12 of the best travel apps

Did you start travelling in the days of travellers’ cheques? The smart phone age has been a revelation for those of us who remember writing home on light-weight, blue, folded, aerograms.

Here are a dozen clever apps used by our travel editor David McGonigal that you too can use while travelling or while preparing for your next adventure. Do you have a favourite app?

1. Navmii – an in-phone off-line GPS that means you’ll never get lost again
To simplify packing or to avoid GPS rental fees, carry the GPS maps for your destination on your phone. Navmii works very well, like a full-function dedicated GPS, and doesn’t need an internet connection on the road (though you can get traffic updates when you are online). Also, when online its intuitive search function is excellent.

2. Tripit – a travel plan organiser
Email your flight, airline, rental car or other travel confirmations to plans@tripit.com and they will be imported into a neat travel itinerary (and your calendar) that can be shared with travel companions, family or anyone else who needs to know. The Pro app lets you know if boarding gates have been changed and more.

3. OffMaps2 – detailed maps of various areas worldwide
Only for Apple, it’s worth buying the unlimited maps package so you can download whatever maps you may ever want. You can search for points of interest – or search for them on Offmaps’ offline Wikipedia articles – without paying roaming fees or having to find Wii-Fi.

4. Qantas – book and check in through the app
You can book flights, check your points or status credits, choose your seat and find your boarding gate. Most useful for domestic travel is the ability to check in for your next flight and receive your boarding pass within the app – no need to ask the hotel to print it out. Too easy!

5. Flight radar – find where any flight in the world is right now
Never again arrive at the airport late (or too early) to pick up a friend. It’s worth going to the Flight Radar webpage just to see all the flights in the air at any one time. Download the app to be able to see if your partner’s or an associate’s flight really is on the way or has landed. It’s so detailed you can watch the aircraft taxiing.

6. Navionics Boating – very detailed coastal charts
If your holiday includes sailing, fishing or even catching a ferry or taking a sightseeing cruise the Navionics Boating app can be really useful. It is not cheap ($27 for Australia and NZ) but operates like a full function chart plotter. Besides Australia there are charts available for coasts and lakes in many countries around the world. And, besides the marine one there are others for skiing, and hiking or biking.

7. Tunein Radio Pro – listen to favourite home radio stations
Tunein Radio allows you to listen to whatever Australian radio station you wish from anywhere in the world through Wi-Fi. Indeed, you can listen to any of over 100,000 radio stations around the world. It’s worth upgrading from the free app to Tunein Radio Pro that retains your favourites and also lets you record from the broadcast.

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Never be too late or too early for your flight again!

8. Airline entertainment apps – watch and listen in-flight or your own device
Before leaving home it’s worth checking if you need to download entertainment apps for the airlines you are flying. With the app you can watch movies through the aircraft’s Wi-Fi or follow the flight path as you go. There’s a current move towards using dedicated apps and less in-seat screens, especially for budget airlines.

9. Scanner Pro – copy any documents to keep as stored pdfs
While Scanner Pro utilises your phone’s camera to replace a home scanner it is even more invaluable on the road. You can scan anything and it has excellent software to find the edges of the document and straighten up any angles or distortions. You can store the created documents, email them or put them in DropBox to access whenever you need them.

10. Google Maps 
This is a must for Android users. And while the supplied Apple Maps app is getting much better, it’s still worthwhile for iPhone or iPad users to take advantage of the free Google Maps app, too. When you’re online it has excellent real time traffic information and search capabilities.

11. XE – dynamic exchange rates
The one vital piece of information for every overseas traveller is the exchange rate. This not only puts you in front when changing money but it avoids accidentally expensive purchases. Currencies where there are several thousand to the $A are the easiest to get wrong. XE is well trusted and the app retains the last updated rates so it works when you have no internet access.

12. Skype – call home for free through Wi-Fi 
Skype is still the ruling VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) and it has come a long way from the scratchy voice calls of the past. Now it generally provides good voice, and sometimes good video, even when the Wi-Fi isn’t great. Buy some credit before you travel so you can call phones, not just others logged into Skype. That credit is a great gift for young ones heading overseas – you may hear from them more often when it doesn’t cost them anything.

Do you have any other favourite apps? Let us know what they are in the comments section below.