a huge array of possibilities when it comes to accommodation around the world. We’ve stayed in the most remarkable places that have made us feel at home even though we’re a long way from it.
If you book through Airbnb, having the app is essential as it provides you with all your booking details and contacts. It also allows you to save your favourite rental homes, experiences, and places while you’re on the go, plus invite friends and family to plan the trip with you.
If you haven’t heard of it, Airbnb is a marketplace app where you can book vacation home rentals and travel experiences for your next family trip. It has over four million listings for you to choose across 191+ countries. You can search by price, neighbourhood, amenities, and more.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, I have a discount voucher here that you can use on your first rental.
We use RentalCars anytime we need a hire car, so their app is the perfect companion. RentalCars was voted the World’s Leading Car Rental Company app in 2015, 2016, and 2017. It makes hiring a car fast and easy by filtering results so you can find exactly what you want as quickly as possible.
With over 53,000 locations to choose from, you can be sure that you’ll find car hire where you want it, whether you’re looking for airport car rental or city car rental. This app doesn’t charge booking fees, credit card fees or cancellation fees. And you can make changes to your booking with no admin fees.
We especially love it because you know exactly what is included so there’s no chance of getting the front counter and finding someone’s doubled the price.
SeatGuru is an indispensable free app for anyone who flies, especially long distance. Our favourite feature of SeatGuru is that it tells you (with amazing accuracy) the best and worst seats on your plane and the reasons why, so you can choose the right one for you.
Your airline’s mobile app (free)
Whenever you’re flying, having your airline’s mobile app is a must have. You can simply check flight updates at any time, plus have full access to your flight information, including itineraries and boarding passes. Being able to receive alerts regarding flight changes or boarding details can definitely help when you’re trying to get the whole family to the plane on time. Using your airline app also spares yourself from the long lines at the airport when you check-in online and go straight to bag drop. Be aware that some airlines will not let you check-in online with kids on some routes. I always give it a go and hope I can check-in online.
Rome2Rio is an excellent free travel planning app that saves you so much time researching how to get from A to B on your trip. You just have to enter any address, landmark, or city as your destination, and the app will instantly display all your travel options and booking information. With this app you can view real-time schedules and price ranges for trains, buses, ferries, and flights; find the best driving, walking, or rideshare routes; and view all your past searches in one spot.
It’s a good idea to know what the weather will be like while you’re away. AccuWeather is one of the best free world weather apps you can use when planning a family trip. This app gives current temperature updates and local weather reports, which ill help both your packing and activity planning. You can get live weather alerts with accurate weather radar maps wherever you are. AccuWeather’s main features include 15-day forecast summaries, 5-day forecasts, and even minute-by-minute local weather alerts.
Best apps for family entertainment on vacation
Spotify (free and paid versions)
Music makes travel far more enjoyable, and Spotify is just the answer to your need for some great tunes to accompany your family trips. Spotify gives you access to millions of songs and other content from artists all over the world.
When you’re heading overseas or you’ll be offline, we download a few playlists onto my phone so that we can use them anywhere. You only have the ability to download with a paid account but you can always just pay for the time you’re away and then go back to a free account.
One thing we’ve learned along the way is don’t expect there will be something on television that anyone can watch. Although it’s fun to watch cartoons in Italian for a little while, when you’re having a rest day, it’s not so helpful.
The great thing is you can take Netflix with you on family vacations so the kids will have something to do while traveling using its mobile app.
Now if you don’t want to bother with mobile data and are not so sure about the Wi-Fi in places, there are quite a good range of movies and shows on Netflix that you can download before you go.
No road trip or plane trip is complete without Audible. This app could become your best friend when it comes to long travels by transforming travel time into listening time. You can try Audible free for 30 days and get your first audiobook for free. After that, there is a monthly subscription or you can buy the audiobooks as a one off purchase.
The great thing about Audible is that you can download all of your books and listen offline, plus you can switch devices without losing your place. Our favourite audiobooks so far are the Harry Potter series, and some of Roald Dahls. One thing you must do before buying any is listen to a sample of the audio because you won’t be able to stand listening to some of the narrators for more than 10 seconds, while others you could listen to for hours.
