Android | Free
From historical sites to cool, under-the-radar restaurants, the world around us is full of surprises, and sometimes you can walk about town and never know what you’re missing. Or, at least, that was the case until Wikitude came along. As an augmented reality browser (essentially realtime data geographically connected to what your phone’s camera is viewing in this instance), the Wikitude app allows you to point your camera in a direction, perhaps a block of downtown buildings, and then through aggregated content it informs you if you’re looking at anything of interest – a clothing store or maybe even a cozy cafe. Using input from somewhere around 2,500 feeds including everything from YouTube to Flickr and Twitter, the information that pops up on-screen in little bubbles is mostly user-generated – like an open-source best-of everything guide. Likewise, if you’re looking for something specific like pizza, type the word in the app’s search feature and see what comes up in front of you.
Android | Free
It happens to the best of us – you’re driving around an unfamiliar area trying to find something, you make a wrong turn and then whammo. You have no idea where you are, or how to get where you’re going. As a solution, some people turn to expensive GPS navigation systems, but if you’re unwilling to shell out some serious cash then MapQuest is a good alternative. Attractively free, the app offers voice-guided, step-by-step directions for you. Begin by either typing or speaking your desired destination – it will then present you with a route (this works for both walking and driving, btw) based on GPS. Along the way, if you take a wrong turn, the app automatically reroutes for you, while it also updates relevant traffic reports every few minutes. If you need a pit-stop, the Place Map toolbar locates businesses such as restaurants and cafes, while you can also save specific locations for a later date. If you’re looking for value and quality in a navigation app, you’re not going to beat MapQuest.
Android | Free
If your travels involve a bit of celestial navigation, you may just have the upper hand on the Vikings, Polynesians, and every other culture who have been guided through the Seven Seas by stars. That would be thanks to Google’s Sky Map, an app designed to easily identify bodies in the night sky. To get started, you’ll have to choose an area, star or constellation you’re interested in. From there, point your phone’s camera at it. Relying on a combination of GPS, compass data and the time of year, the app will process the information and present you with a labeled sky map for your area. If you’d prefer to go manually, just scroll across the great beyond using your finger. Better still, if you’ve got a planet in mind, say Jupiter, but you’re having trouble finding it yourself, use the app’s search feature and type in the planet’s name. The app will then locate it for you. Whether you’re sailing to distant lands or just trying to find the Orion Belt, Sky Map is a great way to let the stars guide you.
iOS | Free
No matter where you are in the world, it never hurts to be able to ask where the washroom is, to know a friendly greeting, or how to order a beer. Printed phrasebooks can be cumbersome affairs though, which is why the Traveler’s Phrasebook is such a handy app to have on-hand. Organized into 31 themes – everything from accommodation and general expressions to sightseeing and getting specific about meals, it covers just about everything you’ll need to get by. Once downloaded, specific in-app audio recording purchases are available in 22 languages, meaning that whether you’re in Japan, Italy, Germany or the U.A.E., you’ll have access to proper pronunciation done by native speakers. At a reasonable price, these phrases can really make the difference between just being another traveler and immersing yourself in local culture.
iOS | Free
Traveling abroad can be one serious adventure, but with the excitement comes a seemingly endless stream of questions and challenges – how do you properly convert the currency, how do you find a decent hotel, and what are the must-see local destinations? The solution to these (and plenty more conundrums) is the Frommer’s Travel Tools app. Kind of like the Swiss Army Knife of info for travelers, the app is arranged into categories that cover everything from tip calculating and unit conversion to packing checklists and city culture guides. Simple to use, all the basics are covered, as well as some decent time-wasters (in case you’re stuck with a few hours to kill before the train arrives) including a Travel Trivia category and a postcard feature that allows you to send off quick photos and “wish you were here” notes through email, Facebook and Twitter. Traveling abroad just got a little bit easier.
iOS | $2.99
Very few things in life are as unpleasant as coming down with an illness in a foreign country. Whether it’s a fever, a rash or something even worse, health issues abroad can be stressful and expensive ordeals. Designed by a travel medicine specialist, Travel Health Guide is a quick and straightforward way to diagnose several medical conditions from the uncomfortable to the severe. A symptom searcher offers a database of common problems travelers may experience as well as a drug reference table, and an alert will appear if travelers should seek out immediate medical assistance. While this app should definitely not ever replace professional medical advice, in areas where such advice is scarce or costly, THG may help you understand if your issue is pressing or self-treatable.
BlackBerry | Free
For those jet-setters in the business world, travel for work means being prepared. Whether it’s sorting out accommodations efficiently so you can get down to the presentation or arranging transportation once you’ve arrived at your destination, the BlackBerry Travel App is a good bet for getting it right the first time. To begin with, the app can search for the best prices on hotel rooms, car rentals and limousine service if you require it. Once you’ve got the basics confirmed before you leave, the app also keeps track of your flight as you receive updates involving any delays or cancellations. Not sure whether to pack light or heavy? No worries – the app provides local weather info for wherever you’re heading. For the savvy business traveller, this app could mean the difference between a successful trip and one they’d sooner forget.
iPad | Free
Whatever your reason for travel, or wherever you end up, one thing is certain: there will probably be some downtime in the air or on the ground. What better way to catch up on some reading? The Kindle app for iPad makes e-reading an enjoyable experience, and if you have the room on your device, it also means being able to carry around a small library with you without the heavy lifting. Offering a massive range of more than a million books and 400 magazines among others, the Kindle app is able to sync your purchases with all your devices, offers an instant dictionary feature for words you’re unsure of, and allows for a customizable reading experience. The clincher though, is in the free samples you can download – check out the first chapter of a book before you decide to buy the whole thing.