App way to travel with your mobile device

From booking hotels to getting tips from locals, there are apps to make your holiday more enjoyable on the go

When an app transforms a smartphone into a compass, credit card or tour guide, these days a mobile device is all a modern traveller needs to ensure a pleasant journey.

But not all apps are created equal.

Some, such as WiFi Finder, are great ideas that do not work as well on the road. The free app is supposed to locate Wi-Fi spots and save on data-roaming costs, but these are awkward to locate offline.

Foodspotting crowd-sources culinary recommendations - but sadly, it is underutilised so the repository of dishes is not as rich as it could be.

Fortunately, there are plenty of good apps flooding the market, many of them free or inexpensive.

They work well online and offline, and serve the important daily needs of travellers, such as calculating foreign exchange, providing directions and translating menus.

SundayLife! looks at 16 apps which smoothen the journey.

vlydia@sph.com.sg


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FIND ACCOMMODATION

A last-minute staycation or flight cancellation might have you fretting over finding a place to stay, but thanks to apps such as HotelQuickly and HotelTonight finding accommodation can be a breeze.

HotelQuickly focuses on the  South-east Asia and  Australasia markets and  offers 20 to 30 per  cent off best rates at  three- to five-star hotels  such as Pan Pacific and  ParkRoyal.

The trade-off is  that users can make only same-day or next-day bookings for stays of up to five nights through the app.

Meanwhile, HotelTonight specialises in last-minute  listings for North  American and  European destinations.

Bookings on this app  can be made no more  than seven days in  advance. Each listing includes pictures of the  hotel, descriptions of its amenities and reviews.

For those on a budget,  particularly backpackers  who plan their travels  day by day, HostelWorld is ideal. The app  links travellers to 25,000  international budget  accommodations and  more than 3.5 million  user reviews. Each listing includes pictures, prices, descriptions of the amenities and reviews, so travellers know exactly what they are getting when they book.

All these apps, which are like smoother, sleeker versions of TripAdvisor, are free and available for both iPhone and Android phones.


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EXPLORE

Though it started out as a  networking tool, Foursquare is one of the best apps  for getting insider tips and  a local perspective on a  destination. The app lets users  leave comments about a  location, be it a restaurant,  museum or nature park.

Log in to Foursquare to find out which cafe serves the best coffee or which restaurant has the best brunch and what time you should get there to avoid queues.

More than 50 million people use Foursquare, so you are guaranteed to gain insights, no matter where in the world you are. You can search by destination and activity, and the app keeps track of your preferences to better gear its future recommendations.

Another app which aims  to provide a local  perspective is Spotted By Locals, for which  natives and residents of  a destination share insider  tips on favourite bars,  cafes, art galleries,  underground parties and  how to get there.

The app has guides for 58 European and North American cities, which are free and available for download via Android, iPhone or pdf.

If you want to create your own city guide, download Stay.com's app.

Select your location and Stay.com will provide  recommendations on  restaurants, accommodation,  tourist attractions, bars and  restaurants.

You can also browse themed guides created by other travellers and the destination's residents. As you see items you like, add them to your guide and build your personalised itinerary.

Your selections will be stored on the guide's offline map, which you can access any time.

As you are touring, the app will give you recommendations on nearby hot spots, so you do not miss out on any great adventures.

You can also share your itinerary with friends and family to mine travel recommendations from them.

And when travelling in a group, you can share your guide with your companions, so everyone can add his own items of interest and have access to the same information.

The app is free and available for iPhone and Android phones.


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KEEP FIT

Travel has a way of expanding our minds as well as our waistlines.  But who wants to spend hours in the gym when there are sights to  be seen and beaches to  enjoy?

Enter 7 Minute Workout, a  high-intensity interval  training app sponsored by  pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson.

The free app takes you  through 30-second intervals of body weight exercises such as lunges, push-ups, squats and jumping jacks to get your heart pumping and your muscles burning.

