Once upon a time, going travelling was an arduous business that involved endless long-term planning and logistics (remember phoning up to book a flight?). Nowadays, you can negotiate most practical tasks from the comfort of your smartphone, thanks to the wonderful world of apps. In today's burgeoning market of hi-tech innovation, these tools aren't merely useful - they're also slick, beautifully designed and fulfil a purpose you didn't even realise could be negotiated via smartphones and tablets; repelling insects, say, or locating where exactly the sun's rays will fall throughout the day.
We've summarised our favourite travel apps out there right now, from established classics like Skyscanner and HotelTonight to moneysavers such as Free Wi-Fi Finder and exciting newbies on the block. Flex your fingertips and get jet set in style with our selection of clever tools, covering everything from photographic language translation to virtual postcards and jet lag reduction, below:
What's your favourite travel app? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments
Words: Anna Brech
Field Trip runs in the background on your phone and alerts you when you're nearing something interesting - whether it's a cool new exhibition, a little-known local park or an underground cocktail bar. The app's edit draws from recommendations given by trend-setting brands such as Flavorpill and Remodelista and you can select what type of hidden gems you're after using the categories function.
Anti Mosquito Sonic Repeller
Heading to tropical climes? Keep the mozzies at bay with this handy app, which emits a unique high frequency sound to ward off insects. Because of the sheer range of mosquito species, the app doesn't guarantee 100% protection but it does come with a pitch selector to find exactly the right repelling frequency for gnats in your region.
We've all had that nightmare flight where you're wedged in an aisle seat with the guy in front's headrest hovering somewhere near your lap. SeatGuru caters to frustrated travellers by outlining over 700 seat maps from around 100 global airlines and colour-coding the seats according to "good", "not-so-good" and "avoid-at-all-costs." The app is based on thousands of passenger reviews.
World Nomads' brilliant range of language audio guides lets you download basic phrases in a whole range of languages - from Khmer to Aussie slang - and play them out loud, so you can perfect your pronunciation (or avoid speaking altogether, if you so wish). The app caters for a surprising range of eventualities; in the Spanish version, there's a flirting section with must-have phrases such as "you have a beautiful smile" and "kiss me."
Touchnote creates postcards out of your iPhone photos from just £1.49 per card and delivers them for free worldwide. You can customise your photos by rotating and cropping them, and - if you really want to show off - you can include a map on the back with all the places you've been. You can even eliminate the whole address book hassle by bulk sending cards to a list of Facebook contacts (Touchnote will hunt down postal addresses for you).
Whether you're planning ideal light-shadow balance for that perfect shot or calculating the ultimate pool-side spot to place your towel at the beginning of a day's sunbathing, this app can help. Sun Scout may be expensive but it's also very clever; it uses a compass in your iPhone 3Gs or iPhone 4 to work out exactly where the sun will be, and when. Simply point your phone at the sun and turn it into a magic lens to work out where the rays will hit.
Instantly translate foreign text in real time using your phone's video camera. Word Lens recognize words in English, Spanish, French, and Italian and works best with clearly printed text (such as signs), rather than stylised fonts or handwriting. It's worth noting that while the app itself is free, you have to pay £6.99 for each customised translation pack, e.g. English-German.
Got a long-haul flight booked? Enter your departure and arrival information on this app and it will provide customised advice on reducing jet lag. It draws on theoretical algorithms and scientific research to calculate the best possible times for you to sleep, seek/avoid light and take your anti-jet lag medication. You can save tips for regular trips and export timings to your calendar.
Next time you find yourself haplessly cramming two more pairs of Havaianas into one tiny holdall, take solace in Packing pro. This snazzy app crafts a packing list for you, based on where you're going, who with and for how long. It divides the list into categories (e.g. essentials, clothes and gadgets) and logs items in terms of weight and value. The "expert list assistant" will help you navigate your packing according to details as specific as food preparation and clothes washing preferences.
Jetsetter Hotel and Travel deals
Members' only website Jetsetter has carved out a reputation for luxury flash sales and this app lets you access them on the road. Check out exclusive deals and incredible discounts (up to 60% off for members) on everything from Macchu Picchu treks to luxury Kenyan safaris and "wine country weekends." The layout is beautiful, with panoramic photography and 360-degree room tours.
