Travel has changed a whole lot in my lifetime. When I was little, my grandmother worked with a travel agent in the Midwest who created gigantic itinerary binders for us to lug across the Atlantic Ocean. My mother-in-law told me she once hauled library books all the way to Italy so she'd know where to stay. Not too long ago, we even needed a physical boarding pass to get on a plane!
Now? All of these travel resources - maps, boarding passes, reviews, photos - are literally in the palm of our hands. You're probably even reading this sentence on your cell phone!
This post is dedicated to the person who doesn't think they can plan an international adventure.
Maybe you've never traveled outside the United States before.
Maybe you're nervous because English is the only language you speak.
Maybe you're overwhelmed with where to start.
It's okay! There are some pretty slick resources out there to help you organize the adventure of a lifetime. Friends ask me all the time what mobile apps I use for travel, so here are my nine favorites:
1. Google Maps
This app needs no introduction. It's the best navigation site on the planet and I'm sure Magellan would fall on his knees in ecstasy if he'd gotten the chance to use it. It maps hundreds of millions places in 220 countries and territories around the world and you can even create custom maps like this one that highlight places you've traveled or would like to visit someday.
I'm proud to be a Google Maps Local Guide and love using the platform to create curated lists, write reviews, make travel recommendations, add new businesses and share photos. I was recently invited by Google Maps to attend Connect Live 2019, which is an annual multi-day conference of 200 people like me who actively use the site to post reviews, upload photos and update locations. They selected my application from thousands around the world, so I am thrilled to represent the USA for this incredible opportunity!
This airfare app is one of my favorites, because it makes recommendations on when I can book the cheapest flight...anywhere in the world! Just select your departure city, the destination and your desired travel dates. That's it! If you create an alert, the app's algorithm will send you a push notification when it's time to book the cheapest flights. It's especially useful if your travel dates are flexible, because you can select "See Flex Dates" and watch for a few months to see if better deals come along. Thinking of going to Scotland sometime in the future, but not sure when exactly? Hopper is the perfect app for dreamin' and schemin' about flights in the future. I often create alerts for my sister, Christine so she can book more flights to Los Angeles from New York, because I'm selfish like that. You can purchase your flights directly from the app or be re-directed to the airline site.
3. Google Translate
If you really want to get to know a place and make some new friends, take just an itty bit of time (or more!) to learn a few words and phrases in the local language. But fear not, friendling! You don't have to speak 6 languages flutently like Natalie Portman to be a considerate traveler. Google Translate is such a wildly intelligent tool, because it can translate text for 100 languages. Simple type in a word or phrase and select the languages you'd like to translate. If you press the microphone icon, you can even hear it spoken aloud so you can work on pronunciation! I frequently use Google Translate to help with navigation, greetings, gratitude and random commentary, which was especially useful in communicating with teenagers on a recent trip with Operation Go Quickly in the Dominican Republic.
Google Translate has helped me "speak" French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Spanish and Cantonese on recent trips and given me the ability to actually talk with locals just like I would at home. One of the app's coolest features is the ability to translate text via photo. When Josh and I were in Hong Kong Disneyland, we used this feature to translate the train schedule and it worked flawlessly. All you do is take a photo of the image and the app can translate 37 languages from your photo! My mind was blown as I watched Cantonese characters instantly switch to recognizable English letters before my eyes.
The app has also helped me out when I'm at home. I had the chance to meet my great-grandfather's cousin, Serena who lives in Italy and we've become occasional pen pals. She speaks just a few words in English and I speak a few words of Italian. We both feel nervous
Serena sent me a postcard recently from Rome that her friend helped her write and with Google Translate, I could write her a letter in Italian in return to tell her about my life these days. It's so much fun to use Google Translate to connect with with new friends across generations, countries and languages!
Aside from staying in a safe, clean and walkable neighborhood, I gotta stay at a hotel with free breakfast. And coffee. Snacks are my love language, so hotels with "Breakfast Included" get my day off to a tasty start. I've had awesome experiences booking with Hotels.com around the world. They have competitive prices, huge inventory and I can collect free nights the more I stay with them. I like that I can sort by hotels with free breakfast. They even provide real *human* customer service when you call their hotline, which feels rare these days. Of course I'll book directly with a hotel if the rate is comparable or if they offer something special for booking directly with them.
Here are a few great places that I stayed at recently thanks to Hotels.com
Eaton Hotel | Kowloon, Hong Kong
Residenza degli Angeli | Venice, Italy
Residenza delle Arti | Rome, Italy
Hipark Serris Val-D'Europe | Serris, France
BB Rooms | Trieste, Italy
Westgate Historic Williamsburg Resort | Williamsburg, Virginia
Randles Hotel | Killarney, Ireland
Menlo Park Hotel | Galway, Ireland
Yotel Air Heathrow | London, United Kingdom
Hampton by Hilton Santo Domingo Airport | Boca Chica, Dominican Republic
5. Trip Advisor
You've probably heard of Trip Advisor before because it's arguably the best site in the world for travel reviews. You can find reviews here on just about every hotel, restaurant, bar, lounge, excursion, museum and theatre on the planet. It's like the international Yelp. One of the best features is that it shows "Traveler Photos" so you can get a sense of how a place really is when they're not being photographed and fluffed by some marketing company. I've find written reviews here to be extremely reliable, but I urge you to read them with a critical eye. Is this person being bias? Totally unreasonable? Cruel, even? You can get a sense pretty quickly about someone's "review voice" so be sure to notice trends, both positive or negative and then make your own choice.
A friend of mine got me into Yelp a few years ago, because she consulted the app's photos to look at photos of a dish before she'd place her order. I was fascinated by how much these user photos and review descriptions were impacting her food choices and not long after, I started using the app to check-in at locations, write detailed reviews, post quality photos and next thing I knew, I'd been nominated for the Yelp Elite Squad in Los Angeles. I think Yelp is great platform here in the United States for choosing just about every business out there, whether it's an auto mechanic, hair salon or restaurant. Like with Trip Advisor, read reviews with a critical eye. Be wary of angry posters and people who only write one star reviews.
7. American Airlines
I've become more loyal to American Airlines over the past three years, because they provide exceptional customer service and have an excellent, user-friendly mobile app. I haven't printed out my boarding pass in years! It's easy to check-in before flights. My husband Josh is a huge fan of their Twitter account where they are quick to address customer service concerns. When he experiences a flight delay he will send a message to the American Airlines account which is responsive in real-time with a real person!
Creating shared photo albums on iPhoto is a fun way to share travel adventures with friends and family. With the tap of a button, you can invite your family and friends to instantly see videos and photos without posting a hundred photos on social media. It's a more intimate way of sharing travel memories and if your loved ones don't have an iPhone, you can share a URL.
9. What's App
I've found that What's App is the dominant text messaging provider for most countries around the world...there are 200 million active users! I've used the platform to communicate with bed and breakfast owners in Venice, my Camp Possible girls in Santo Domingo, event organizers in San Juan de los Lagos, and our waiter-turned-friend Tony in Paris. I'll frequently use it alongside Google Translate, so I can send What's App messages in Haitian Creole, Spanish and French. WhatsApp voice and video calls use your phone's Internet connection, instead of your cell plan's voice minutes, so you don't have to worry about expensive international charges.
If you're one of those folks I dedicated this post to, I hope you feel a bit more confident in your ability to plan a special trip. Do you have a favorite app that's not on this list? Please let me know!