Your flight is booked and your bags are almost packed. Fire up the iTunes or Play store and add these apps before you head out.
1. Google Keep, iOS/Android, free
Whether you use it for pre-departure prep, or for meeting notes and journaling at your destination, Google Keep is the only notes app you’ll ever need to use, and integrates fully with your Google account. While there are dozens and dozens of note-keeping apps out there, Google Keep offers the best combination of simplicity, usability, versatility and reliability. It’s accessible across all platforms and syncs automatically, so you can revise your list anytime, anywhere. You can also keep and share notes in the form of voice clips, photos or checklists, and the app can send you alerts by time or location—say, reminding you to pick up some souvenirs when you’re strolling through Gangnam, South Korea.
2. GateGuru, iOS/Android, free
No one likes the airport. Yes, the combo of improved amenities and personal gadgets have made layovers better than before, but the fact remains that every traveler wants to get in and get out as quickly as possible. GateGuru helps you do just that by providing real-time information on flight details, estimated security wait times and potential gate changes. Once that’s settled, the app provides maps and amenities as well as tips from other travelers on what to do while you’re waiting. Want to relax in the yoga room at San Francisco International? Find out the best places to eat in Beijing Capital? GateGuru doesn’t just cover departure, but arrival as well, with weather forecasts and transport options—and discounts on Avis car rentals in the US. You can also track your travel stats and see where you rank against other frequent flyers.
3. Pocket, iOS/Android, free
Pocket lets you save content with one click so you can load up on things to look at on your phone—or tablet or laptop—while you’re 36,000 feet in the air. E-mail that YouTube video you’ve been meaning to watch or clip that magazine article you’ve been meaning to read (if you can’t decide, the app can suggest recent popular articles). Pocket works with more than 500 other applications, including Flipboard, Digg and The Week. A premium version lets you create a Permanent Library of saved content and search by text, tag or author.
4. Wikitude, iOS/Android, free
So you’ve arrived at a new city and are ready to explore. Instead of the traditional guidebook or tourist map, why not do it via Augmented Reality? Wikitude offers a live camera view of your location, with multimedia information overlays popping on screen as you pan around your surroundings. Simply tap on the pop-ups to get more information, pulled from sources such as Wikipedia (hence the name), Twitter and TripAdvisor. You can filter sources to your liking to create your own personalized virtual tour guide. Imagine scanning your phone around a residential neighborhood and seeing a hidden private kitchen pop up on the screen?
5. CityMaps2Go, iOS/Android, free
(US$2.99 for pro version without ads)
If you know you won’t have mobile data on your trip, then get CityMaps2Go before you go. As the name suggests, this app allows you to download any of more than 7,000 city maps for offline use. The file sizes aren’t big (Tokyo, for example, is 26.5MB, while Barcelona is less than 10MB) and they offer complete access to that city’s layout, including suggested attractions, public transport information, GPS-based turn-by-turn directions and a large database of restaurant reviews. You can also browse and save tips, photos and stories from other travelers or share your own reviews of places you’ve visited.
6. Waze, iOS/Android, free
Maps are great for getting to know a city on foot but if you’re renting a car or if you’re in a cab with a clueless driver, you’ll want Waze. This community-driven (excuse the pun) app offers real-time information on road conditions from Singapore to Scandinavia. Its clean interface shows everything from traffic jams to accidents to road construction, represented by, oddly, cutesy icons. With Waze, you’ll steer clear of the day’s triathlon course in Dubai and drive/ride Jakarta’s inner city streets like a local.
7. Flush Toilet Finder, iOS/Android, free
We’ve all been there: enjoying the sights when suddenly, nature comes calling. It’s no biggie if you’re in a familiar place but what if you’re in a foreign country? This is where Flush Toilet Finder comes in handy. It has a database of more than 190,000 public restrooms around the world, from Bangkok to Amsterdam, with information on fees, disabled access and even ratings from other users. The app uses your phone’s GPS to instantly bring up nearby restrooms (even without an Internet connection), and one tap brings up a Google Maps-like navigation menu.
8. MyPostcard, iOS/Android, free
Why send a plain old postcard when you can send a personalized one? Simply upload a photo to the MyPostcard app, write a message of up to 450 characters, type in an address and click ‘send’. The MyPostcard team in Berlin takes care of the rest: printing the photo on 300g cardboard, laminating the front with glossy film and mailing it from the post office, all within 24 hours of your order. Postcards are usually delivered within two business days and cost €1.99 each worldwide. You can also use the app to create custom greeting cards and send photo-boxes with prints of the vacation snaps on your smartphone.