The Most Useful Apps Every Traveler Should Download

Tech-savvy tips to make traveling a breeze.

travel apps for people who hate planning trips
Photo courtesy of Airbnb
It's time to stow your tray tables and secure your luggage in the overhead bins—travel is back in full swing. Introducing Return Ticket, a collection of first-person stories, thoughtful guides, and clever hacks designed to help aspiring globetrotters navigate our new normal as safely and smoothly as possible. Buckle up and prepare for liftoff.

Hey, you like to travel? Awesome, same. However, do you like planning out all the logistics? Not the fun, browsing otherworldly hotels logistics, but the price-comparing, currency-converting, red tape-navigating logistics. We thought not—especially now that we live in a world in which one can hardly get from Point A to Point B without encountering canceled flights, lost luggage, and passenger freakouts.

When most of us fantasize about, say, a trip to Colorado or Mexico, we picture ourselves frocklicking carefree through the mountains or feeling absurdly bougie as we lounge by an infinity pool. But hunched over our computers, analyzing the best airfare deals, scrolling through accommodation options, and combing through travel guides from 2007? Not so much.

Thankfully, anyone with a smartphone now has access to countless apps that happily take on the hassle that comes with planning a killer trip. Here are the best travel apps to download before your next big adventure.

Free on iOS and Android
For years, Skyscanner has been my tried and true method for finding the absolute cheapest flights possible—in my experience, beating out all other similar flight aggregators on the market. And since “inexpensive” doesn’t always mean “good” (we’re looking at you, Frontier), Skyscanner allows you to view flights by cheapest, fastest, and best overall deals, as well as filter by stops, departure times, airlines, airports, and level of CO2 emissions.

Can’t decide where you want to go or exactly when you want to go there? Skyscanner also allows you to search for the cheapest flights to any place on earth at any given time. Just select a loose timeframe and hit “Explore Everywhere” to bring up a list of countries and cities you can hit for the low. If you’re anything like me (in other words, prone to frantically searching for cheap flights every time a minor inconvenience arises) you know how valuable this is.

Free on iOS and Android
If you’re planning on taking a camping trip soon (much like millions of other people reminded by the pandemic that outside = good), nothing will get you sorted like Hipcamp. Essentially the Airbnb of the great outdoors, the app lists thousands of campsites, glampsites, RV parks, and cabins (not to mention unique stays like vineyards, farms, treehouses, and more) that you can make your own for a few nights.

Just pick where you’re headed—whether it be an outdoorsy city like Asheville or a remote national park like Kenai Fjords—and Hipcamp will pull up a long list of options that you can filter by features: accessibility, campfires, pets allowed, toilets available, running water, and s’more stations. Okay, I made up that last one, but I’m sure we can manifest it together.

Free on iOS and Android
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I… I had no clue where the hell I was going. Nor will you without AllTrails. This one app covers more than 300,000 trails around the world, providing details on directions, views, terrain, average completion time, difficulty level, and so much more.

But it’s the user reviews that makes AllTrails a must-download, particularly if you plan on visiting a national or state park this year. Every outdoorsy person experiences trails differently, making the feature essential in helping hikers of all styles and abilities find their way. It’s got all the community contribution benefits of Yelp… without the Yelp drama.

Free on iOS and Android
Supply chain issues? Capitalism? Mercury gone retrograde? I don’t know why gas is so expensive right now, and frankly, I’m too lazy to find out. But what I do know is that GasBuddy will support your wallet during these very difficult times. A modern road trip essential, the app locates all gas stations near you, finds the cheapest fuel prices available, and even offers special deals to lower those prices even more.

Free on iOS and Android
This may seem like an obvious pick. But honestly, Google Maps is one of the best travel tools in my belt. Along with its obvious benefits—reviews, navigation, public transportation info—Google Maps’ Lists feature makes this one an indisputable must-have.

Although I respect those Type A folks who feel the need to create minute-by-minute itineraries, the best trips are those with a little spontaneity packed in, and Google Maps helps you accomplish just that. Before I depart, I find a few restaurants, bars, or activities I’d like to check out while I’m in town and save them to a Google Maps List. That way, when I find myself looking to kill some time or take an unexpected adventure, I have instant access to a bunch of fun places I may not have previously planned for, but will certainly be glad I hit.