Now this is an interesting one... Urbanspoon helps indecisive types by creating a "slot machine" of local restaurants in your neighbourhood, using GPS. When you shake your phone, it will select one for you to dine at. It's a great way of charting unknown territory and embraces spontaneity in true traveller style, although it currently covers just the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ireland.
Spot a unique landmark or famous work of art on your travels? Point your phone camera at it and Google Goggles will scan its databases for relevant background information from Wikipedia articles, so you can identify and learn more about what you're looking at. The app works on pretty much all well-known artefacts and it can also read and translate text in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Turkish.
Dark sky finder
Star gazers will delight in this simple design to help you locate the nearest dark sky spot to head to, telescope in tow. It provides satellite light pollution maps of North America, Europe, and Australia, overlaid with dots highlighting good observation areas. Escape to dark skies in hundreds of locations and relax beneath the stars...
Hipmunk scours the internet for cheap flight and hotel deals - but unlike other price comparison apps, it takes into account "agony" factors in its search. Annoyances such as flight duration and number of stopovers can be filtered out, so you find the best prices/times to suit your needs with the least amount of hassle along the way. Top marks for the cute logo, too.
Find your local English language newspaper wherever you are in the world. City Papers draws together 3000 local English publications across the globe with an interactive map view to search by. Check out local Argentine events in the Buenos Aires Herald or catch up on regional sports news with The Times of India.
Everyone dreads the hidden charges embroiled in using your mobile abroad, but with WhatsApp you can send text messages, photos and video to any smart phone in the world... entirely for free. Fancy bragging about sunset cocktails on a beach in Koh Phangan? Or checking in with your mum before you go to sleep, thousands of miles away? With this you can chat and share from anywhere that has Wi-Fi, with no extra cost.
This innovative and brilliantly designed app keeps you one step ahead of the weather, with detailed hour-by-hour forecasts for multiple locations around the world. It comes with cloud, satellite and rain maps, bad weather warnings and an animated radar that quickly identifies what weather is heading in your direction. Our favourite part? The animations that reflect real-time conditions.
Make the most of panoramic views and awe-inspiring vistas with Photosynth, an app that lets you stitch your images together for a 360-degree perspective. Whether you've just hiked up Indonesia's Mount Bromo or are admiring the Tuscan landscape from the heights of Duomo's Cupola, Photosynth will let you capture your experience in the most breath-taking way possible.
A must-tap for wannabe explorers, Maverick Pro channels your spirit of adventure by syndicating a huge range of respected global and regional online maps including Ordnance Survey (UK), OutdoorActive (Germany, Austria, South Tyrol), Cykloatlas, HikeBikeMap (Germany) and NearMap (Australia). All maps are automatically cached for offline use, so it's perfect for heading off into the wilderness - with offline GPS tracking to help you along the way.
Kayak is the kind of all-encompassing, essential travel app that you'll wonder how you lived without. Track your flight status, look up baggage fees, book hotels, manage your itinerary and compare travel deals - all at the tap of a fingertip.
Unlike City Guide
This app promises to "connects coolhunters" by curating insider tips on 20 select cities around the world, including San Francisco, Copenhagen, Cape Town and Tel Aviv. Users create and share their own custom guides in these places, with a focus on high-end and unique hotels, bars, restaurants and galleries - the kind that stray outside your average tourist trail.
Onavo Extend helps you sidestep costly roaming fees by compressing the data that you use for apps, email and web browsing on your phone. It shrinks photos, emails and documents that you download when abroad and runs a coloured bar chart in the background so you can see how much money (and data) you're saving. With an ability to extend your data plan by up to five times, it's a must-have for any regular traveller.
When it comes to conversions, XE Currency is easily the best and most comprehensive app out there. Not only does it feature every world currency (and precious metals - should you wish to know), it refreshes rates live every minute and stores updates so you access them offline. Its calculator is quick and easy to use, so you can work out whether the 50 Thai Baht you're about to shell out on a pair of flip-flops is worth it - on the spot.