The sessions can be completed in one, two or three circuits, which are led and demonstrated by Chris Jordan, the physical trainer who developed the routine.

There are 36 exercises and 12 additional workouts which can be customised and mixed, so users have more than 1,000 circuit variations to keep them interested.

The app can also log workouts, so users can keep track of their fitness.

As relaxing as it can be, travel can take a toll on the body after hours of walking or sitting on a tour bus.

Ease sore muscles  and aching joints  with the help of Pocket Yoga, a mobile yoga  instructor.

The app, which  costs $3.75 and  includes a  comprehensive  directory of yoga poses, has five yoga sequences to choose from.

Users opt for 30-, 45- or 60-minute  sessions at beginner, intermediate or advanced levels.

Each class has its own background music and is led by an animated woman, though her instructions sound monotonous.

Once downloaded, you can take your class wherever and whenever you want, no network or Internet connection necessary.


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PLAN TO PRECISION

For those who like to have their trip detailed and organised, there are a number of apps that  can help you plan and prepare.

WeatherPro is ideal for weather  dependent vacations  such as skiing or self-drive  trips. It has weather reports  for more than two million  geographical locations,  with forecasts every three  hours. The reports include  everything from temperature to air pressure, from wind direction to the probability of precipitation.

The basic app costs $4.20 and extra features such as high-resolution weather maps, radar forecasts and UV Index can be added for $2.49 to $6.99 each.

When shopping  overseas, never be unsure  about how much that  beautiful dress or leather  sports bag costs in your  own currency with the XE Currency app. The free app  provides up-to-date  currency exchange rates, charts to  show the currency's fluctuation and a built-in exchange calculator which does not need network access to run.

While in transit, use GateGuru to make the most of your experience in the airport.

The app, which is under the TripAdvisor umbrella, provides detailed airport  maps and information about the airport's amenities, restaurants, reviews and airport tips.

The app also has a JourneyCard view which acts as a detailed itinerary of your trip. From there, users can view or access all the information they need for their travel, including security wait times, flight delays  and gate changes.

Another useful TripAdvisor app is TripIt, an app which collates all the details of your trip, from accommodation booking to flight information and daily itineraries, in one place. The free app keeps  track of past and upcoming trips as well as frequent flier miles and rewards points.

If packing for a holiday  is not your forte, try PackPoint.

Users input the dates  and location of travel, and  the number and type of  events on their itinerary,  whether they are willing  to wear basic clothes such  as shirts or shorts more than once and if they will have access to laundry facilities.

Then the free app will generate a list of items to pack, based on these details and weather forecasts at the destination.

The user can add or remove items from the list before checking items off as their suitcase is filled.

If you do not want to  stand out as a tourist once you land, stuck on a street corner holding a large, flapping map of the city, download MAPS.ME. The app is free and  has detailed maps of 345 countries and islands.

Once downloaded, no network is required. The map provides specific directions and route instructions, and also thousands of "points of interest" - anything from restaurants and tourist attractions to petrol stations and ATM machines.


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UNDERSTAND THE LANGUAGE

A key challenge of travelling abroad is communicating in a foreign language.

Travellers can mitigate this problem by downloading Duolingo, a free language app which teaches language like a game, with fun challenges, points and rewards when levels are completed.

English speakers can learn everything from common to complex phrases and vocabulary, as well as idioms and pick-up lines in seven European languages, including Spanish, French, German and Irish.

Those looking for an app to help them navigate foreign street signs or confusing menus can try Word Lens Translator, a camera app which translates phrases through the phone's camera.

Just hold your camera in front of the words or phrase you want to understand and the translation will be superimposed right there on your screen.

While the app does not work so well on script or stylised lettering, it has high rates of success for street and shop signs and menus. The best part is, the app is free and does not need any network to run.

The only downside is that so far, it translates only six European languages, including Russian, German and Portuguese, into English.