Free on iOS and Android
We’ve all been there: You have a layover that’s too short for a full-fledged adventure, but juuuust long enough that you end up awkwardly hauling your luggage up and down the streets of a major city, wishing you had somewhere to sit and chill.

With DayUse, you don’t have to be a suitcase-toting social pariah. The app lets you rent hotel rooms for just a few hours (at a much lower cost than what a full night would cost you) so that you can squeeze in some R&R before heading to your final destination. Innuendos aside, this one will save you a lot of hassle between flights.

Free on iOS and Android (or $35.99/year for The Dyrt PRO)
Not dissimilar to Hipcamp, The Dyrt will help you find a place to park your tent or RV for the night. But while Hipcamp is more like Airbnb, allowing property owners to rent out campsites to travelers, The Dyrt covers thousands of existing campsites across the country—including both public and private campgrounds—and lets you read user reviews of those sites, as well as book directly from the app.

Although nine times out of 10, I’d say that settling for the free version of an app is the best route, The Dyrt may be my one exception. The paid version comes with a bunch of worthy perks, including an itinerary planner, offline access, downloadable maps, and discounts on both camping gear and sites. If you camp often, consider this a splurge worth taking.

Free on iOS and Android
Normally, I roll my eyes at all of those "best time to buy airfare" apps, but a friend who hates planning almost as much as I do introduced me to this one. As it turns out, Hopper is awesome at telling you when to pull the trigger on airfare, so you don't regret missing out on that deal from a couple days prior because you were too busy second-guessing yourself and being distracted by the lint in your navel.

You pick your destination first. Then you'll see a calendar that shows you the best days for the airfare, color-coded by least to most expensive, over a six-month period. Hopper predicts how much fares will increase and when, based on historical data and algorithms. It then renders a well-informed "Buy now!" command that you should probably listen to.

If you want Hopper to keep an eye on specific flights for you, it can do that too, and send you a notification when it's time to book. My friend was able to get $100 round-trip tickets from Los Angeles to Houston within a couple of days of "looking." Not too shabby.

Free on iOS and Android
Not only does this convert the currency of whichever far-flung destination you happen to be visiting into the currency with which you are familiar, it tracks live market rates so you can always be sure you’re getting the best and most up to date exchange. Save yourself some time, some money, and all the emotional exhaustion that is doing math.

Free on iOS and Android
It's more important than ever to keep on top of events and circumstances that might compromise your safety abroad. GeoSure collects data from sources like the CDC, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, local authorities, and more, then provides a safety score for your destination that reflects potential health risks, political unrest, threats to women and queer folks, and environmental hazards. It even gives crowd-sourced information about thefts and street crime that have occurred in any given area, and tells you when it's safe to walk or if you should consider hailing a cab.

$2.99 on iOS and Android
One of the more stressful parts of travel for me is wondering whether I've packed enough. As a general rule of thumb, you only want to take what you'll absolutely use, but if you're schlepping a bunch of stuff to unfamiliar lands, it's hard to know what you'll need.

First, consult our packing pro-tips from military personnel, then download PackPoint. It creates your packing list for you based on your itinerary, weather, possible activities, and other considerations for your trip. For example, if you're traveling for business and want to work out, you can opt for business-casual clothes or business-formal attire, along with workout stuff, and it'll generate a list of clothing, gadgets, toiletries, and any other original items you want to include. Once you've made a packing list for a specific trip, you can save the list for future trips or share it with others.

Free on iOS and Android
In the majority of food-related situations, Zomato doesn’t outshine Yelp. But not every place uses Yelp, and some of those places do use Zomato. New Zealand and Australia, for example. Y’know how in China the Twitter is Weibo, because China doesn’t use actual Twitter? This is like that, except without the government censorship. If you’ve just arrived somewhere unfamiliar and are trying to Yelp the good food but nothing’s really turning up, try downloading Zomato—simple as that. Other countries you’re likely to find it in include Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, and the Philippines.

Free on iOS and Android
Hotels are rarely at capacity. Usually every third room or so is empty, so at the last minute, hotels might as well offer some wild discounts. This is where HotelTonight comes in. The app curates unsold rooms across a range of price points (organized into categories like “Basic,” “Hip,” and “Luxe”) and sells them at a better rate than you’d get if you’d made a reservation months ago; it even has its own rewards program. And yes, despite the name, you can book your room earlier than one night in advance.