If there's one thing that puts a dampener on the whole travel experience, it's being stranded in a city at 2am with nowhere to stay. Hotel Tonight scours the very best last-minute hotel deals in Europe, the US, Mexico and Canada to give you fast and easy same-day bookings with great discounts. It also has brilliant graphics, making it a big hit in the traveller community.
Skyscanner is an indispensable tool in the world of nifty travel apps. An established classic, it compares millions of flights on over 1000 airlines to bring you a rundown of the cheapest places and dates to fly. It's straight-forward to use and fully independent: within a few taps, you can find the best flight deals no matter where you're heading.
Free Wi-Fi Finder
Free Wi-Fi Finder uses your phone's GPS to identify and provide directions to the nearest internet hot spots in your area. It recognises over 145,000 free locations around the world and can be filtered by location type (library, bar etc.), as well as bookmarking your favourite places. More areas are being added daily so watch this space for free internet access, no matter where you are.
If you're hell bent on making your friends green with envy, create a mini movie out of your travels. iMovies has relatively sophisticated technology that you can use on the go. Tap to add video, photos and sound effects, trim clip lengths and (for true dazzle) add Hollywood trailer graphics and scores. Best of all, you can share your masterpiece directly on YouTube and Facebook when you're done.
Triptease, the new global travel reviews site, aims to bring "photographic soul" to user write-ups. Its app puts emphasis on sumptuous travel images that are designed for sharing. You can add your own reviews in glossy magazine format by uploading a favourite photo, adding a little text and choosing from one of six design templates. Or take a look at other reviews from industry experts and tastemakers.
Banish last-minute paperwork panic with this quick and slick travel agenda app. TripIt takes all your travel details - including restaurant, flight and hotel bookings - and synchronises it with your calendar for one comprehensive itinerary that you can share on Facebook or LinkedIn. It will automatically update your itinerary as new reservation emails come in, with a design that reads over 3,000 leading booking sites.
Tipulator helps you navigate the tricky issue of tipping abroad by calculating percentages in local currency. The quick and intuitive "split the bill" feature also helps you work out who owes what with a minimum of fuss. It has attracted rave reviews for its beautiful graphics - we particularly like the roll-wheel feature to scroll through numbers.
Mr & Mrs Smith
Mr & Mrs Smith bring their customary gloss to this tongue-in-cheek hotel app, which archives over 850 boutique boltholes for the discerning traveller, plus novelty gimmicks to spice up your stay. "TuneSmith" lets you craft an amorous soundtrack using your iTunes library, while the how-to guides cover everything from strip poker to cocktail recipes. Want more? Use the get-out-of-work excuses generator to blag an extra day away from the office.
Google Translate has everything you need to overcome communications barriers, with an impressive scope of languages. For 17 languages, you can simply speak the phrase you want and listen to the corresponding translation. There's also a feature that translates non-Latin script languages (such as Chinese and Japanese) to Latin characters, so you can read it phonetically. To top it off, you can access your translation history and favourite phrases offline.
Unlock the bargain-filled joy that is Airbnb with their marketplace app, connecting people with places to rent across the globe. Book rooms or message your guests/host direct from your phone and find out what your place is worth to rent. You can also use the "Find a place, tonight!" feature for last-minute availability or induce a bit of house envy by browsing Airbnb's most exclusive properties.
Forgotten your camera? Fear not, Camera Plus has all the snazzy effects you might need to take great photos on your phone. There's black, white and sepia filters, a countdown timer for self-portraits, a circular and rectangular crop tool and anti-shake control. Get snapping!
Hailed as "sexy and slick", Room 77 compares hotel rates across hundreds of travel sites - including Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz - as well as sourcing its own deals, to bring you the best room bargains out there. We particularly like the "Inside Scoop" feature, which gives you tips on the best room in any given hotel. You can also request a room with particular features (e.g. with a view, on the first floor), using the "Room Concierge" guide.
Galileo Offline Maps
Pesky data roaming charges have meant more and more people are using offline maps to get around when they're abroad. There's no shortage of apps for this, but Galileo Offline Maps has built up a reliable reputation - it lets you cache maps before you head off on your travels and then use them when you're abroad, even with data roaming switched off. Spend the saved money on beer.
