When everything goes according to plan on vacations, we find the best flight and hotel deals, we have an easy time getting around our destination and we never fall into tourist traps or scams. In reality, travelling can often be difficult. Sometimes we pay more than we should, we get lost trying to navigate or we struggle with the local language on international trips. That said, technology is there to help make travelling as smooth and cheap as possible. We picked out our favorite free mobile apps that can save one money and help make one's vacation feel like more of a vacation.
Skiplagged: Save on Airfare with Hidden City Flights
Skiplagged is a unique flight aggregator that allows flyers to uncover potentially cheaper fares by identifying hidden city flights, which airlines do not advertise. For example, it's possible a direct flight from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur could cost Rs. 15,000, but a flight from Delhi to Hong Kong that connects in Kuala Lumpur could only cost Rs. 10,000. In theory, one could book the flight to Hong Kong but get off in KL and pay 33% less.
Hypothetical Savings Using Skiplagged
Although Skiplagged has faced lawsuits attacking its airfare-savings technique, it continues to successfully operate. When using the app, remember to not check baggage through to the route's final destination (since one needs to get off at the layover). Also, keep in mind that it's possible for an airline to change the layover city after booking, but this is rare.
Maps.Me: Navigate Offline and Off the Beaten Path
Most are likely aware of Google Maps, which is definitely useful while travelling. However, the advantage of Maps.Me is its superior offline usability and excellent coverage of areas off the beaten path, such as hiking, cycling or running trails.
A survey by the Slant community ranked the app #1 for best offline GPS navigation due to its fast loading speed. This feature is a life saver when one doesn't have mobile service, including when one lands in a foreign country but doesn't have cellular data or WiFi access yet. Last, Maps.Me's coverage is so extensive that it is quite accurate even in remote areas up to and including outdoor trails.
Nearbuy & Groupon: Deep Discounts on Many Categories
Nearbuy (formerly Groupon India) and Groupon provide significant savings on things like restaurants, museums, spas, activities, hotels and more. These apps are great when searching for things to do, places to visit and even accommodations while travelling. Below are just a few examples of deals we surveyed on the sites at the time of this writing.
Select Deals on Nearbuy and Groupon
Uber: Bypass Language Barriers and Avoid Scams Abroad
Uber is now available in 63 countries and 700+ cities. While the world's biggest ridesharing app is widespread in India, it arguably becomes most useful when travelling internationally. When one doesn't know the local language, it can be quite difficult to communicate directions to taxi drivers. Further, tourists can sometimes fall victim to scams when trying to hail a cab. Uber virtually eliminates these issues. Additionally, while Uber is the largest, there are other competitive ridesharing apps in different countries one can download.
XE Currency: Currency Conversion Calculator
XE Currency has up-to-the-minute foreign exchange rates, allowing one to quickly and easily determine how much one is paying for something in his local currency.
For example, say one is travelling in Singapore. To do conversions the traditional way, most people would first take the time to look up the conversion rate from SGD to INR and either memorize it or write it down. Then, for every purchase, one would try to do the math in his head or use a calculator app and type in the math. While ensuring accuracy, XE Currency saves time by never needing to look up and record an exchange rate, and calculation is much faster than with a general calculator.
Google Translate: Text, Voice and Photo-based Translations
While it can be very helpful to learn some basic phrases in the local language for overseas trips, people undoubtedly will struggle with communication and reading things like signs and menus. Google Translate has a number of key features that will help one feel a lot less lost.
For example, if one wants to ask "Where is the closest restaurant?" in French (or any of 103 languages), he can type or speak it into the app and Google will provide the translated question. If one isn't sure how to pronounce it, one can hit the speaker icon and one's phone will speak for him. The app could also listen to and translate a French phrase spoken by a local. Or, if one walks into a restaurant in Bangkok and the menu is in Thai, one can snap a photo and the app will provide a text translation.
HotelTonight: Book Last-Minute Hotel Rooms at Discounted Rates
For those without a strict itinerary or who need last-minute accommodations, HotelTonight offers excellent deals. This app is great for international travel to Europe and the Americas, as well as portions of the Middle East and Africa. But, the company does not yet operate in India or a large part of Asia Pacific (apart from major cities in Australia and New Zealand).
To illustrate, if one were looking for a last-minute hotel in Paris at the time of this writing, one could easily save almost 40%.
Example Savings on HotelTonight in Paris
CouchSurfing: Free Accommodations for Adventurous Travellers
CouchSurfing's clear financial benefit is the ability to stay in 200,000 different cities around the world for free. One can also find local events when looking for fun things to do with fellow travellers. Above all, many feel CouchSurfing's greatest benefit is the genuine experience of staying with locals, as many hosts are willing to spend time with their guests and show them around the area. As the app's name suggests, most would need to be comfortable with minimalist accommodations like a couch or air mattress, potentially in a public room. However, it's sometimes possible to find a private room with a bed.
Especially for women, it would be natural (and important) to think about one's safety while using this type of app. The company has extensive safety advice, but a thorough examination of a potential host's profile comes first and foremost. Verified Members confirm their identity, phone number, home location and bank account. Also, the most reliable hosts have several positive (and no negative) reviews from previous surfers. For women, one could also choose to only consider female hosts.