10 more indispensable digital tools for frequent travellers (2017 update)

My status as a travelaholic is no secret to anyone who knows me. Between frequent business travel and maximum personal travel, I’m on the road as much as possible, trying to quench a wanderulust that can never be satisfied.

Like most people, I use a lot of websites and digital tools pretty heavily when I travel. I previously posted a list of some of my favourites. But that post is over seven years old now, so I figured it was time for a refresh.

A few notes about this list: I haven’t included some of the self-evident sites like Google Maps, just because they’re so well known and I’m assuming everyone is using them already.

Without further adieu, here’s my current Top 10 travel list:

1. Google Flights

The ITA Matrix flight search website topped my list in 2010. And, in a sense, it still does, in its modern-day form of Google Flights.  Google bought ITA Software in 2010 and used it as the backbone to power its flight search tool. The full version is still available, and has its uses, especially for more complex searches. But in most cases, Google’s simplified interface offers quite a few advantages: Ease of use, integration with Google’s search ecosystem, and, most notably, booking links. It’s become so ubiquitous that it has made many rivals, like Hipmunk or Momondo, obsolete. However I ultimately end up booking my flights, I usually start here.

Tip: Filter your search by number of stops, nearby airports, or even airline alliance if you want to maximize frequent flyer points.

2. Rome2Rio

A new addition to the list, Rome2Rio makes it to the #2 spot as possibly the most useful travel tool for figuring out how to get from A to B. With an insanely comprehensive database, Rome2Rio can connect you between nearly any two points on the globe by plane, train, bus, boat, car, taxi, rickshaw… you name it. The deceptively simple interface allows you to simply plug in any two places and it provides you with a list of transportation alternatives, giving you price estimates in local or home currency, schedules and links to companies and booking sites. It’s the main site I use whenever trying to work out an itinerary, or to see whether you really can get there from here.

Tip: Enter your estimated travel dates for more accurate flight prices.


3. TripIt

Another carry-over from my original list, TripIt has grown in importance and market share over the past few years, emerging as a real must-have for frequent business travellers and road warriors. The genius of TripIt is that it acts as a sort of catch-all to store all information about a trip. No need to even hit “forward” on your confirmation emails anymore; TripIt can integrate with your email to pick them up automatically. It then stores, organizes and provides access to your trip info all in one place. Its mobile app provides departure alerts, gate change announcements, seat monitoring, and even points tracking for frequent flyer accounts. While Google launched its rival Google Trips app last year, so far, it hasn’t lived up to the hype. For my money, TripIt remains the undisputed leader in this space.

Tip: TripIt is owned by Concur, which my company uses for corporate travel and expenses. This is a handy link, providing me with TripIt Pro access and seamless integration between the two tools.

4. MapsWithMe

Google Maps finally bowed to pressure and improved its offline mode last year, allowing travellers to use the app even without incurring hefty data roaming charges. But it’s still slow, clunky and less than full featured without an internet connection. In contrast, there are several excellent maps apps designed to be used offline. My favourite of these is MapsWithMe (Maps.Me). Available for iOS and Android, MapsWithMe lets me download files for the cities and areas where I’ll be travelling in advance, and helps me navigate via GPS without ever having to find an internet connection. It came in particularly handy in places like Cuba, where internet is not very available.

Tip: The app allows you to choose the storage location for your downloaded map areas. I save mine to my phone’s external SD card to free up space.

5. Booking.com

There are countless sites to book hotels online. What differentiates Booking.com is its “pay when you stay” option: The majority of the hotels, hostels and B&Bs can be booked — at the same prices as elsewhere — with no deposit whatsoever, and can be cancelled up until 24-48 hours before the stay. This is hugely valuable for me, because it means I can lock in accommodations at coveted locations or during high season stays far in advance, while keeping my plans as flexible as possible. I have to question whether the business model is sustainable long term; I suspect a lot of places will start to see contingency bookings consume a large proportion of inventory. But for now, I tend to check Booking.com first, and resort to sites that require deposits only if I can’t find what I’m looking for there first.