Best apps for calming the family traveller
Smiling Mind (free)
Smiling Mind has got to be one of our favourite apps for when things get too exciting, too hard or too frustrating. It’s a mindfulness app that has excellent breathing and mindfulness exercises for ages 7 to adult. They are all age related and are a great way to quickly change the focus and calm down the kids (and you).
Calm (free and paid)
Calm is a useful meditation app for travelers, with its 25+ free nature sounds and scenes. We’ve found it great for the kids when putting them down to sleep when they’re unsettled or drown out ambient noise during travels.
There are also guided meditation sessions available in lengths of 3 to 25 minutes priced at $12.99 a month and $59.99 a year but we haven’t had a need to try any of those out. There are meditations such as “Calm Kids,” “Deep Sleep,” “Commuting,” and “Emergency Calm,” which could come in handy during family trips.
Best travel apps for at your destination
Google Translate (free)
Seriously if you are going to a country that speaks a different language you are going to need this app! This free translation app is like having a personal interpreter in your pocket. You can speak (have a bilingual conversation.), snap (translate images of text in a different language), write (draw letters or characters with your finger instead of using the keyboard), or type (just use your keyboard)—it is your choice. With this app, you can talk with someone who speaks a different language, letting you connect with the world. Also, you can get text translations without a data connection but you’ll need to make sure you download the language before you go offline.
XE Currency (free)
The XE Currency app is one of the simplest and reliable to use. It lets you easily convert currencies wherever you are for free on your mobile phone. It is everything you’ll ever need when you find yourself in need of prices and exchange rates when travelling abroad or before you go. It features up-to-the-minute exchange rates and even stores the last updated rates, so it works offline. It’s a great idea to download a currency conversion app before taking any trip, so you will have an idea of how much money you’re going to spend and to maximise your travel budget.
CoPilot gives you high-quality offline maps with free regular map updates. We have used CoPilot in Europe and the USA for driving and walking and have loved it. The app doesn’t require mobile internet to get you around but you do need to download the maps (which are pretty big file sizes) before you go.
CoPilot lets you view up to three alternate routes with details about the trip time and distance for each. Also with this app, you can easily find car parks, petrol, hotels, restaurants and more. It has 2D and 3D map views plus lane indicator arrows, which provide clear guidance to help you navigate even the most complex interchanges. It gives accurate arrival times based on speed limits, distance, traffic speeds, and road conditions. Another great feature is the voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, speed limit indicators, and traffic alerts. You can even have some fun with it by changing the voices.
Uber and Lyft (paid)
Uber and Lyft are two of the most popular ridesharing apps today. They let you request a car with the tap of a button. To request your Uber or Lyft, you just open the app and tell them where you’re going, then the app uses your location so your driver knows where to pick you up.
You’ll see your driver’s picture and vehicle details, and can track their arrival on the map. Payment can be made by credit card, cash in select cities, Android Pay, PayPal, and more. Both use some form of price surging during times when rider demand is greater than normal. After the ride, you can rate your driver and provide feedback. You’ll also get a receipt by email. The great thing is it’s the app that sets the rates, not the driver.
WhatsApp is a free messaging and calling app available on phones all over the world, which we’ve found to be one of the most reliable. WhatsApp uses your phone’s Internet connection or Wi-Fi to let you message and call friends and family. It works with your phone number, just like SMS, so there is no need for usernames and pins. It also automatically syncs with your phone’s existing address book, and you are always logged in so you don’t miss messages. When you are offline, WhatsApp will save your recent messages until the next time you use the app. There is also a group chat feature so you can easily stay in touch with your friends or family.
Marco Polo (free)
Marco Polo is a fun face-to-face messaging app for one-to-one and group conversations
that we’ve only recently started using. When you’re in a different time zone it can be really hard to communicate with family and friends. Marco Polo helps by allowing you to record a video and send them back and forth if no one answers.
You can also do group video calls which makes it so much easier to keep in contact with family and friends when you’re away. The part the kids love most is you can use voice and camera filters and doodles to liven up the conversation.