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Smart Travel: The Must-Have Apps That Navigate, Translate, and Illuminate


Smart Travel: The Must-Have Apps That Navigate, Translate, and Illuminate

Navigating the globe with a smartphone in hand is a game-changer, thanks to its dual role as a top-notch camera and a lifeline to the rest of the world. However, for adventurous souls who treat document safety like a game of hide and seek and consider getting lost a part of the itinerary, it's a digital sherpa in the wilds of travel mishaps, always ready to reroute, remind, and rescue you from the brink of yet another likely self-induced predicament. Just don’t lose your phone. But that’s a story for another day.


The beauty of a smartphone is its ability to hold countless applications without occupying extra physical space—which is vital, considering that's where we need to fit the portable power bank. Among the cornucopia of travel apps I reserve for specific scenarios, there are a select few I suggest for every journey. Here's the list:


  • TripIt acts as your digital travel butler, expertly organizing your trip details from a jumble of booking emails into polished itineraries. Emails make populating the trip details a breeze, but I also lean on the website to beef up my trip specifics with everything I might need, ensuring I’m always moving in the right direction. Considering my knack for turning travel documents into disappearing acts, I upload scanned copies of key papers, including my travel insurance. And to ensure my culinary quests don't lead me astray, I add photos of my actual destinations. This way, I make it to the right table, meeting, or whatever, and spend less time trying to see where the sun is in the sky.

  • Orbitz is my most often-used travel aggregator. They’re not perfect, but if you follow my blog, you’ll know I’m not either. After years of playing the field with other services, Orbitz won me over as the best fit for my travel needs. And their tiered loyalty program gives you cash credit back to apply to future trips. When I am on the road and have a last-minute trip or hotel need, this is my aggregator of choice.

  • TripAdvisor is an app I normally use for planning a trip. On those days when my itinerary is less “planned perfection” and more “avoiding the Kafkaesque,” TripAdvisor saves me with its treasure trove of food, drink, and adventure reviews. It’s like having a knowledgeable local in my pocket, minus the awkward small talk, or the awkwardness of having a local in my pocket.

  • Uber, Grab & Lyft, depending on where you are, make it easier to arrange ground transportation and avoid being stranded. I’ve found myself in places where taxis are as scarce as unicorns, and the only thing between me and a night stuffing my clothes with newspapers on a steam grate is a ride-hailing app. Don’t forget to set up your credit card information to ensure you can still get around when you’ve lost your wallet – not that I have ever done that.

  • Google Translate keeps me in touch with my surroundings, from reading signs and menus to chatting with locals, in countries where writing looks like artwork and my not-very-impressive repertoire of random foreign phrases doesn’t cut it.

  • Google Maps keeps me from getting completely lost. I like that it will speak out directions while I am navigating the streets of an unfamiliar place, so I can avoid being the kind of lost I routinely experienced before Google Maps and satellite navigation.

  • Windy helps me keep track of the weather when I’m on the road and forecast what lies ahead. I still rely on local weather, but this app is incredibly helpful in avoiding unnecessary umbrellas or getting caught in unexpected downpours.

  • Xe helps me get a pretty accurate exchange rate conversion wherever I am. Once, I tried to do a conversion in Mexico in my head and, while negotiating a good deal, ended up paying more than the asking price. Fool me once…

There are many more apps that can be added to this list, but I wanted to showcase only the ones that get me out of a bind when I’m on the road with Jack Kerouac. Kindle, music apps, and mind-numbing games all serve their purpose, providing entertainment and respite during those long stretches between destinations or while waiting out a layover. Yet, it's the practical tools, those digital lifelines that navigate, translate, and facilitate, that turn potential chaos into smooth sailing. In the end, whether it's finding the path less traveled with Google Maps, translating a crucial conversation with Google Translate, or ensuring you're never lost or alone with Uber, Grab, & Lyft, our smartphones have become the quintessential travel companion for the modern adventurer.


If you’re like me and are shopping a bit online, use the Rakuten service for cash back and discounts – save yourself some money.

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