Free on iOS and Android
This one's a bit subjective, because there are loads of hostel aggregators and none of them are really the clear standout (@ me if I’m wrong). Often, like with the Yelp-versus-Zomato thing, it just comes down to what’s most popular in your area. Hostelworld, though, is widely used pretty much everywhere—it’s owned by the same company as and Soon, the app plans to launch a community element that’ll let you chat with other people staying in your hostel, plan meetups, join small group tours, and more. Hostelworld also includes hotels and bed and breakfasts in addition to hostels; other apps like Agoda do this too, but don’t tend to have as many listings.

Free on iOS and Android
You didn’t click that last hyperlink? I am hurt, for your clicks are how I feed my family. But definitely, you should download Airbnb before your next trip. Contentious as they may be, Airbnbs may be the move when there isn’t a standard hostel or hotel available. If you’re traveling somewhere relatively remote—say, a national or state park—the only option around may be a rental home. Plus, Airbnbs are often a little more fun than what you might get at the Best Western. Take, for example, this UFO, or this Aztec Snake God, or this 22-story skyscraper in the middle of the desert. You get the gist.

Free on iOS and Android
Here’s the drill: Some places you land might have more hotels than hostels or a dearth of Airbnbs. Whenever you’re traveling and your accommodation plans aren’t locked down, you should just have a lil’ folder of all these hotel/hostel/house-sharing apps so that if you find yourself in a dead zone for one, you can turn to another. In addition to letting you rack up rewards, can also help you find packages with flight deals bundled in, too.

Free on iOS and Android
If you live with a roommate, there’s a significant chance you already know about this app, and therefore already love it. But in case anyone reading this has not yet used it for travel, trust that Splitwise is wonderful.

Splitwise did for group trips what the microwave oven did for working moms in the late ’60s, or what the abacus did for ancient Mesopotamians adding their trade expenses by hand. It tallies who owes whom how much and for what, then divides your expenses—all you have to do is put in the amounts. Integrate Venmo or Paypal, and it allows you to pay (and get paid by) your friends whenever you want, with just a couple of clicks. No more handing each other the same $7 back and forth forever.

$3.99 on iOS and Android
This is a fun one. LiveATC is your ticket to eavesdropping on air traffic control… in real time. You can listen in on why your flight’s delayed, hear other planes being cleared for takeoff and landing, and those of you who aren’t the nervous-on-planes sort can enjoy hearing about every tiny malfunction that might be going on in and around the airport on any given day. You start by looking up your airport code, and once you’re dialed into the right one, you can get busy searching for your specific flight (or for whatever you want, really).

You can get the hang of the basics pretty quickly, but one of the coolest things about LiveATC is that you have to practice to get good—picking up the lingo, discerning the good stuff from the chatter. Think of it as a very cool skill you can get better at each time you’re stuck sitting on a tarmac.

Free on iOS and Android
It’s a good thing Google Translate isn’t perfect, because otherwise, we’d fear that we’re actually living in a simulation. To translate something from a language you don’t understand into a language that you do understand, you simply select the languages in question and then go to town. You can type in what you’re trying to translate, or have someone say it into the microphone, or even take a photo of the text. Is it 100% accurate? Of course not. But it’s usually pretty on point—certainly enough to get the basics across with a bit of mistranslation comic relief as a bonus.

Free on iOS and Android
You’re looking at the most comprehensive toilets-near-you map available for download. In addition to finding you the best option from its database of 100,000+ public toilets, the app will provide details about whether the toilet in question has a fee, disability access, or anything else you might need to know. We are truly blessed.

Free on iOS and Android
This one really is essential for a lot of international trips. Did you ever travel abroad and have to buy a new SIM card to poke into your cell phone with a paperclip so you could text without blowing your beer money on that most boring of all expenses: data? I did. It was horrible. WhatsApp, however, is not horrible, because in addition to being way less of a hassle, WhatsApp has the advantage of using hardly any data. This messaging app can basically replace whatever text app your phone comes with during your trip with no extra cost—at least whenever you have WiFi. Just ask anyone you need to communicate with to download it too and you’re good to go. Keep in mind that while you can send pictures and videos, they’ll eat through data a bit faster.

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Tiana Attride is a contributor to Thrillist.
Stephanie Lee travels the world with her laptop and writes about the amazing and the ugly of a traveling freelancing life at FY!S, a website to help digital nomads stay in shape, productive, and sane. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Kastalia Medrano is a New York-based journalist and avid traveler.