Travel

The Single Best App You Can Download for Group Trips of Any Kind

A feature of modern friendship I find especially endearing is the ritual of Venmoing each other the same $12 back and forth until eventually one of you dies. On a cognitive level, I know there must have been time before bill-sharing apps, but I do not remember it. I assume we all lugged around large wads of small bills and concluded every happy hour with several minutes’ fumbling for exact change, much like the early settlers.

Venmo might have relieved us of the need to physically exchange money, but the app that best harnesses Venmo to liberate you from everything else that goes into exchanging money (time, emotional distress, fractions) is Splitwise.

Splitwise has been around a while and is increasingly popular among roommates. But lately users have begun to spread its gospel as a low-key travel app. If you’re not using it for group trips -- whether with one other person or with 10, for an eight-month backpacking stint or for a weekend at someone’s cabin upstate -- you absolutely should. It’s among the best travel apps out there; despite a number of similarly branded competitors, such as Acasa (nee Splittable) and Splittr, Splitwise has emerged as the fan favorite largely because it’s just so damned easy.

A quick overview on using Splitwise for group trips will now follow for the uninitiated; if you’ve used it before, you can skip down to the Tips & Tricks portion.

How to use the app for group trips

Download the app (it’s free!) before you leave for your actual trip, when you’re still in the planning stage. Create a “Group” that includes everyone who will be on the trip and name it something distinctive that will let you quickly identify it, like “CANCUN SPRING BREAK SENIOR YEAR [note -- can we add emoji here]” or “work thing.” Then, whenever any group member makes a trip-related purchase like a tour reservation or a hotel room or groceries, they can input the expense and the app will automatically divvy it between everyone.

As different people add different expenses in different amounts, it’ll add or subtract for a running tally of what each individual person owes, or is owed from, each other individual person. This way, you can see that you owe everyone $14.32, except for Karen from Sales, who owes you $23.09. As handy as this is, the app still would be barely worth the time it takes to download without the feature that makes it truly invaluable: payment integration. Just link it to your Venmo or Paypal accounts and you can all pay each other out, in seconds, from within the app. You can also let the debts keep rolling around and settle up later.

Tips to make Splitwise really sing

All right, now that the rest of you have rejoined us. First off, one feature to note if you’re going somewhere that doesn’t use US dollars is the ability to change your default currency (it’s a drop-down menu under “Account Settings”). So pay pesos, yo.

Second, get really kinky and go to the app’s website (nuts, right?). Once you pull up www.splitwise.com ignore the helpful suggestion that you move things over to the app and select “or continue to the website.” Scroll to the bottom and select “Calculators,” then “Travel Calculator.” This feature doesn’t make, like, a radical difference in terms of user experience, but it does offer you a clean way to track and divvy more complex expenses that may not be shared equally, such as when a few members of the group only stay for two nights instead of three. The app allows you to split costs other ways besides dividing equally, like setting percents or exact amounts, but it’s less intuitive as when you’re using the default settings.

Hey, whoa, there are also kittens, y'all

Also, in combing through my own Splitwise account while writing this I realized I’d never tapped the “Kittens!” option at the bottom. Having now done so, my stance is that “Kittens!” is a misnomer and it should really read “Cats!” but that is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable.

Anyway, make sure you’ve downloaded the app before you start planning your next group trip; everyone you’re going with probably already has. If somehow you still manage to have a fight about splitting bills, just take five and zone out together with kitty pics.

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.