10 Must-Have Travel Apps for 2014

Blog post   •   Feb 12, 2014 16:00 GMT

Mobile apps for smartphones and other devices have rocketed in recent years and show no signs of slowing down. In fact downloads of mobile apps soared by 115% in 2013 as users take full advantage of a wealth of information that can be accessed anywhere at any time. 

You can get mobile apps now for pretty much any situation you may come across in life, including travel. As developers are busy creating yet more apps to make our lives easier, we take a look at 10 of the must-have travel apps for 2014 which will change the way you travel forever.

How Travel Apps Have Changed the Travel Industry

Once upon a time, back in the swirling mists of history, when you went travelling you were taking a bit of a calculated risk. How could you know what the hotel was really like? Where could you find a reliable place to eat? How on earth could you find out how to get from the airport to the hotel? All of these things you had to research independently using guidebooks which went out of date from year to year.

Now with the advent of the Internet you can book an airport taxi online, find the best rates, read user reviews, find your way around and even get tips on what to pack thanks to accessible mobile technology.

Online Travel Stats

As travel apps are now so popular it begs the question, just what do they offer the intrepid traveller and which are the most popular travel apps?

What Makes a Popular Travel App?

Apps are great on the move (image by Gonzalo Baeza H).

The must-have travel accessory is no longer the trusty guide book but the smartphone, as it provides a veritable encyclopaedia of travel knowledge and wisdom.

Ideally, you need an app that won't take up all your memory or drain your battery. It needs to be updated regularly and whilst most users don't mind paying for extra features, it's always nice to have a basic free version offered. Look at user reviews to find out what others think before downloading any app and then once you've found that must-have travel app, share it with friends.

1. Mobile Flight Tracker

Want to find out if your flight is on time or delayed? Or perhaps you are due to meet someone at the airport? With the FlightRadar24 app you can not only find out if your flight is on time but whereabouts in the sky it is, in real time.

You can track your flight from beginning to end and get detailed information about route, estimated time of arrival, actual departure time, speed, altitude and more just by tapping on it. You can also search for individual flights and even get a cockpit view.

Cost: Free but can upgrade to Flight Radar Pro for £1.99 which has better animation, realistic icons, more filters and has fixed some common issues.

2. Real Time Global Weather App

Have you ever packed for hot weather only to arrive at your destination cold and wet and without so much as a jumper for warmth? Wouldn't it be handy if you had a reliable weather guide that would not only tell you what the weather was doing on that day but what the weather was predicted to do during the rest of your stay?

WeatherPro has 7 day forecasts for over 2 million locations worldwide. It gives updates in 3 hourly intervals, tells you not only what the temperature is but what it 'feels like' due to things such as wind chill factor. It also gives weather alerts, allows you to view forecasts as easy to read graphs and lets you know the sunrise and sunset times.

Developed by MeteoGroup, Europe's largest private weather forecasters, WeatherPro was nominated for the 2012 App Awards for Best Weather App.

You'll never be caught out without an umbrella or jumper again.

Cost: £1.99 with a premium service available.

3. The Best Translator App

Not being able to speak the lingo is one of the most frustrating things about travelling. Knowing what's on the menu, booking a room, asking for directions or understanding what's being said to you does go some way to making life so much easier. Surely someone ought to have developed a mobile translator app by now?

The good news is that they have! There are loads of translator apps on the market such as iTranslate which is one of the most popular to date. It translates over 50 languages and has voice recognition so you can just speak into the microphone and the translation is voiced for you. You can also scroll through dictionaries and select non-Latin characters such as Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

This app really does come into its own when you're faced with tricky menus or need to ask for directions, particularly in places such as Asia and the Far East. So scrap the pocket dictionary and just download the app instead.

iTranslate was voted as one of the 100 all time apps and picked as Best App of the Week by The Good Web Guide.

Cost: Free but you can get the Premium version for £2.99 for a year or £1.49 for 3 months.

4. Mobile Sat Navs

It's easy to get disorientated and lost in foreign countries, especially when trying to navigate using a tourist map in a busy section of the city. The trouble with maps is that they're not weather proof and they don't point out any places of interest or restaurants.

Mobile sat navs have come on in leaps and bounds since the humble TomTom and many of them work outside the car too. You no longer need to have data roaming on (which costs a fortune abroad) as they work just as well offline. Navfree is a sat nav app which stores all the map data on the phone itself, so it's accessible at any time. It will not only guide you whilst you are driving but also has maps for over 30 different countries using Google Local Search.

