Essential smartphone apps for travelling - at home and abroad

The Uber app is useful on rainy days when there are no cabs in sight.
The Uber app is useful on rainy days when there are no cabs in sight. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Recently I deleted dozens of travel apps from my iPhone. Many are great. But travel is about tapping the world, not a screen, so I've kept only what I use often.

Below are a dozen that have earned a spot on my smartphone heading into 2016.

LiveTrekker

This French app is a dream for flaneurs who love to wander without a map and yet, later, long to see where they've been.

Before setting off, tap the "tracker" button and then "start".

When you've returned to your hotel hours later, you'll have a detailed map of where you've walked. Cost: free.

Bravolol

This app brand puts basic phrases and vocabulary - "Thank you," "How much?" "A table for two, please" - at your fingertips.

Each (in my case) English phrase is shown in the foreign language. Even better: Tap a phrase and the app speaks it aloud so you know how to pronounce it. Cost: free for basic categories and US$4.99 (S$7) for additional categories such as "driving" and "sightseeing".

Duolingo

You can study languages while commuting or waiting in line at the supermarket with this app, which turns learning into a game of multiple choice questions, word matching quizzes and translation challenges.

Courses are available in languages including Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese. Cost: free.

Vurb

One of the newer travel apps, Vurb allows you to access all your favourite workhorse apps in a single place.

You can search for or discover destinations and events and then make a reservation on OpenTable, buy movie tickets on Fandango, check out a location on Google Maps, request a car through Lyft or Uber, look at Yelp reviews or Foursquare tips, chat with your friends - all without closing Vurb. Cost: free.

Apple iBooks

This app allows you to highlight favourite passages, add notes and tap a button to send yourself or someone else favourite passages from the digital books you're reading.

You can download a travel guide or take a bookshelf's worth of classics with you to London. Cost: free (you pay for most books you download).

NOAA Radar Pro

This weather app has more bells and whistles than anyone needs, but it's also more accurate than other weather apps I've tried. Cost: free for basic version; US$1.99 for pro, which is ad-free and has seven-day forecasts (instead of three).

Google Maps and Google Translate

With turn-by-turn voice navigation and clean lines, Google Maps is my first map stop. And now that there's also offline navigation, you won't incur roaming charges. Cost: free.

Google Translate can be used in various ways. For example, you can tap the camera icon on your phone and then hold it up to a menu and see a translation. Cost: free.

XE Currency

For some people, currency conversion is a breeze. For the rest of us, there are apps. This one updates in real time and can display multiple currencies simultaneously. Cost: free (a pro version for US$2.29 allows you to monitor more currencies).

TripIt

This organiser allows members to forward their hotel, flight, car rental, concert and restaurant confirmation e-mails to a single address and in return receive a digital itinerary. Cost: free; US$49 a year for the pro version that includes flight, seat and fare refund alerts and allows you to keep track of your rewards points and miles.

OpenTable

This app lets you browse restaurants and then book with a few taps. Users earn points for dining, which can then be exchanged for discounts at participating restaurants or an Amazon gift card. Cost: free.

Uber

Love or hate the company, this app is indispensable on rainy days and late nights when mass transit is inconvenient and there isn't a cab in sight. Cost: free.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Travel apps to keep on the smartphone'. Print Edition | Subscribe