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Go away: The most useful iPhone apps for getting out of town

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It’s no secret that smartphones make travel much less painful and way more fun–from reducing our chances of getting hopelessly lost to helping us find an ATM or even update Twitter in-flight. More and more travelers already pack them along on their work and business trips, and we have a pretty good idea of what devices they’re carrying, too. Gogo, which provides in-flight Wi-Fi for eight major North American airlines, revealed Tuesday that 65 percent of those using Gogo to log on to the web mid-flight do so with an iPhone and 15 percent with an iPod touch. By contrast, 12 percent of Gogo use is by Android device users, and 6 percent by BlackBerry owners.

I’m one of those people who keeps my iPhone close at hand when I travel. And there aren’t many things I love more than planning and going on trips. So for you fellow iPhone-toting travelers, here are a few of the iOS apps I most rely on for planning a trip and using while making my way around.

Trip Advisor
TripAdvisor's Live View makes for a cheap self-guided walking tour.

For deciding when to go: Bing. The price predictor aspect of the travel section tells you when the price of a ticket is likely to fluctuate up or down. This is especially helpful if you’re deciding the best week or month to go to visit a specific locale. Or, if you’re a procrastinator like me and you like to wait until the last possible minute on these things, it’ll help you figure out when to pull the trigger. Price: free.

For picking the perfect flight: Hipmunk. For those who care less about cost and want to pick the most convenient flight, Hipmunk is awesome. It’s got the standard ways to filter flights–duration, arrival/departure time, number of layovers–but where Hipmunk stands out is their “agony” filter. It consider the number of stops, the length of the layover, total travel time and price to rate how much a particular flight will make you want to poke your own eye out with the dull plastic fork you got with your in-flight meal. In addition, thanks to a brilliant recent update, you can search for flights with Wi-Fi. Price: free.

Hipmunk's "Agony" filter is awesome.

For finding your way around: TripAdvisor. If you find yourself in a place you’ve never been and want to hit up the most popular sights or tourist traps hotspots, TripAdvisor’s “Live View” is a welcome feature. After you specify what you want to see (notable architecture, museums, parks, tours, etc.), click on Live View in the app. That feature activates your iPhone’s camera and brings up an augmented reality view that, when you hold the phone up in various directions, will label what you’re looking at right on screen. Price: free.

I found this feature very helpful when traipsing around Manhattan this spring on my own architectural history walking tour sans any physical map. It’s probably the cheapest tour you can go on.

For foraging for decent meals: Yelp. If you’re in a major city, Yelp’s “find nearby” feature can be a life-saver if you want to find out the closest, well, anything. But it’s especially good at sorting by restaurants that are open, cuisine type, rating, and more. Price: free.

Bonus food finder: Foodspotting. Since local tastes vary, a restaurant rated 4.5 stars on Yelp in, say, rural Montana won’t necessarily mean the same thing as a 4.5 star-rated place in a San Francisco. That’s where Foodspotting, the app that ranks individual dishes, not just overall restaurants, can help you hone in on where you may want to eat. Pictures, I’ve found, can be worth a thousand Yelp reviews. Price: free.

Foodspotting lets you see what a restaurant serves.

For an app that does almost everything: Kayak. This app helps you with almost anything related to travel, and as a result, it’s probably my most-used app overall. I like to launch Kayak on my phone to check the status of a flight, seek out the best rental car rates, start a packing list, search for a history of my trips, and when abroad, easily convert currency. Price: free.

Apps I haven’t used in a real-life situation, but can’t wait to try: Hotel Tonight and Trover. Hotel Tonight looks like a nifty way to find last-minute lodging, though it’s limited to a few major U.S. cities right now. The way it doesn’t kick you out to external sites when you’re browsing hotel maps and pictures is much appreciated. But the true test will be whether it comes through next time I find myself in this situation. Price: free.

Trover is another promising app, which I discovered thanks to Colleen’s recent profile on GigaOM. It allows users to catalogue photos of places they’ve been, which are automatically geo-tagged, creating a kind of travel journal social network. Others can browse your suggestions/photos as a means to find off-the-beaten-path places they’d otherwise not know about. As a traveler it’s likely to be most useful for those among us who’d rather avoid popular monuments, historical sites, and tours and stick to the dive bars, food trucks and hidden beaches that the locals like. And, by definition, to keep away from what the locals don’t: tourists. Price: free.

Thumbnail courtesy of Flickr user J?hn Steven

7 Responses to “Go away: The most useful iPhone apps for getting out of town”

  1. Edward Kovarski

    Thumbs up for Kayak! I’ve tried Hipmunk a few times but I think they need to add more flights as I always return to Kayak for a more full picture of the flights available.