As someone who spent 7 months in Thailand and then 1 month post-Thailand traveling around Southeast Asia, I know the frustrations of travel: particularly because, as I figured out 3 days into my backpacking trip, I am not cut out for backpacker life. Some examples of how much I am not a backpacker: I hated staying in a “party” hostel so much I paid 5x the price to switch that night to an expensive hotel, I flew everywhere instead of taking the much-cheaper trains and buses (they seemed dangerous to me!), and almost every chance I could, I ate burgers or pizza instead of whatever local cuisine the country was offering (I’m sorry, but do you know how disgusting white rice looks after eight months of it?).
My friends and I also had our share of mishaps, especially as first-time solo female travelers (solo as in, without parents or guides… not completely alone). We paid for an Airbnb that did not exist, paid way more than we should’ve on certain flights, and miscalculated how many days we needed in each place–overstaying our welcome in boring spots and thus binging Netflix TV shows, and then rushing through the entire country of Cambodia in, like, 24-hours.
So now that I’m back in familiar territory (with showers and hair dryers… thank god), I’ve been doing some research on the best travel apps of 2018. Travel apps, like traveling itself, are often debilitating because of the multitude of options: which app will save you the most on flights, when there are at least a dozen that promise it? And which app will tell you about the best activities and restaurants, when it’s such a subjective choice?
I’ve done my best to narrow it down. In the end, part of it will be about personal choice; but these apps will show you how technology can simplify all your travel plans, so even if you go with a different flight-saving or itinerary-planning app, you’ll at least know the technology is out there.
1. Skyscanner: I use this app, and the desktop version, for literally every single trip I take. It shows you the cheapest flights to your destination, or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can choose “any dates” or “any destination” and allow the app to plan the trip for you. When I found out I had a week off in January, I logged onto the app and checked off “any destination.” Skyscanner showed me that Bali was under the top-5 cheapest places for me to travel, and also showed me the cheapest airline to take, and at the cheapest time–so, just like that, I headed to Bali.
2. SkipLagged: Aktarer Zaman came up with this idea when he wanted to fly from New York to Seattle with a layover in San Francisco for $170, but then saw that a direct flight from New York to San Francisco was $300. Essentially, SkipLagged finds you the cheapest flights to destination cities by giving you layover options… but instead of continuing on, you just skip the second half of the flight. United Airlines and Orbitz filed a lawsuit against SkyLagged, but they didn’t win (phew), so for now, these awesome deals are still fair game.
3. AirHelp: There is nothing more frustrating than learning that you have to pay more money for another flight after your flight is cancelled, overbooked, or significantly delayed; and sure, you can try your hardest to sort through the problem with customer service, but how often does that actually work? AirHelp is an app that is willing to fight for you to get the compensation you deserve. And you only have to pay them a percentage of your compensation if you win.
4. Airbnb: Although my above story probably made you worried, Airbnb is usually reliable at finding cheap local homes: you can choose to have the whole house or apartment to yourself, or you can choose to stay with local hosts, which is often what my friends and I did. It’s great because it’s often more authentic to stay in a local home and ask for activity recommendations from your host, it’s cheap, and you can use filters to figure out exactly what it is you want–whether you’re mostly worried about cost, being as close as possible to the coolest bars, or having pool and wi-fi, Airbnb’s got you covered.
5. Hostelworld: Hostelworld is essentially the Airbnb for hostels. Whenever I search for a cheap place to stay, I compare the two apps before settling on a spot. A Hostelworld perk: if you’re looking for an authentic “backpackers” experience, and the chance to make friends, then you can find the best “party” hostels in the area and choose rooms with a lot of other people. For instance, in Vietnam it was just me and one other girl, so we decided to choose a hostel with a room designed for 20 people that promoted beer-pong and drink specials, along with a bar hop. Of course, we ended up realizing it was a little too frat-house for our liking, but I know plenty of friends who love Hostelworld for the same reason.
6. Roomer: There is nothing more frustrating than paying for a hotel room you aren’t able to use, due to unforeseen travel circumstances; at the same time, there’s nothing better than finding a luxurious hotel room on discount. Roomer offers both: Customers who are unable to use their hotel room can sell it on the app, where others can buy it for up to 89% cheaper than the original listing price. As a girl who is willing to go into credit card debt for the sake of a really nice hotel room, I wish I’d known about this sooner.
7. Sidekix: There are plenty of navigation systems that can get you from point A to point B; but what about when you aren’t in a terrible rush, and you’re in a new city, and you just want to explore for a bit? Sidekix wants to help with that. You can plug in preferences based on fashion, food, culture, art, or nightlife, and Sidekix suggests routes that incorporate what you want on your way to your destination. Or, if you know exactly what you need on your way, like an ATM or grocery store, Sidekix can incorporate that, as well. This seems like a fantastic alternative to paying for a walking tour, because with Sidekix, you can choose only the destinations you’re actually interested in seeing.
8. Journy: After sharing your budget, priorities, and travel preferences, Journy will match you with a concierge who will either plan your day-to-day itineraries from scratch, or incorporate specific plans you already have; you can review these itineraries, ask for changes if necessary, and then allow the app to book your hotel, restaurant reservations, and activities and tours, for you. As someone who can get very overwhelmed by the planning process of traveling, particularly when I don’t know an area well, Journy seems to offer a great alternative.
9: PlanChat: When you’re traveling in a group, planning can get downright brutal: I remember getting exceptionally overwhelmed trying to keep track of who I’d talked to and who I hadn’t, who had already booked a hotel room and who needed a reminder, what everyone wanted to do, and when everyone was meeting up (was it in Dubai? Vietnam? I know… tough life)… PlanChat is the only group messaging service specifically devised to tackle these travel challenges. In my opinion, the quick-poll feature is the coolest touch, letting everyone in the group quickly vote on topics like car, bus, or train, instead of hashing it out through varied messaging platforms. But along with that feature, PlanChat lets you split expenses with everyone, figure out the ideal time to purchase flights, and share information in one place with everyone.
10: GeoSure: Unfortunately, traveling has probably never been scarier for some people, with everything going on in the world today. Luckily, this app aims to combat that by assessing safety and security all over the world. It provides timely and accurate safety advisories to travelers using predictive analytics, providing risk scores and allowing for updates from GeoSure’s community of travelers. Sources include CDC, WHO, United Nations, State Department, Interpol, and data from national and local authorities.