As a certified road warrior, with an average of 200+ days on the road each year, I have found several applications that make travel a little easier. These are a few of my favorites, all of which are available on iOS and Android smartphones, and in many cases, as web services or on other phone and tablet platforms.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and as a video, hosted by TechRepublic Columnist Tom Merritt.
1: TripIt (free or $49 for an annual TripIt Pro subscription)
TripIt (Figure A) is my go-to app for travel on a few fronts. The core functionality of the app is that it consolidates and organizes travel information. Forward the email confirmations from your airline, hotel, rental car provider, or even corporate travel agent, and TripIt creates an itinerary for the trip, complete with weather, directions, and confirmation numbers. You can also add viewers to your trips. In my case, my wife is automatically a viewer for all my trips, so she can quickly see where I'll be, which hotel I'm staying in, and where I'm going.
The Pro service adds functionality like flight status and gate notifications, which are great when you land late and have to know which gate to sprint to. Pro also adds the ability to view seats and get recommendations, as well as search for alternate flights should your scheduled flight be cancelled.
2: iExit ($0.99)
If your travels take you to the roads more than the friendly skies, iExit is a must-have app for iOS and Android. While you're driving (and keeping your eyes on the road, of course), iExit will determine the road you're currently driving on and identify the services at upcoming exits (Figure B). You can also set a series of favorites, both by category and specific retailers. I've set my favorite dozen or so chain restaurants, and the app lets me quickly see the distance to each one.
When your stomach starts growling, you can quickly see if it's worth forgoing the cheeseburger advertised at the next exit for a healthy option down the road — or know that you're about to enter a stretch with limited food or gas options. As you'd expect, the app allows you to tap a provider to quickly call them, a helpful capability when searching for hotels or open venues when you're plying the roads late at night.
3: MetrO (free)
In major cities, train travel is often far more convenient and efficient than taxis or rental cars, yet local subway systems can be intimidating, especially in foreign countries. Despite a somewhat confusing interface, the MetrO app (iPhone/iPad) provides public transit directions in nearly every major city. You can quickly input starting and destination stations (or select the nearest station), and the app provides trains, number of stops between stations, and transfers (Figure C).
In another boon for international travelers concerned about data roaming costs, as well as subterranean subway dwellers with a spotty signal, you can download cities to the app and perform all the routing without being connected to a mobile network.
4: GateGuru (free)
GateGuru (Figure D) is effectively the iExit for airports, letting you view the services available in most airports by terminal or service type. While most airports have maps showing available services, these maps are often difficult to find or don't show services in other terminals. GateGuru lets you view services and offers an occasional discount, like a free appetizer or percentage discount. The app also provides community reviews and ratings, allowing you to find a decent bite to eat and occasional discount when stranded at the airport.
5: Yelp (free)
You have probably heard of Yelp (Figure E), the social-media restaurant rating service. While the fact that Yelp has a mobile app is likely nothing new, it is quite helpful for travelers looking for a bite in an unfamiliar location. Like all reviews that don't originate from a known, professional critic, Yelp's reviews must be taken with a grain of salt. My 5-star meal may be your barely passable 2-star, but Yelp seems to have the most extensive database of restaurants and corresponding reviews. It's fairly easy to search for a local restaurant in a given category, review a few well-rated choices, and then get directions using your smartphone's mapping app. I've found some real gems, and if nothing else am usually able to keep myself sated and away from chain restaurants while on the road.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.