Smartphone Apps for Travelers

Woman using a smartphone
Apps for mapping, transit schedules, weather forecasts, and more are now essential tools for many travelers.
By Rick Steves

Apps for smartphones and tablets can be useful both before you leave and while you're traveling. I've recommended some of my favorite mobile apps below. I've noted whether they're free or must be paid for, and whether they're self-contained (Internet connection not necessary after the initial download) or require ongoing Internet access. While it's possible to download these apps over any Wi-Fi network, plan ahead and try to grab the ones you want while you're still at home. (To understand the pros and cons of Wi-Fi versus data roaming, see my tips on taking your own phone to Europe.) This is by no means a comprehensive list. New apps are hitting the market every day. To find the latest, browse the Apple App Store or the Android Market (look under "Travel"), or search for tips on travel blogs and websites.

Trip-Planning and Management

From booking flights and hotels to managing your itinerary, these apps can help you plan your trip.

Travel Booking: Expedia and (free, Internet) allow you to search for flights, hotels, rental cars, and more. For intra-European air travel, Skyscanner and Momondo (free, Internet) help you survey a wide variety of budget airlines to find the cheapest connection between any two points.

Airlines: Each airline has its own app; these usually allow you to search for and book flights, check in, and track the status of a flight. While you can do many of these same activities through the airline's website on your phone's browser, the apps are generally faster and more user-friendly.

Flight Trackers: Plug your flight details into Kayak or FlightAware (free, Internet), and these apps will keep track of whether your plane is on time. Folks back home can even track your plane's progress on a map.

Itinerary Organizers: Apps like TripIt (free, Internet) save all your trip details in one convenient place. Forward reservation emails to your TripIt account, and it automatically adds them to your itinerary. TripIt also alerts you to real-time changes to your flights.

Audio Tours, Transit, Restaurants, Money, Weather, and More

The following tools run the gamut, from Europe-specific advice to apps that help document your travels.

General Europe: Rick Steves Audio Europe (free, self-contained) has hundreds of radio interviews and dozens of audio walking tours of Europe's top sights, organized by destination for easy browsing. Download the playlists that interest you and fit your itinerary before your trip, then listen to them offline as you travel.

Smart Traveler (free, Internet), from the US State Department, includes basic information on each country, plus travel advisories.

Public Transportation: Citymapper (free, Internet) is my favorite app for getting around by transit in the many cities it covers. The free apps Transport for London and Paris Métro's Bonjour RATP, among others, have detailed, digital plans of public transit networks that save you from having to unfold an unwieldy map on a busy platform — as well as timetables and route planners that get you where you want to go.

DB Navigator (free, Internet), German Rail's comprehensive train timetables, includes connections for all of continental Europe. For the UK, try thetrainline (free).

Restaurants and Reviews: TripAdvisor (free, Internet) gives you access to millions of user reviews of restaurants, hotels, and sights (though TripAdvisor ratings should never be taken as gospel). Some users prefer Yelp (free, Internet); unlike back home, where most Yelp reviewers are locals, European Yelp reviews tend to come from travelers.

Currency and Conversions: Oanda Currency Converter, Currency, or XE Currency (free, Internet) instantly tells you today's exchange rate. Measures (pay, self-contained) converts various European units (metric measurements, clothing sizes, even currency) to American ones.

Weather: Take a walking tour or hit a museum? You can better plan your day with the Weather Channel, AccuWeather, and other forecast apps (free, Internet).

Medical Help: mPassport (pay, self-contained) are city-specific apps that direct you to English-speaking doctors and hospitals, as well as local names for prescription medications.

Journaling: Note-taking apps such as All-in Notes and Microsoft OneNote (pay, self-contained) let you combine photos, recorded sounds, and written notes to keep a multimedia journal of your trip.


With Google Translate (free, Internet), you can type something in a foreign language (or have someone speak clearly into your microphone) for an immediate translation. You can also say or type a sentence in English, and a computer voice actually says the translation (or hold up the screen to show someone the written translated message). It also lets you aim your smartphone's camera at a sign in a foreign language, and it'll instantly translate it for you (available in most European languages).

Maps and Navigation

With the help of mapping apps, you can get navigate Europe more easily than ever. Google Maps, Here WeGo, and Navmii (free) will store multiple maps for later use. You need an Internet connection to download maps, but once that's done, the maps are accessible anywhere. These apps give you turn-by-turn directions without a data connection. For much more fully featured GPS apps for your mobile phone, check out those from TomTom, Garmin, and other GPS device makers, though European maps for these can be pricey.

Keeping in Touch

Stay connected to home with these apps.

Social Media: Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networking apps (free, Internet), you can post descriptions and photos of your trip while keeping track of what your friends are up to back home.

Internet Calls and Messaging: FaceTime and Skype let you make free voice or video calls over Wi-Fi to fellow users' computers and smartphones, and cheap calls to other phones. WhatsApp (free, Internet), popular among Europeans, works similarly for text messaging (note that both parties need to have the app installed).

Postcards: Using apps like SnapShot Postcard (pay, Internet), you can snap a photo with your phone and turn it into a custom postcard, which will be printed and sent via snail mail to anywhere you want.