Tip: Search elsewhere first for the lowest price, and then check to see if Booking.com can match it with a free cancellation flexible booking.

6. XE Currency

This is an oldie but a goodie: XE is the unrivalled best currency exchange site and app on the market, and has been for a long time. It has rates for every currency you can imagine, and probably a few you didn’t know existed. The mobile app allows you to save a list of favourite currencies, and to use its simple calculator on the fly. Exchange rates are updated every minute, and stored offline for times when you don’t have data access.

Tip: XE only provides mid-market rates. Your actual buy or sell rates will vary from this somewhat. And don’t forget to factor in your bank or credit card’s forex conversion fee, which is usually around 2.5%.

7. TripAdvisor

Love it or hate it, the TripAdvisor effect is here to stay. Restaurants, hotels and tour companies live and die by their reviews. Meanwhile, as a traveller, I have grown increasingly reliant on checking out online reviews before I make a booking or a reservation. TripAdvisor has made the guidebook all but obsolete, and there’s just no better way to get the lowdown on a site, attraction or experience before you lay out your cash. Sure, maybe it takes some of the spontaneity out of the experience. But then, when it comes to business travel, that’s usually a good thing.

Tip: The app allows you to download areas and reviews to your phone ahead of your trip, so you can consult them even if your WiFi connection is shaky.

8. SeatGuru

This is another holdover from my original list. SeatGuru is still incredibly useful when it comes to booking the best seat possible on your flight. If anything, I’d say that it’s more useful today than it was seven years ago, as seat pitch keeps shrinking and seat fees keep rising. SeatGuru maintains a database of most of the plane models and configurations used by the world’s airline, and contains vital information about different seat numbers and rows – including which seats don’t recline, which ones have that precious extra couple of inches of legroom, and which ones are near the lavatories. SeatGuru has made some potentially awful flights bearable. It’s integrated with TripIt now, too.

Tip: Always check which configuration your flight uses, as some planes have several versions.

9. MobiMail

There are hundreds of email apps for Android, but my favourite for answering business emails on the go is this one. MobiMail by Appstervan is hands down the best app I’ve ever found to integrate to Outlook via Microsoft Exchange or Office365. The interface is powerful, clean and easy to use. It allows me to access my mail, calendar, contacts, notes and tasks without the need to give my company extensive admin privileges over my personal phone. And while it’s not free, its modest $5 price tag includes stellar support.

Tip: Check to see what kind of email server your company uses before you buy the app. MobiMail can connect in a variety of different ways.

10. Google Drive

Okay, so this isn’t technically a travel tool. But Google Drive’s suite of document, spreadsheet and file sharing tools has become essential for my travel planning over the past few years. I create a Google Doc for every trip I plan, including all the essential details — from flight numbers to packing lists to maps of local brewpubs. And on trips with others, the ability to share and collaborate on a document is indispensable.

Tip: On the Google Drive app, you can set your document or sheet to be available offline. This helps keep your info available even when your connection isn’t.

Honourable Mentions

To this list, I’d add the usual communication apps like Skype, taxi ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft (if available at your destination), and apps like AirBNB or Hostelbookers for accommodations. And of course, if you’re an avid travel photographer, basic editing tools like Adobe Lightroom should always be loaded and ready to go on your travel laptop.

Do you have any favourite apps I forgot to mention? Let me know.

A note about Travelpod

My beloved travel blogging site, Travelpod, would have been on this list. Unfortunately, after 20 years in business, Travelpod shut down earlier this year. It was a sad end that I saw coming for a few years, ever since Travelpod bought the site and ceased developing, improving or supporting it in any meaningful way.

Unfortunately, this means my fifteen years of travel blogs are still looking for a new home. A temporary solution called TravelArk emerged as a lifeboat, allowing me to migrate and preserve my past blog content so it wouldn’t be all lost. But development on the 2.0 version of the site, which would allow creation of new blogs, has stalled, making it clear that this is a stopgap measure at best.

Meanwhile, my efforts to migrate my travel blogs to WordPress have hit a brick wall, since my development skills are clearly not up to the task.

As a result, I’m still looking for a good travel blogging site. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments.