12 iPhone travel apps you need to use

If you’re like most iPhone owners, your phone has become an indispensable tool — you use it to map your runs, book restaurant reservations, and hurl birds at green pigs. So don’t leave it behind when you travel, instead check out these 12 iPhone travel apps — most of them are free!


1. TripIt

TripIt organizes your travel plans by turning all of those messy flight, hotel, and car rental confirmation emails into editable itineraries that are easy to manage. All you have to do is forward your confirmation emails to TripIt and the information automagically appears in your account which you can access online or on your iPhone.

Tip: If you’re traveling internationally, sync TripIt on your iPhone when you have access to low/no-cost data connection (3G at home or WiFi) to avoid roaming charges.


2. Free Wi-Fi Finder

Free Wi-Fi Finder, is exactly what it sounds like. It helps you find free (and also paid) WiFi connections while you’re traveling. Using the GPS function on your iPhone, the app tells you where the closest hotspot is and how to get to it.

Tip: Download the offline database, so you don’t get yourself into a catch-22 like I did!


3. Skype

Skype lets you make and receive voice and video calls over your iPhone’s 3G and WiFi data connections. You probably already know this, but you may not know is that you can place calls to actual phones — both land and mobile — worldwide using Skype credits.

Tip: Purchase an online number so your friends and family don’t have to use Skype to reach you while you’re traveling. Take it one step further by bringing along an unlocked GSM mobile phone and purchasing a local SIM card when you land, then forward your Skype calls to your local mobile phone.


4. HeyTell

HeyTell is a voice messaging app (currently available for the iPhone and Android) that lets you to talk with friends and family. It’s sort of like a walkie-talkie — you just choose a contact, push the button to record, and start talking. Use this as an alternative to expensive voice calls or SMS messages while you’re traveling — or when you want to talk asynchronously.

Tip: Purchase the optional Voice Changer ($1.99) to freak people out.


5. WhatsApp ($0.99)

WhatsApp is another cross platform messaging app (available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia phones) but it’s more like a souped-up alternative to SMS. Use it to send and receive messages, pictures, audio notes, and video messages at no cost.

Tip: Have the your peeps at home install the app before your trip then add then have the app find and add them to your favorites (Settings > Refresh Favorites).


6. Badoo

Badoo lets you search, find, and chat with people nearby making it a perfect way to meet locals and other traveler while you’re on the road. Yes, yes, you can use it for “other” purposes, if you so desire, but think of it as a way to connect you with folks with whom you can practice your language skills or swap travel stories.

Tip: Set up your profile before you leave home to avoid those awful hotel-mirror headshots. Also, read Badoo’s online safety tips!


7. TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor’s iPhone app gives you access to traveler reviews and opinions on hotels, restaurants, and activities that you can use to augment your guidebook. It’s also handy if you feel like eating at a good restaurant that not likely to be overrun by the same set of guidebook travelers.

Tip: Write quick reviews of the places you stay and eat in — easier and quicker to do with the app than than online.


8. OMaps ($1.99)

oMaps lets you save maps and then access them without an data connection. This is important because of the astronomical international data roaming rates the carriers charge.

Tip: You can also cache Google Maps locally on your iPhone using the trick I published in March.


9. Share-a-Bill ($3.99)

Share-a-Bill lets you to split bills and checks among your travel companions. As you travel, you enter expenses and record who paid for them. At the end of your trip the app figures out exactly who owes what to whom. It also supports multiple currencies and emails a final report to everybody involved.

Tip: Use this app along the way to make sure you have everything accounted for and so there’s no confusion at the end of your trip.


10. Google Translate

Google Translate lets you to translate words and phrases between more than 50 languages. For most languages, you can speak your phrases and hear the corresponding translation.

Tip: Translate the phrases you’ll mostly likely need ahead of time using your 3G connection at home or an available WiFi connection on the road — again, so you can avoid data roaming charges.


11. Dropbox

Dropbox lets you store and bring along up to 2GB of your photos, docs, and videos for free. After you install Dropbox on your computer, any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically be synchronized to all your computers, iPhone/iPad, and even the Dropbox website. Use Dropbox to scan and upload important travel documents, such as your passport, drivers license, and copies of your credit cards.

