Travel, though incredibly amazing, can also be tough. So who couldn’t use some cool tools to make getting from here to there easier? Now that smartphones can be used during takeoff and landing, it’s time to turn yours into your personal travel assistant. Check out these favorite apps from The New York Times to make all your journeys smoother.
FREE WI-FI FINDER. You’re touring an unfamiliar city and in need of free Wi-Fi. With the tap of a button, this app (also free) uses your smartphone’s GPS to find nearby public Wi-Fi hot spots: coffee shop, hotel or city park. You can filter the results, which pop up on a map (or in list form, if you prefer) by “venue type,” such as bar, hotel or library. Tap one of the locations on the map (or list) and you’ll be shown the address and directions to the hot spot. Free Wi-Fi Finder, which also allows you to search for a particular Wi-Fi spot, works in more than 100 countries, including the U.S., Japan and Italy, and allows you to star favorites so you can easily find them again.
HEYWIRE. When traveling internationally, certain apps can save you money by enabling you to send text messages and photos without the usual phone company texting fees. WhatsApp is among the most popular, but another player, HeyWire, has some fun features, like the ability to place digital stickers on the photos you’ve taken. A “meme” button allows you to add bold, all-caps text to your photos. You can also post photos to Twitter or Facebook through the app. Texts between you and anyone else with HeyWire are free anywhere in the world. If the person you’re texting doesn’t have the app, international texting is still free to any smartphone in the United States and Canada and most phones in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Everywhere else, regular text fees would apply. Keep in mind that wherever you are, you still need a data connection, like 3G or Wi-Fi, to send texts.
HOTELTONIGHT. This free app lets you find and book discounted same-day hotel rooms (unsold inventory) in more than 200 destinations worldwide. HotelTonight has been around for a few years, but it became more useful when it began posting its daily deals at 9 a.m. local time, instead of noon. The app, which includes photos of the hotels and categorizes them (“basic,” “hip,” “luxe”), is most helpful if you end up stranded in a city. For instance, if you find yourself stuck at Kennedy Airport this spring break, you can select “New York City—Airports” and find and book a room (up until 2 a.m. local time) without having to figure out which nearby hotels are available. Added bonus: HotelTonight occasionally turns up deals compelling enough to inspire a last-minute getaway (you can’t book a room in advance, but you can book it for more than one night).
IEXIT. We’ve all been there: driving on a freeway, hungry, almost out of gas, needing a Starbucks, a Holiday Inn or all of the above. IExit enables you to push a button and see what’s coming up at major exits. You can then view restaurants and stores in list form or on a map. You can also set up alerts for food or lodging and to see 150 exits down the road.
PINTEREST. The creators of this digital scrapbooking site and free app finally realized that throngs of people were using Pinterest to plan, track and reflect on their travel experiences. The result: a new feature called Place Pins that allows users to add to their virtual pinboards maps with pins that include details, addresses and phone numbers. They can then send those boards to friends. Or, say you’re touring Paris and snapping photos with your smartphone along the Champs-Élysées: You can immediately put those photos on a map with directions to each spot. So you’re not just taking pictures—you’re also creating a photo album-cum-map.
POCKET. Most of us browse content on multiple devices and bookmark or email ourselves things to read later when we’re on an airplane, bus or in the back seat of a car. Pocket consolidates all of your digital reading material (articles, videos, images) in one spot, and on a clean, minimalist interface. It syncs across your devices, and you don’t need an Internet connection to read the content you send to it. Tap the “how to save” button for a list of all the ways you can send Pocket the things you wish to read later: links from web browsers, mobile browsers, your email inbox, Twitter or apps like Flipboard and Zite. Voilà—digital organization, with the touch of a button.
UBER. Cabs can be hard to come by, especially in bad weather or rush hour, or both. Enter Uber, which makes ordering a black car or taxi on demand in more than 20 cities (New York, Paris, Berlin, Abu Dhabi and Tokyo, among others) as easy as ordering pizza. Begin by downloading the app and adding your credit card or PayPal account information. When you want a ride, the app will pinpoint your location using your smartphone’s GPS and give you an estimate of how far away the closest car is. Select the type of car you want (such as a black car or SUV). The app will give your driver’s name, photo and a way to get in touch, plus text you when your car is arriving—no waiting on a street corner in the cold. Tips are included in the price (unless you select the taxi option) and a receipt will be emailed to you. (If Uber is not available where you’re traveling, try these other taxi and car service apps: Hailo, Taxi Magic and MyTaxi.)