LUXE City Guides
LUXE City Guides brings its distinctive sharp and snappy voice to app format, with a selection of speed-read reviews on 22 cities worldwide. Chic and simple, these guides come with plenty of info (there's more than 25 contributors per city), recommendations that are personally endorsed by guide editors and downloadable maps. The Mobile Lite version, available for New York and London, gives you a free taster.
London's vast transport system can be a minefield for people who live here, let alone visitors. This app helps you navigate your way around with real-time updates on bus, tube, cycle and rail networks - and A to B journey planning. Wave goodbye to stressful commutes.
LocalEats has a lot of buzz around it, and with good reason. It touts itself as "the ultimate foodie travel companion" with recommendations for brilliant restaurants in 50 cities across the world. LocalEats editors review their favourite places, with detailed descriptions, photos, dining tips and menu previews. The only drawback is the limited selection of cities, but they're working on expanding that as we speak.
Traveller By Orient-Express
Delve into Orient-Express' opulent repertoire of properties, trains and cruises including El Encanto on the American Riviera, Rio’s Copacabana Palace and Orcaella, a new luxury cruise ship in Myanmar. This app will induce wanderlust like nothing else, with stunning photography, integrated film clips, recipes and insider tips from company experts.
Discover the glory of the British countryside from the comfort of your phone. National Trust archives over 400 places to visit in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland on its app, from remote coastal retreats to rare and ancient trees, creative restorations and seasonal highlights like the UK's top spots for bluebells. Search by postcode or location and peruse the interactive "favourites" list with hi-res images.
A true authority in the world of user-generated travel feedback, Yelp's app lets you tap into a database of thousands of reviews from major cities across the world. The delight here is in the detail: you can find a write-up on anything, from laundrettes to spas, bars, clothes stores and clinics. Filter your searches by neighbourhood, price and what's new.
World Surf Atlas
Calling all surf enthusiasts. World Surf Atlas summarises all the best places in the world to catch a wave and includes maps of top surfing spots in Hawaii, North America, Europe, Japan, Australia and more. True pros can grab data on 500 of the world's best waves, including wave direction, hazards, wetsuit recommendations and air and sea temperatures.
Want to know where your nearest pharmacy/cash point/cinema is? AroundMe will tell all your options in the surrounding area, with maps to guide you along the way. It's currently available in 11 languages with details such as cinema listings and an option for hotel booking.
World Clock - Time Zones
Sort your times zones out quickly and easily with World Clock's accurate readings from cities around the world. Use the favourites tab to show time and date differences in your most-viewed locations and flick between analog, digital, or text clock presentation. It's not as cool as some apps but it is super useful.
The EveryTrail app is invaluable for outdoorsy types. Track and share your own favourite trails - at home or abroad - using GPS to draw a map as you move, and add videos and photos at key points to make it interactive. Be inspired by the 400,000+ hiking, biking, skiing, sailing and driving routes uploaded by other users, track vital stats on your journey (distance, elevation, speed) or tune into the app's audio guide that draws your attention to points of interest along your chosen route.
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
If it's bespoke boutiques you're after, look no further than the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) app. Here, you can browse and book some of the world’s most exclusive properties and search by destination or with all-familiar key words such as "eco-lodge" and "private island". Luxury lovers, go forth!
Exodus Adventure Holidays
Adrenalin junkies, ahoy. The Exodus app offers a wide range of adventure and activity holidays across the globe, whether it's cycling from Lhasa to Kathmandu or sailing through Antarctica. You can chat live with travel experts, discuss your upcoming trip with fellow travellers in the virtual "departure lounge" and send e-postcards from the road.
All the glory of TripAdvisor in one nifty app. Check out millions of hotel reviews on the go, compare air fares and explore restaurants, galleries and accommodation that suit your taste and budget wherever you are, using the Near Me Now tool.
Ski and Snow Report
Add your favourite ski and snowboard locations for live, up-to-the-minute snow and weather conditions. Or you can access resort detail pages with snow depth data, a five day forecast, live webcams and trail and lift maps. Basically this has everything you need to hit the slopes in style.