Next to a suitcase, the most indispensable travel accessory these days is a smartphone.
Whether you embark on a business trip, a weekend getaway or an exotic overseas vacation, phone apps exist to help make virtually every element of the experience far easier and more enjoyable. Travel apps have only been so robust in the last couple of years, but it already seems hard to remember how we managed to get anywhere without them.
In some instances, though, there are almost too many choices available. Dozens of apps exist for getting around, say, Europe, and many others are at the ready to help make a packing list. Want to monitor the status of a flight? You'll need to select from a host of frustratingly similar apps first. Sifting through everything can feel more onerous than navigating the security maze at LAX.
Finding the right apps shouldn't add stress to travel, so we identified ten that are intended to aid every stage of a trip.
Remember postcards? Postagram brings back the old snail-mail staple, but with a high-tech twist. Take a photo with your smartphone camera (or choose one from your Instagram or Facebook account), type in a short message and enter the recipients' address. A personalized postcard will appear in their actual mailbox within a few days. For iOS and Android, the app is free, postcards are 99 cents for each U.S. delivery and $1.99 for international addresses.
Organizing pre-trip research can be a challenge. Dcovery's Place Finder browser extension pulls out the points of interest mentioned in articles and other relevant pages you find online, lets you categorize them and then adds pictures, maps and directions. Sync your phone with your computer and the app puts all the information together into a handy travel guide tailored to your specific interests. The app is $3.99 for iOS.
Airports aren't exactly known as fine-dining destinations, but GateGuru helps find the hidden gems in your arrival and departure locations. Upload your itinerary and the app lists food options -- as well as shops and other services like ATMs -- along with where to find them and ratings from other fliers. The app also provides estimated wait times for security lines and last-minute deals on rental cars. The app free for iOS, Android and Windows
Lots of GPS apps offer traffic updates and voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation to help you get to your destination. Scout, however, helps find things to do once you get there. Choose local sights and attractions from an extensive catalog on its website and then sync your selections with the app for when you arrive. It also keeps up-to-date listings of recommended concerts, sporting events and other timely entertainment options so you'll always know what's happening. The app is free for iOS and Android.
Although it is probably the last thing you want to think about while traveling, having current and correct medical information is crucial if something goes wrong on a trip. ICE keeps your doctors' phone numbers, details on specific medical conditions and insurance information all in one place, where it can be accessed even when the phone is locked. The app can also translate the stored information into ten different languages. The app is $3.99 for Android.
iStone has just one function -- translation -- and it performs it extremely well. The app comes equipped with a list of more than 300 useful phrases -- "How much does it cost?" or "I'd love a room on a higher floor" -- that it can say aloud in any of 12 languages. Flip through categories, such as dining or directions, to quickly find the correct expression. And if you come across a new foreign phrase, you can record it to use later. The basic version of the app is free for iOS, but full versions of languages require in-app purchases.
A Google search will turn up plenty of restaurants in any given destination. But to narrow your culinary quest to those frequented by in-the-know foodies, you will need LocalEats. The app culls choices from dozens of cities in the United States and abroad to the essentials, all based on media reviews and diners' recommendations. Browse by categories, such as cuisine type and price range. LocalEats will find what is best near your current location, provide directions and even let you book a taxi to get there. The app is 99 cents for iOS.
For road warriors, PressReader is the best way to keep up with the happenings at home. The app delivers 2,000 newspapers from around the world to your mobile device's screen. More than 1,200 of them are in English, making it equally easy to get news about all your destinations. The interface shows each paper's actual daily layout and lets you zoom in on a page or click headlines to view a text version. If you get tired of reading all that agate type, it also has a text-to-speech option. The monlthy subscription is $29.95 for iOS, Android, Windows iPhone and Blackberry. Each download is 99 cents.
All too often the byzantine seating systems of airlines leave travelers with no attractive options. Expertflyer.com's Seat Alerts app lets you input the type of seat you prefer or even choose specific seats. Look at a seating chart for your flight, read ratings and reviews before making a selection. The app then monitors the flight's seating availability and alerts you when the one you have an eye on becomes free -- right up until the time of departure. The app is available on iOS and Android. It is free for a single alert and 99 cents for additional alerts. It costs $4.99 with an Expertflyer.com account and includes up to 30 alerts.
You could download a dozen similar apps and still not match the functionality that Travel App Box offers. Billed as the Swiss Army knife of travel apps, it is a flight tracker, currency converter, tip calculator and many other useful tools rolled into one package. It also features offline maps -- including public transportation layouts in 40 cities worldwide -- for when you are stuck somewhere without cellular or WiFi service. The app is $1.99 for iOS.