Travel Smarter 2012: Travel apps help you explore like a local

Whether you are preparing for a trip or are on the ground in uncharted territory, smartphones are making it easy to avoid looking like a lost tourist. Download the following apps before setting off on your next trip and you’ll navigate new cities and cultural divides with ease.

Need to navigate a new place? Don’t just wander around aimlessly. Whether you are looking to tour a city center or want to go for a walk in the woods, EveryTrail (free) can show you the way. The app goes above and beyond traditional guidebook maps by using GPS technology to show you exactly where you are and what is nearby. It also offers facts and figures on landmarks and historical attractions allowing travelers to decipher exactly what they’re looking at (and maybe impress their traveling cohorts with some inside information). As for public transportation, many individual cities have apps such as the Chicago L Rapid Transit app ($0.99), but AllSubway ($0.99) can help you understand the underground systems in over 100 cities throughout the world with just one download.

Skip the national chains and search for independently owned restaurants with Local Eats ($0.99). The app allows you to filter eateries by neighborhood, category, or rank. All restaurant listings are unique to that particular city and include a description of the quality of food and service. If you’re still having trouble deciding, tantalize your taste buds with Foodspotting (free), an app that uses location technology to show you user-submitted pictures of nearby food. On the other hand, if you’ve already chosen where to dine but want to make sure you order the right thing on the menu, Foodict Food Dictionary ($1.99) has a comprehensive database of international food expressions and definitions. No matter what obscure foods you encounter, the app allows you to order with confidence.Entertainment
When it comes to finding attractions, Goby (free) uses GPS data to give personalized recommendations for things to do, such as local live music and art openings. On the other hand, Where (free) allows you to search for static locations, such as nearby historical sites, art galleries, museums, hiking trails, or even miniature golf courses. Although both apps also come with events listings, Eventful (free) has a more comprehensive database of performers. You never know, your favorite act might be on the road at the same time as you.

Whether you are looking to learn a whole new language or just figure out the local vernacular, iPhone apps can help. Triplingo ($9.99) schools users in the local vernacular through a nifty “slang slider,” which offers words based on whether you are looking to speak formally, casually, or in slang. Before you go, download Hello Hello (free), a free language course that allows you to connect with native speakers to practice various languages. On the ground in a new place, Google Translate (free) is an invaluable tool that lets you speak or type phrases and hear the corresponding translations. Word Lens ($9.99), on the other hand, is a nifty app that allows you to take a picture of text and gives you the translation.

Travelers hoping to learn cultural facts and traditions should take some time to browse through World Customs (free), an app that lists need-to-know information such as proper greetings and gestures. Howcast (free) uses video tutorials to show you everything from how to hail a cab in New York City to how to properly use chopsticks. On the other hand, those looking to learn more about particular topics can try HearPlanet ($3.99), an app for landmarks and attractions that speaks to you like an audio tour. Just don’t forget your headphones, or you’ll definitely stick out as someone from out of town.

There are also plenty of apps out there that can be useful tools when traveling. Currency Converter (free) by OANDA Corporation is a currency calculator that stays meticulously up to date. ConvertMe (free) converts temperatures and measurements meaning you’ll never have to go outside dressed inappropriately or take guesses on whether or not your luggage will be overweight at the airport. Finally, Clothing Size Conversion (free) is a useful tool for shoppers who need to figure out what size shoes (and other clothing) to buy.

More Insider Tips
Depending on your destination, there are plenty of other apps that can help you blend in and get insider information. Do a search in the app store for your locale and you might be surprised what comes up. For example, writers living in 39 cities in Europe contribute tips to Spotted by Locals (free), which allows users to scroll through tips handpicked by locals. Tourist commissions and bureaus often manage their own apps that are full of great tips, such as the Explore Canada Like a Local (free) app that includes tons of advice from Canadian locals on where to sleep, play, eat, drink, and more.

[flickr image via JD Hancock]