How Your Smartphone Can Improve Holiday Travel

Dara Continenza, November 25, 2014
Fares from Washington DC:

    'Tis the season … for traffic snarls and flight delays.

    When it comes to holiday travel, your smartphone is your secret weapon, whether it's keeping you in touch with loved ones or updating you on snowy weather. Check out these seven tips and learn how to harness your smartphone's power to make your holidays bright.

    Download Airline Apps

    Sure, holiday travel means exchanging gifts and reveling in the company of loved ones. But it also means flight delays. At some airports, up to 28 percent of flights get delayed or canceled due to bad weather and passenger volume. (Oh, hi there, Newark.)

    So be prepared and download your airline's smartphone app. Most airlines have them and they're often free. You can book or rebook flights, get flight status updates, access mobile boarding passes, and more. An increased likelihood of cancellations and gate changes means you'll want to stay updated without having to stay near a departures board at the airport. And with mobile check-in, you can avoid at least one long line.

    Know the Weather

    Yes, a snowy night and a blustery wind can be cheerful once you're safely snuggled up at home, but when you're traveling, winter weather is anything but cozy. It can wreck travel plans whether you're at the airport or on the road. Download a weather app and keep updated on weather conditions in your destination as well as along your route. If a storm is brewing, you'll know to make alternate plans. Most airline apps include weather information, but I prefer an independent one that shows up-to-the-minute conditions for a number of destinations. My pick is WeatherBug, but there are hundreds of weather apps that'll do the trick.

    Share Your Itinerary

    Meeting up with family for the holidays? Juggling different arrivals and departures? Sharing your itinerary through an app like TripIt is a convenient way to keep track of everyone's plans. With TripIt, you can email your flight information and other bookings to interested parties, or you can share a direct link to your itinerary. (TripIt will automatically create an itinerary from all of your confirmation emails.) Your family can also receive updates on your flight status, in case you are delayed. No more will you lose flight information in an email inbox flooded with holiday offers.

    Bring a Charger

    Your phone may be charged to 100 percent when you leave the house, but hours of use could drain it at the airport. Add an unexpected flight delay or a long battery-draining phone call and you could be left with a phone that's as lively as Aunt Hilda's fruitcake.

    Never pack a charger in your checked baggage; instead, keep it on your person in case you need to recharge at the airport. The same goes for other electronics, including laptops, e-readers, and so on. If you're in a bind, you can usually buy a charger at the airport—at a premium, that is.

    Be an Airport-Security Pro

    Airports get seriously crowded during the holidays, especially at peak flying times like weekday evenings. Expect security to look like a Wal-Mart checkout on Black Friday. Aside from getting to the airport early and factoring in extra-long queues, you should also download the My TSA app. Not only does it provide security wait-time estimates, but it also includes a list of airports that have TSA PreCheck, airport-status information from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a "Can I Bring?" feature that lists which items are OK to be carried onto the plane. (Did you know wrapped presents are not TSA approved?)

    Know Which Way to Go

    In 2013, AAA estimated that a whopping nine out of 10 holiday travelers drove to their ultimate destinations. So whether you're renting a car at the airport or embarking on a long drive from home, you'll need some assistance on the road. Other than the usual holiday-driving tips (drive at off-peak hours, have backup plans, use a GPS), we also recommend downloading the Waze app on your smartphone. It's a community-based traffic and navigation app that provides updates on traffic conditions and major road events like accidents or construction. Users can also submit gas prices along their routes so you know where fueling up is cheapest.

    Stay Entertained

    After buying a truly terrible paperback at the airport and having to suffer through hours of torturous reading, I learned my lesson: Always have backup entertainment. Before you leave for your holiday travel, download games and audiobooks (we assembled a list of some good free options for you). Don't wait to download anything at the airport—you could kill your battery on super-slow Wi-Fi and be left as I was, counting ceiling tiles while waiting for a free electrical outlet.

    Readers, do you have any other tips for preparing your smartphone for holiday travel? Let us know in the comments.

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    This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Seven Ways Your Smartphone Can Improve Holiday Travel.

    Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

    (Lead Photo: Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images)

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