Travel Apps That Actually Do Something

Smartphone travel apps seem to have something for everyone. When new technology can be adapted or designed for smartphone use, developers rush to make an app featuring one version or another of it. Relying on existing data, many travel apps don’t really do anything unique though. Collecting, sorting or regurgitating information that is “nice to have” can be helpful and even entertaining. But some travel apps bring “must-have” features, tasks and abilities to hand, literally enabling the user to positively impact their travel experience with just a few taps.

“There are seemingly millions of smartphone apps out there designed to make traveling easier, but not all of them are very good,” said Brett Snyder, founder of air travel assistance site Cranky Concierge in a CNN report.

Travelers into mobile applications that aid them on the road know that there is no shortage of location-based apps, tracking our every move, sharing it with others if we so choose and even making an automatic travel log of where we have been.

Crowd-sourcing apps bring a “something is better than nothing” direction to our quest for a good restaurant, hotel, grocery store or other place when traveling. Organization apps help us sort photos, contact information, frequent flier numbers and more. Phone version apps of desktop programs can let us almost bring the office along on the trip too.

None of the above actually do anything though. Other smartphone apps do.

“Every company seems to think that it needs an app to be cool, but not every app is worth the effort,” says Snyder.

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards members, for example, now can upgrade their rental via smartphone. Using their Hertz app for android or iPhone, members are actually doing something: modifying an existing reservation.

Prior to customers’ arrival at the airport, Hertz will send a text notifying them about their reservation. Clicking a link in the message produces three options: switching to a different car at no additional cost, the deal of the day or a selection of upgrades.

Airline apps that allow an electronic boarding pass help us save time at the airport and make a tiny green impression too by avoiding the need to print one. United, American, Delta Airlines and others also allow actually doing something by booking flights via their app. In the air, GoGo’s wireless Internet app provides quick and easy access for connecting.

On the ground, retail apps like the Starbucks version let us store funds to be spent later in a Starbucks store equipped to handle them. That eliminates the need for cash or, more importantly for travel safety concerns, fumbling with a wallet or purse for payment by using that phone that is probably in the traveler’s hand anyway.

In a foreign land, apps that read signs written in a language travelers are not familiar with, then translate it into understandable text can keep us from getting lost. Better yet: talking apps break language barriers by recording and translating an unknown language. I have actually had conversations with people met on the road when neither one of us spoke each other’s language using such an app.

Still, with all that the thousands of apps for smartphones have enabled us to do, there is a need for more.

Searching for apps that actually do something, the Verizon Innovative App Challenge is a creative competition for middle and high school students. Working with a faculty advisor, teams of students developed original mobile app concepts that address a real need or problem in their school or community, as we see in this video:

Do you have favorite travel apps that you just can’t leave home without? Share them with other readers by leaving a comment here.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Moomettes]