The upside is that this app is completely free but the downside is that in order to download individual street maps of countries you do have to pay £1.99 each. However, you are getting an all-in-one GPS system and walking sat nav which uses real photos, gives turn-by-turn directions, voice guidance and won't cost you a penny in data roaming charges.

Cost: Free but street maps will cost £1.99 each as will speed camera data and for £2.99, you can get the app voiced by Homer Simpson, Stephen Fry or Snoop Dogg.

A couple of travellers looking at their map while on a trek (image by Franco Folini).

5. Travel in Safety

We've all heard the stories of unwary travellers getting lost in the outback or stranded in a jungle and whilst you might not be planning to venture out on such expeditions, there may be occasions when you need to call for assistance, yet might not know that country's emergency number or your exact location.

Travel Safe is a mobile app that has won the 2013 Australian Mobile Awards and the AH Awards 2013 for the best travel app. The secret to its success is simple, this handy little app allows you to make emergency calls or texts from anywhere in the world, using their database of international emergency service details and your own personal contacts. Your exact location is automatically detected and a pre-written emergency SMS shows up on screen that you can send in an instant.

It's easy to use and whilst you hopefully won't have to use it, should you need to, the app is there in an instant giving you immediate access to emergency numbers in your location. For a nominal price depending on your region, the Travel Safe app will give you peace of mind and might just make all the difference to you on your travels.

Cost: 69p and is available on iPhones, iPads and iPods.

6. Benefit from Local Knowledge

Chances are that wherever you decide to go, millions of visitors have been there before you and can pass on insider knowledge and information that will make your visit more entertaining and memorable. FourSquare is an app which aims to take all that information and knowledge and make it available to everyone.

Foursquare started out as a "crowd-sourced database" where users shared recommendations and reviews in their local area. It's now branched out and once you activate it in any given place you'll be able to access tips and recommendations from those who have been there before you. So if the restaurant around the corner serves the best steak in town and does a cheap deal on Sundays, you'll know about it. You'll also be in the know about forthcoming events and can explore those hidden delights that only the locals know about.

Cost: The FourSquare app is available for most smartphones and is free to download.

7. Mobile Tour Guide

Wouldn't it be great to be able to point your phone at a building, landmark or even object and find out all about it? Well Google Goggles allows you to do just that. The app has being going a few years now and has been updated to be able to read barcodes and even recognise paintings and other objects. Just point your camera lens at the item in question and providing the Google Goggles recognises it, you'll be able to get the lowdown on it so you can impress your friends with your knowledge. It can even translate text and solve Sudoku puzzles.

Google Goggles is available on Android and with the Google Search app on iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4.

Cost: Free

8. Currency Converter

It's always a pain trying to work out how much something would be in your own currency or find out what the current currency rates are. XE Currency, which claims to be the world's most popular currency converter, has brought out an app which gives you an instant currency conversion with live exchange updates and if you aren't online then it saves the last updated rate for you.

The XE Currency Conversion app was app of the week on iTunes in 2013 and has been downloaded more than 20 million times. That many users can't be wrong! 

Cost: Free but a charge for the premium service.

9. What to Pack

I confess that I am rubbish at packing. I either pack far more than I need or I don't pack nearly enough to last me the duration of my travels. Luckily the PackingPro has come to my rescue and solved all my packing woes.

Just tell the PackingPro where you are going, who with and how long for and it gives packing suggestions split into groups such as 'essentials', 'clothes' and 'gadgets'. It even has suggestions for your travel companions!

It has been featured on the BBC and National Geographic and been a finalist in the Best App Ever Award for 3 years running.

Cost: £1.99 plus the chance to upgrade for more lists and themes.

10. Data Saving App

We all know that data roaming charges abroad can be extortionate, so how to update your Facebook and check your emails without incurring a hefty bill? Say hello to Onavo Extend, a mobile app which will allow you to use your phone just the way you want to whilst ensuring that you stay within your existing roaming plan by shrinking and caching your data.

It will tell you what your monthly usage is, thus allowing you to understand and manage your data and can extend mobile data up to 5 times.

It's compatible with iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch.

Cost: Free

Mobile travel apps don't just serve to solve many of those common problems that you might experience but also to enhance your travelling experience, allowing you to share your discoveries with others and benefit from pooled resources and knowledge. Whether you are travelling alone, as part of a group or with your family, these travel apps just help to make the world a smaller, friendlier place and of course the question is, if this is where technology has brought us today, where will it take us tomorrow?