These Travel Apps Will Help You Get the Most Out of Your Vacation
Whether you’re on a road trip or backpacking through Europe, download these apps to learn more about the culture, weather, and even history of the places you’re visiting
Seasoned globe-trotters and road-trippers are adept at planning and logistics, from what to pack and where to gas up to when to make reservations far in advance. But sometimes all the research that goes into what to do once you’ve arrived at your destination can be overwhelming. With the right travel app, you can immerse yourself in an unexplored destination without having to suffer through pre-trip information overload. Download these apps for up-to-date information on the location’s weather, directions to off-the-beaten-path attractions, lists of events, and traffic conditions. Most of them work offline, so you won’t be left stranded when you’re stuck with no signal on your phone.
Getting Around: Maps.Me
While Google Maps is many people’s go-to navigation app, it’s not always reliable, especially when you’re driving through a remote landscape or walking around in a foreign city with no data plan or Wi-Fi. Plan ahead by downloading detailed maps and travel guides on Maps.Me. These free open-source maps offer turn-by-turn walking, driving, and cycling navigation in hundreds of cities in more than 70 countries. In 36 of those countries, the maps display points of interest, ready-to-book hotels, outdoor activities, and traffic conditions.
Learning the History: HearHere
Co-founded by actor Kevin Costner, HearHere ($50) is an audio app that automatically narrates the history, geography, and culture of the region as you drive through the continental United States. Unlike the typical cheerful guidebooks, HearHere does not shy away from stories about America’s violent past, like the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre or the displacement of Indigenous people. These oral vignettes are narrated by various voices, including Costner, actor John Lithgow, and legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson, who tells listeners stories about sporting venues like the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden. Each story lasts around two to three minutes—just enough to pique your interest and inspire you to take the next off-ramp and explore. You can stream the audio or download to listen offline.
Seeing the Sights: Roadside America
For a dose of quirky Americana, download Roadside America ($2.99 per region; $5.99 for all regions). The app provides guides, phone numbers, directions, and hours of operation for offbeat roadside attractions like a replica of Stonehenge in Maryhill, Washington, and a chocolate moose named Lenny in Scarborough, Maine. Save the destinations and directions on your phone for offline use. Re-create your own National Lampoon’s Vacation by taking a detour to the world’s biggest ball of twine in Branson, Missouri, or have breakfast in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, at the somewhat alarming Frizzle Chicken Farmhouse Cafe, where 100 animatronic chickens sing, dance, and cluck to song like “Sweet Caroline.” Don’t forget to take a picture on the app. These experiences are what road trips are made of.
If you don’t have months to devote to a Rosetta Stone course, you can just download iTranslate, a popular app that can translate more than 100 languages. The free version includes a translator and a phrase book. The pro version ($5.99 per month; $50 per year) allows users to verbally converse through it, translate text from a smartphone photo, and instantly interpret texts on messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Language packs and offline translation are available in English, Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin. To avoid losing anything in translation, communicate concisely and avoid idioms.
Preparing for the Weather: Clime
Clime is the most reliable way to ensure that your meticulously planned trip won’t be rained out. Upgrade to the premium service ($2.99 per week, $6.99 per month, $19.99 per year), and you’ll get 14-day weather forecasts, hurricane trackers, wind-speed readings, severe-weather warnings, and daily weather updates. Real-time radar images show cloud movements, snow, and other precipitation. Check the app’s lightning tracker before heading out to surf, and familiarize yourself with the locations of wildfires and which direction they’re advancing before a hike in the dry season.
Urban Strolling: Street Art Cities
Use Street Art Cities to explore vibrant street art in more than 600 cities worldwide, including Paris, Madrid, Copenhagen, and Los Angeles. After you select a city on the app, you’ll see a map with a list of works in the area. Tap on any of the circle icons for a closeup picture of the artwork, the artist’s name, the title of the piece, and its address. You can also search by artist, including notable names like Banksy and Craola. On-the-ground contributors make sure the urban murals featured on the app and on its website are up-to-date. The free app also includes walking and biking routes to see the artwork and a list of coming art events.