Gone are the days of guide books, maps, and phone cards (remember those?). Now all you need to have an organized and nightmare-free vacation is a smartphone and the right apps. No need to download every travel app you hear of—here are 12 you'll actually use.

Google Translate

Google Translate makes it easy to understand and communicate in more than 100 languages, even ones with written characters you've never seen before. The app features instant text translation through your phone's camera, which means you can take a photo of any sign or writing you don't understand and the app will automatically translate it for you.

If you don't have an example on hand or don't want to take a photo, you can even draw characters on your phone screen to translate them. Google Translate also has a conversation mode that will transcribe translations from spoken word. The biggest perk: It works without data if you download an offline translation guide ahead of time.

Cost: Free.

Platforms: iOS and Android.


Navigating an unfamiliar place can be daunting. But contrary to popular belief, you don't need data or Wi-Fi to use digital maps and GPS on your phone. CityMaps2Go provides offline guides to travelers across the world while functioning as both a city-wide guide and a map.

CityMaps allows you to organize your to-do list of destinations and sites, and can even suggest new things for you to do as you explore a new location. Simply download an offline map of your destination, save your points of interest, and allow notifications to get recommendations about nearby spots while you're on the move. Each destination's downloadable offline map hosts hundreds of locations, and is like an app in itself.

Cost: Keep up to five location guides downloaded at one time via the free app, or go Pro for $5.99 to $9.99 and download unlimited offline guides.

Platforms: iOS and Android.

Editor's note: Viator is owned by SmarterTravel's parent company, TripAdvisor.

RELATED: I'm in a Bad Relationship With Google Maps


The Viator app allows you to buy passes and book tours led by local providers ahead of time with the ease of digital vouchers and 24/7 customer support. Want to book a walking food tour or a biking and brewery expedition to fill a free afternoon? Browse local tours in one place rather than jumping from site to site, and read reviews of the experience to choose the best one and compare prices.

I've used Viator to get into busy tourist attractions like Alcatraz Island and the London Eye, and it has helped me snatch up last-minute spots on guided tours—for example, on a French food tour of Old Montreal and the aforementioned brewery tour on bikes through San Francisco.

Editor's note: Viator is owned by SmarterTravel's parent company, TripAdvisor.

Cost: Free, with payment for tickets and reservations in-app.

U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler App

For American citizens abroad, there's no better tool in an emergency situation than the U.S. Department of State—and the Smart Traveler Program makes it easy for you to keep in touch with the department and nearby embassies while you're on the road.

Letting the State Department know where you're traveling and enrolling for updates is easy to do online, and the Smart Traveler App puts all travel alerts and warnings at your fingertips, by country. You can easily notify the State Department about changes in travel plans via your phone when Wi-Fi is available. No internet connection is required to browse in-app travel alerts or warnings.

Cost: Free.

Platforms: iOS and Android.

RELATED: Travel Alert vs. Travel Warning: What You Need to Know


Whether you need last-minute lodging or want to save money by booking a spare room, Overnight specializes in last-minute lodging options in local homes. The app works based on your location to show what's available, and only offers bookings for immediate stays. It's not exactly for planners, but comes in handy in a pinch—or if you're feeling adventurous.

Cost: Free, with booking and payment in-app.

Platforms: iOS.

Editors note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Overnight included hotel listings. The app is only for peer-to-peer bookings.


Meeting up with friends or family can get overwhelming when you're updating them about your whereabouts or trying to find theirs when you should be navigating. Glympse gives you and your travel buddies a constant view of both of your locations in real time. It can be turned on and off with the touch of a button or set to end after a specific amount of time. No need to wait around wondering where your travel companion could be.

Cost: Free

Platforms: iOS and Android.

RELATED: How to Track Your Luggage from the Plane


Keeping offline maps, in-flight entertainment, and all your travel photos on one device is sure to stretch its storage space. Make sure you have a cloud app like Dropbox on hand to store everything when space gets low. Getting to a photo or video-worthy spectacle and having to pause to delete old photos is one of the biggest travel annoyances, and could mean missing out on capturing some truly awesome moments.

Cost: Free up to 20GB, then $0.99 to $1.99 per month depending on how much space you need.

Platforms: iOS and Android.

A Reliable Banking App

This varies depending on which bank you use, but one of the best things you can carry with you while you travel is your finances. It's good to budget and keep track of purchases on your phone, but it's also necessary to have fast access to support if your cards are lost or stolen. Consider switching to a bank that has a reliable app if yours doesn't—or use a travel rewards credit card that has one, like Chase, Citi, or USAA.

Cost: Free. Don't use any bank that would charge you for using their app.

RELATED: Is the 'Best Travel Rewards Card' the Card for You?


With Wi-Fi as readily available as it is in many countries, you don't need to go through your phone carrier to make calls anymore. Using a Wi-Fi enabled calling service like Viber means connecting across the globe without roaming charges or plan extensions. Most wireless video and audio calling apps, like Viber, also have messaging that won't sneakily use up your data or texting plans.

Cost: Free

Platforms: iOS and Android.

Your Airline's App

This simple step should go without saying, but I'm consistently surprised at how many people rely solely on paper boarding passes and don't bother downloading their airline's app prior to a flight. Having a tangible copy of your boarding pass is smart, but I always prefer to use my phone and keep a copy only as backup if my device dies and I don't have a charger.

Your airline's app will update you about any departure or gate changes without you having to go looking for them—and could be the difference between a frantic airport experience and a smooth one. Plus, you'll be able to track your frequent flyer points at any time.

RELATED: 10 Dirty Little Secrets of Frequent Flyer Programs

Cost: Free


Don't book a hotel without getting the inside scoop on what it's really like. Hotel websites can often picture rooms and amenities that are very different than what you'll show up to—for example, these ten fakeouts. While it's hard to spot dishonest hotel images unless you coincidentally know someone who's stayed there, Oyster offers unbiased reviews and images from their team of hotel experts. Making sure the resort you booked isn't overrun with tourists or under renovation is as easy as downloading the Oyster.com app.

Cost: Free

Platforms: iOS and Android.

Editor's note: Oyster.com is owned by SmarterTravel's parent company, TripAdvisor. 

XE Currency

The XE Currency app puts every live world currency rate at your fingertips. You can easily calculate conversions and save the currencies you use most often for quick access.

Cost: Free

Platforms: iOS and Android.

More from SmarterTravel:

Read the original story: 12 Travel Apps You Need on Your Phone by Shannon McMahon, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

All products and services mentioned on Airfarewatchdog are independently selected by our team of expert travelers. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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