Tip: Mark important files as ‘favorites’ so you can access these offline when you don’t have a data connection.

Bonus: Use this link to create your Dropbox account and you’ll get an extra 250MB of storage!


12. Google Authenticator

Google Authenticator provides an additional layer of security for your Gmail account by generating a unique verification code you enter while logging in. This may not be sexy, but it’ll keep your account from getting hacked when you’re in a sketchy internet cafe. To use Google Authenticator, you’ll need to enable 2-step verification on your Google Account.

Tip: Set this up and test it out before you leave home to make sure you’re comfortable with how it works. You’ll also need to create an “application specific” password for your iPhone and any other devices you may use to access your Gmail account.


Also, be sure to search for apps that are specific to your destinations. For example, Lonely PlanetFrommer’s, and Phaidon all publish city guides. There are also number of transit apps that allow you to search train and bus timetables and, in some cases, purchase tickets, for places like Berlin and Switzerland.

What iPhone travel apps do you use?

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4 Replies to “12 iPhone travel apps you need to use”

  1. Great suggestions- we LOVE Share-a-Bill because we often travel with a large group and dinners out can get confusing. I’ll have to check out some of these other ones

  2. Love the list! My 4 iphone family is leaving on European vacation in 2 weeks. We also have a 5th old iphone off contract (Iphone 3). Please clarify – the heytell works like a free walkie talkie between iphones in Europe? and does the whatapp work as free text messages in europe? Love the omaps mapsave option. As for data – I’m considering one of 2 things: the AT&T international data plan for $119 and 250 MB (for one of the iphones or an ipad), or using the old iphone 3 with a european SIM card. If I use the iphone3 (no current contract or number assigned) do I need to jailbreak and unlock it? And what carrier do you recommend buying a sim card from for Data?

    Thanks! love your blog!

    1. Glad you liked the post & great questions!

      HeyTell and WhatsApp both work as described as long as the phone has an active data connection, whether this is WiFi or 3G. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are because these apps use the internet to send and receive messages, rather than the carrier’s mobile/voice network.

      I would recommend purchasing an international data plan for at least some occasional data usage. For example, I rely on the Maps app at home and even more so when I’m in a foreign city. What I do is cache the iPhone map tiles while I have a Wifi connection available and then use the built-in GPS function of the phone to locate myself. Searching for a location and getting directions consume a low amount of data, it’s downloading the maps themselves that is bandwidth intensive.

      As for your iPhone that is out of contact — once upon a time AT&T would provide a SIM unlock for phones that were at least 90 days into their contracts for the express purpose of using them in foreign countries. This is not the case with the iPhone.

      If you call AT&T, they will tell you it’s Apple’s restriction. If you call Apple, they will tell you it’s AT&T’s policy. It’s super frustrating (which is why I filled a complaint with the FCC — a very quick and easy task, by the way: https://esupport.fcc.gov/ccmsforms/form2000.action?form_type=2000B).

      Back to your question — yes, you are correct, you will need to both jailbreak and unlock the phone. These are two separate operations. Jailbreaking simply allows you to install other applications on the phone while unlocking allows you to use a non AT&T SIM card. Be warned, though, that both of these require technical skill and that even if you have this, it is not possible to unlock every iPhone (contrary to popular belief). I have a 3GS that has a specific version of the baseband firmware for which there no unlock available.

      If you are able to unlock your iPhone or find another GSM phone to bring along, then selecting a carrier will depend on which country you’ll be in and how long you’ll be traveling. You’ll find Vodafone, T-Mobile, and Orange in most of the western European countries. In my opinion, for short term, pre-paid usage, I haven’t found much difference between the carriers, though be sure to go with a carrier that allows you to purchase a pre-paid data connection (sometimes called a ‘flat’) for the phone. This will be in addition to the calling and SMS that you purchase on a pre-paid basis. For example, I was able to buy a month long data connection from O2 (Orange) for about 10-15€.

      One last thing — just like it’s painfully expensive to roam with a US mobile phone in a foreign country, it is also equally painful to roam with, say, a German SIM in other country, like France. You’d think that since they’re both part of the EU and the companies are largely the same that this wouldn’t be the case, but it is. I have heard mention of some EU legislation that would create a unified “mobile zone” and eliminate roaming across some/all of the EU.

      Have a great trip!

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