There are two main types of travelers: the over-organized expert-planners who study for vacation packing, and the free radicals who think the idea of planning ahead would ruin the whole experience. No matter which camp you belong to, your No. 1 travel companion is the same: your smartphone.
If you need to plan ahead, there are a few apps that will keep you more organized and informed than ever before. And if you like to play it fast and loose, these apps will help you get the most authentic experience. Here are 11 of our favorites to download before heading out on your next adventure.
Google Maps (free): Wherever you're going, chances are you won't have much experience with the lay of the land. Keep this handy for whenever you get lost (which might be every five minutes.) You don't want to be that annoying tourist who stops all the locals to ask for directions, do you?
Google Translate (free): If you're going to a place where English isn't the dominant language, keep this real-time translation tool at the ready. If you want to go beyond basic phrases like "Where's the bathroom?" and "Thank you," having this app on your phone is particularly useful for translating menus and signage.
Bravolol (free): If you need more advanced language skills than basic phrases, Bravolol will teach you specifics while you're on the go. Available in 13 languages, this app is like a mini-Rosetta Stone right on your smartphone. It teaches basic conversational phrases, organized into useful categories like "romance" and "sight-seeing," so you can interact with the locals like a pro.
CityMaps2Go (free): If you're going to a country where you won't have reliable cell service or free Wi-Fi, get this app so you can download the maps you'll need before going out to explore. Their library includes over 15,000 destinations, and you can download as many as you need to for all the stops on your trip.
NOAA Radar Pro ($1.99): While you're traveling, you'll want to have the most accurate forecast so you can plan appropriate clothing and gear for every kind of exploring. This app is one of the most accurate weather forecast apps available — much better than the one that comes with every smartphone. You can watch the weather radar in your area to see when a storm is coming, how strong it will be and how likely you'll be caught in it.
For the Experts
If you're planning a trip with multiple destinations that involves different languages, currencies and cities, these apps will keep you organized.
Currency ($0.99): If you're transitioning between countries, keeping track of how much you're spending is critical. Currency lets you add up to 10 countries' exchange rates to the app at a time, so you know how much that cup of coffee is really costing you, from Istanbul to Paris, one day to the next.
Vurb (free): This app helps you organize all your favorite apps on "cards" so you can plan fun things to do on the go. It organizes these cards into shareable decks, allowing you to put useful services, events, restaurants, movies, music, sports and books into a single app so you don't have to exit the app to open another. So if you need to make a reservation for dinner, you can access your card for OpenTable. If you need to look up places to go, you can open Yelp or Foursquare. If you need a ride, it'll take you to Uber and Lyft.
Tripcase (free): Now that so many of our travel reservations live online and in our email inboxes, from airline tickets to hotel rooms, it's easy to lose track. Tripcase keeps all of those online reservations in one place. All you have to do is forward your reservations to a Tripcase email address, and the app organizes them for you. Consider this new travel itinerary instead of an oversized folder with papers you're likely to lose.
For the Wanderers
If you're a go-with-the-flow kind of traveler, there are some tech enhancements that can improve your devil-may-care approach.
LiveTrekker (free): If your standard plan while traveling is to wake up and start walking, you might as well log where you went and how far you're going. This app will track your path anywhere in the world. After you spend a day of discovering new secret places, you can sit back and review them all as you relax in your hostel bed.
Glympse (free): If you are traveling with a group but like to break off on your own, you need this. Glympse will send or share your location with any friends or family that need to keep track of you while you're wandering. This will keep worried loved ones happy at home and will help you find your fellow travelers when you inevitably get very lost down a hidden alleyway off a side street.
HotelTonight (free): Were you too busy not planning your trip to book a place to sleep? Don't worry, this app helps you find last minute hotel reservations wherever you are — and you'll even find deals for last minute booking.