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?

Use the iPhone Maps app abroad for free

Map of Berlin

One of the things I love about my iPhone is the Maps app combined with the phone’s GPS capabilities. Together, these two help me locate myself and find my destination with ease. Because I have national coverage with AT&T in the US, my iPhone has become an indispensible domestic travel companion, but the cost of international data coverage can be prohibitive, so I’ve been reluctant to use the phone for this purpose while traveling outside the US.

Travel Tip: When you arrive in your foreign destination and before you head out for the day, find and connect your iPhone to an available WiFi connection (e.g. in your hotel or in an internet café). Make sure that Airplane Mode is Off and Locations Services (Settings > General > Location Services) are turned On. Both of these are required for you to use the GPS capabilities of your iPhone. You’ll also want to disable Data Roaming (Settings > General > Network) to avoid the hefty costs associated with international data roaming.

Then, launch the Maps app and cache the map for your current city or the part of the city you’re planning to visit. To do this, just zoom in to the level(s) of detail you’ll need for the day, wait for the map to download and become clear, and then move around in each of the four cardinal directions to download each tile of the map.

Now you’ll be set to use maps on your iPhone for the day – and without paying for international data coverage!

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