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] travel-planning site launches in beta

A new travel-planning website and booking engine is launching this month in beta, and I was excited to give it a test run, having first heard about the site this spring at a EuroCheapo travel happy hour. is a “personalized recommendation engine” that takes your interests, budget, and even social network connections to give you inspiration and help you plan your next vacation. Flights and hotels are pulled from Expedia, with restaurant recommendations, activities, and sightseeing descriptions culled from Lonely Planet, FourSquare, NileGuide, and Yelp.

Let’s say you have a week to travel in early September for Labor Day. Budget is under $1,000 per person for flights and hotels, and you’re interested in culture, beaches, and food. Plug all those into the search engine and you’ll get a series of destinations to review, refine, share, and book. While the site still has a few bugs (budget busters would sneak through the filters, the help feature is not fully enabled), the interface is slick and user-friendly, the features are thoughtful, and the content is reliable.

What’s cool about the site:

  • Since I’m currently based in Turkey, I loved that your point of origin could be pretty much anywhere in the world so I could run searches from New York and Istanbul to get a wide variety of places convenient for different parts of the world.
  • A wide (1,200 and growing) network of destinations gave me some ideas I’d never considered or even heard of (Kalingrad, Russia; Azemmour, Morocco; Krabi, Thailand), as well as some more tried-and-true vacation spots(Sunny Isles Beach, Florida; Mykonos, Greece; Split, Croatia).
  • Weather and news tabs give you an idea of the current climate (could be too hot on that Egyptian beach) and happenings, though you might come up with nothing for more obscure destinations. I also love that many of the news feeds are through Twitter accounts like @visitbritain, giving up-to-the-minute quickie items.

What will be cool about the site:

  • Ability to share trip ideas and plans with friends via email or Facebook is great for planning a trip with multiple people or getting feedback on a destination. Currently, Facebook Connect will tell you who you know in a given place, but I’d probably remember if I had a friend in Lutsk, Ukraine.
  • Festivals and special events come up via Eventful, but on the beta site event dates will pop up well after your search range so don’t plan around that blues festival just yet. There are also plans to add destination reviews, currency converters, and travel tips.
  • After all the searching, sorting, and sharing, you can actually book through the site, though only if you have a US credit card. The booking interface is also easy to use and gives options for frequent flier numbers, seat and meal preferences, and room types.

All in all, Wanderfly is a nifty new tool for dreaming and planning your next trip. If they could find a way to integrate time-sensitive deals, local blogs, and multiple-destination trips, this could be the only travel site you need.