Traveling is fun, but it’s not always easy. Especially when planning multiple trips at a time. (Hard life, I know.) After a year of living in Europe and taking more than a dozen trips to places like France, Spain, England and Austria, we are constantly refining our travel skills and the tools we use to get there. There’s so much the Internet can offer when planning for a trip or while discovering a new city.
In the past year, I have downloaded and tested an assortment of apps to help make our trips easier. These are the favorites right now and what I use.
[Note: I was not paid to review these, and I am still trying new ones. It’s possible there may be better versions of what I am currently using.]
Apps to Help with Pre-Trip Planning
To Book an Apartment: HomeAway
So which is it? AirBnB or HomeAway. I think this is a personal preference, but I’m finding it’s important to check both. Some cities have more apartment options from one vs the other. In general, we stay in apartments when traveling as a family, and my preference is HomeAway. With a plethora of school breaks scattered throughout the year, I find we are often planning multiple trips at a time. Deciding where to go, can depend on the price of an apartment. The HomeAway app makes it easy to quickly check on prices in a city in the scheduled weeks when we have school breaks.
To Watch Flight Prices: Hopper
Finding good prices for airline tickets is critical when traveling as much as we do. Hopper helps identify airline prices, and when they likely will decrease/increase in price. By setting up alerts for various destinations, I get a quick note from Hopper letting me know now (or later) might be a good time to buy. Right now we’re considering a trip to Athens over the Christmas holiday. After I plugged in my dates, yesterday I received an alert telling me the price went up and would likely go up more. Buy it now!
To Learn Language Basics: Duolingo
When traveling to new countries, it’s both helpful and respectful to know (or at least try) a little of the basic language. By basics I mean, “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” and “goodbye.” Maybe learning a few things like open/closed or some foods is helpful too. Duolingo is an easy way to get through some of those basics as a family. Feel free to make it a competition between your kids and the adults. We have been lucky that past trips took us to German, French or Spanish-speaking countries, and between the four of us, we can get by and/or translate for the rest. But with our most recent trip to Croatia, we should have all done a few days of language reserach to get familiar with some words. And we did not. Now as plan for trip to Italy, we’ll be spending some time prepping on Duolingo. Bonjourno!
To Find Things to Do: TripAdvisor
Every activity we do, we include TripAdvisor. Crowd-sourced reviews allow me to determine if a museum or sight is worth the money. I also research the best times to visit, other tips, or if the extra “add-ons” are worth the investment. This app is used both in preparation for the trip and during the trip. I also do a fair amount of reviews. Seems only fair.
Apps to Help While On the Go
To Get You There: Google Maps | Rome2Rio | HereWeGo
Of course there are lots of apps that allow you to map getting from point A to B. And I will talk about a few others shortly. But Google Maps, around the world, has proved to be the easiest to quickly estimate getting to my destination. It’s best used when walking the streets. I do not rely on it quite as much for public transportation, but in most places (not all) it will provide an assortment of public transportation options.
I’m still deciding which of these — Rome2Rio or HereWeGo — is better for finding the best way to get from one place to another on public transportation. While Google Maps is my initial go-to, I need something more detailed when it gets down to really planning the journey. These two apps allow me to look at all my transportation options in one place, including Uber, taxi, trains, car, as well as providing me the price.
To Find a Ride: Uber
Not all cities are Uber-friendly, yet, but having the Uber app downloaded before going gives us options. It’s one of the first things we check upon arrival and in many places have been surprised to find this as a transportation option. And when you need it, it’s great to have it all set up and ready to go.
To Speed Up the Walk: Lime/Bird
Many large and small cities around the world now have electric scooters as a transportation options. While we don’t use these often, there have been instances where our exploring has led to tired feet and whiny teenagers. Finding these scooters (Lime or Bird) nearby have saved us on occasion and it’s fantastic to have the app set up and ready to go when and if you need a little extra lift. Technically, you’re supposed to be 18 to ride, but I told my kids to be safe and not act like jerks as they navigate the streets.
To Speak the Language: Google Translate
Basic, simple, not perfect. There are lots of translation apps out there. If you need to quickly translate something for someone or type in a word or phrase, Google Translate will get you 90 percent there. In the past year of trying to learn German, I have a few different apps for different things, but when I need to quickly look up the meaning, this Google app is hands down still my favorite. You can also scan a sign to get the general meaning of something before you….you know….step into danger.
To Keep in Touch: WhatsApp
Here in Europe, WhatsApp is how we communicate whether via text or phone calls. Since it doesn’t matter what the originating phone number is (ie what country it’s from), it makes it easy to text and call for free. If you’re traveling to or from a country where local texts may cost you, download WhatsApp to easily contact the hotel, taxi, apartment owner, make reservations, etc. Even better, it makes it easy to connect with people back home.
To Convert Money: Currency
Hands down, Currency is so easy for figuring out money conversions quickly and offline with no need for internet. Just type in the amount and it shows the conversion against a multitude of currencies, quickly. Don’t leave the country without it.
To Organize it All: TripIt
TripIt is a new app for me, and I love it! Recently TripIt was helpful planning our solo trip to Alsace, I am now using it to plan Rome. With so much to organize for each of our adventures, I have trouble keeping it all in one location. While, I could put them all into one spreadsheet or Word doc, that seems work so I just print it all out. But this app allows me to just forward my confirmation information to their system and it automatically generates my itinerary. I will say, it’s a little creepy to send some anonymous email address my plans, but I figure Google and Facebook know where I am anyway.
To Find Wi-Fi: Wiffinity (Still Testing)
Finding Wi-Fi can often be critical to make plans and communication with families. We often hop from café to café looking for places to check in. Wiffinity allows me to download a map of the area to use offline later shwoing all the public Wi-fi hotspots. And get this, it includes crowd-sourced passwords, too! So no more asking the restaurant for their Wi-Fi password.
To Drown Out the Neighbors: White Noise
Hotels and apartments are full of all kinds of noise at night: babies, drunk people, trash collectors, cafes opening for the morning, buses. The White Noise app is powerful. It provides a choice of white noises to use at nighttime to drown out all the noise keeping you up at night and making you (and your kids) grouchy the next day.
To Protect Your Privacy: Private Internet Access VPN
Depending on which country you’re in, some websites won’t work. And in some countries, you don’t want all your information “out there.” Download some type of VPN app to use to access sites, stream, or protect your data. We pay for Private Internet Access VPN since its on all our devices, but there are free ones out there which will serve the same purpose if needed. It’s better to have it on your phone before you go, just in case.
Local Apps to Help Get Around
To Keep Track of Flights: Fraport
This app is specific to our local Frankfurt Airport, but I imagine other major airports have a similar app. I plug in the flight and add to my “favorites,” either departing or arriving. It provides me the terminal, gate, baggage claim area, and check-in counter. But the best part is it alerts me (faster than say the Lufthansa app) as to when the plane is delayed, gate is open, plane is approaching. It’s best for picking up visitors as I time it down to the minute I can swoop in and get them. I have heard FightRadar24 is similar, but I haven’t yet tested this.
To Buy Tickets for Local Transportation: RMV/DB
These are our two train systems in our area. RMV is the local S-Bahn and U-Bahn (our subway systems) and DB, the infamous Deutche Bahn, is what we use for trains around Germany and beyond. While Rome2Rio and HereWeGo (see above) are great for deciding how to get somewhere, these other two allow me to make purchases from my phone.