Ditch the Travel Agent
Savvy travelers know that the right app can make any vacation easier and more affordable. But how to pick when there are almost three million apps to choose from? We rounded up seven free apps to use through any phase of vacation planning — from figuring out your flight itinerary to saving on a car rental. Get the download.
Balance Cost and Convenience: Hipmunk
If you’ve ever booked a trip online with the aim of saving money, you may have been the unwitting victim of endless layovers or hotels on the fringes of your destination — and the cost of those additional airport meals or taxi rides can ultimately suck up any money you intended to save.
The beauty of Hipmunk is that it factors in “agony” and “ecstasy” while searching thousands of travel websites, letting you see the ultimate payoff of flight duration or hotel location in a simple, smart visual interface. Plus, the app makes it easy to identify your personal must-haves, like flights with Wi-Fi or hotels with on-site laundry.
Find the Cheapest Time to Fly: Hopper
Hopper crunches billions of flight prices to predict the most affordable time to fly to a destination, as well as the best days to head out and return. It claims it can save you up to 40 percent on flights — not bad for a free app!
Hopper sends you real-time notifications when a bargain flight is available for the destination of your choice, or when it thinks the price is about to go up, so you can act the minute a great deal is available and book your ticket directly from the app.
Get it: At this time, Hopper is available only for iOS, but developers say an Android app is in the works. In the meantime, if you’re sans iPhone you can still check flight predictions on the website.
Skip Traditional Car Rentals: RelayRides
The sharing economy is finally disrupting the staid rental car industry with RelayRides, which lets you rent a car in the U.S. from a person rather than one of the three big agencies that control more than 90 percent of the market.
Just register with RelayRides (registration requires information you usually provide at the rental counter, such as your driver’s license and method of payment), and select a car from more than 1,900 cities and 200 airports. While your credit card generally won’t cover insurance with RelayRides, the company offers a selection of affordable coverage options to choose from, as well as 24/7 roadside assistance.
The best part of RelayRides is probably the range of cars and affordable pricing. A 2013 Ford Focus can be delivered curbside at LAX for only $28 a day, or splurge on a Range Rover at $99 a day for your dream trip around Napa. Recent app updates allow you to add a second driver right from your phone.
Find Cheap Gas: GasBuddy
If your summer plans include a road trip, GasBuddy is the app you’ll need. Punch in your zip code or use your phone’s location to search by gas type or distance and find the cheapest place to fill up. The savings can be considerable: A recent search in New York showed prices varying by more than $0.20 a gallon within a five-mile radius.
Since GasBuddy relies on its users to provide real-time data, the app encourages you to report gas prices on the fly, which earns you points toward daily and weekly challenges for free gas. (Side benefit: It’s a great way to keep the backseat occupants busy.)
Get Around Without a Taxi: Citymapper
There’s no excuse to splurge for a cab in an unknown city when you have Citymapper, a comprehensive app that provides you with a slew of options for getting from point A to point B in more than 17 cities, from Philadelphia to Paris to Singapore.
Citymapper not only shows you how to get to your destination using public transportation (including available ferries and bike shares), but it also gives you a heads up on service disruptions, the best station exit to use, and how many calories you’ll burn in the process. And if public transport simply isn’t doable, you can order an Uber directly from the app.
The big news in 2015 for this indispensable travel app is that it’s now compatible with wearables for Android and the Apple Watch. You also now have the option of setting your destination time, allowing you to plan ahead.
Find Wi-Fi That’s Really Free: WifiMapper
Free Wi-Fi can be a great money saver when you travel, but many Wi-Fi finder apps lack the critical information you may need, like whether the hotspot is located in a train station or a bar, or whether the hotspot is actually free.
The new WifiMapper app addresses the problem through crowdsourcing its data (it claims it has information on more than 500 networks across the world) and integrating the information with Foursquare, so you’ll know whether the “free” Wi-Fi at a café a few blocks away also requires the purchase of a cappuccino. In addition, it measures the quality of the Wi-Fi signal, so you can find the fastest free connection nearby to upload your vacation pics.
Get it: WifiMapper is free for iOS; the developers say that an Android version should be available soon.
When You Have to Go, Go Free: Flush
Just like “free” Wi-Fi, a travel stop in the closest restroom may also require a purchase for access. But the new app Flush will show you all available restrooms in your vicinity, as well as whether they require a key (purchase alert!) or a fee. Even better, this free app identifies restrooms with disabled access, and it even works offline.
Flush features more than 100,000 public restrooms all over the globe, and you can do your duty for fellow travelers by rating and reviewing the restrooms you use and adding new ones to the list.