For all the ways travel is different these days, one thing hasn’t changed: Moving from one place to another can be a massive hassle. There’s plenty of room for inconvenience and error, and a journey rarely goes according to plan.
But while there’s not much you can do about the late departures, the surly gate attendants, or the smelly fella somehow always seated right next to you (a factor where your mask may come in extra handy, incidentally), there are some tech-centric steps you can take to make your next business trip a little less unpleasant.
Android’s travel app selection has really taken off over the past few years, and the Google Play Store now boasts an impressive array of genuinely useful titles for the traveling professional. After putting numerous standout candidates to the test, these are the apps I’d recommend stowing on your smartphone and keeping at arm’s reach whenever your work next has you hitting the road or flying the (allegedly) friendly skies.
(All apps are free unless otherwise specified.)
Planning and preparing
Organize your packing process
PackPoint is a travel organization genie. You simply tell it where you’re going, when, and what you’ll be doing — and the app generates a detailed checklist of suggested items for your suitcase.
You can add your own items to the list, as needed, and then use it as a guide to make sure you remember everything, every time.
PackPoint is free, with an optional one-time $3 upgrade that removes ads and gives you the ability to create your own custom packing templates. The paid version of the app also integrates with TripIt (more on that in a moment), which means it can import your travel plans automatically and create packing lists before you even ask.
Prepare for local navigation
Yeah, yeah, I know: You’re well aware of Google Maps. But what you might not realize — or maybe have just forgotten — is that with a teensy bit of planning, you can download all the data you need for a trip directly into Maps in advance. That way, you can navigate to your heart’s content, even in areas without strong mobile data signals, and you can avoid burning through mobile data unnecessarily on the road.
Here’s the trick: While you’re still in the comfort of your home or office, open up Maps on your phone and search for the city you’ll be visiting. Tap the city’s name within the search interface, then tap its name a second time when it appears in a box at the bottom of the screen.
At that point, you should be taken to a full-screen info page about the city — and within a row of circular icons, you should see one icon with a downward-facing arrow and the word “Download” beneath it. Tap that, then tap “Download” on the confirmation screen that appears. Once the download finishes, you’ll be able to access maps and directions within your destination without the need for an active connection.
Repeat as needed for any additional places on your agenda, then rest easy knowing your navigational guide will be there and waiting — no matter what sort of conditions you encounter.
Map out your downtime
If you’re lucky enough to have a business trip with some built-in downtime — even just an hour or two in the evening — don’t waste a precious second searching around and trying to figure out what to do. Instead, download the Guides by Lonely Planet app and get a head start on finding desirable destinations to explore.
Lonely Planet has tons of useful info about places all over the world. You’ll also find selections of “must-see” attractions for cities, along with suggested tours and activities. Once you select something you’re interested in, you’ll find all sorts of details about its location and pricing. You’ll even be given quick links to make reservations or buy tickets, if applicable.
It’s true that Google Maps does offer up some of this same sort of info, but Lonely Planet relies on its widely recognized travel experts to visit every included city and carefully review the possibilities — and that, suffice it to say, results in a much more polished and thorough sort of guide than what you’ll get from Google’s algorithm-driven recommendations and random user reviews. The app’s interface also makes it easy and fun to explore different places and find what appeals to you.
Lonely Planet is free for limited use. The app also offers a subscription that provides unlimited access, along with extras such as offline availability, on-demand Lonely Planet videos, and an actual printed guidebook for a city of your choice for five bucks a month or $40 a year.
Manage your air travel
TripIt is an all-around air travel management companion, and it’ll make your life easier in some meaningful ways — especially if you do a fair amount of flying.
At its core, TripIt allows you to forward flight itineraries and other travel-related emails to a special address — or, if you want, to grant it direct access to your inbox so it can find and process such emails on its own — and it then extracts all the relevant details and organizes them into clean and easy-to-follow master itineraries.
Where TripIt really shines, though, is with its optional $49-a-year TripIt Pro service (which you can try out via a free 30-day trial). That service gives you real-time flight updates all throughout your trip — often beating notifications by airlines’ own apps, in my experience, as well as updates to the monitors in the terminal.
Beyond that, TripIt Pro makes it dead simple to find alternate flights at any point in your adventure. If a connection is canceled or delayed, all it takes is a couple of taps to see what other flights are available — even down to the specific open seats — on your current airline or on another. That’s helped me stay a step ahead of the gate agent on multiple occasions when late departures have put connecting flights in jeopardy.
TripIt Pro comes with a few other perks, too, such as a four-month free trial of the CLEAR expedited airport access program and then a $30 discount on that service’s ongoing annual fee. But the notifications and alternate flight finder are what really make the app invaluable. And while services like App in the Air offer similar sorts of features, no other app has been as consistently helpful, reliable, and easy to use as TripIt in my real-world travel testing. It’s the gold standard of travel organization and a must-have for any frequent flier or business traveler.
Find the best flights
Forget all the clunky, upsell-infested flight-finding services and instead, open up your Chrome Android browser and navigate to Google Flights. All right — so technically, it isn’t an Android app, but Google’s flight-searching system makes it super-easy to find and book flights across all airlines. You can save or share potential itineraries, monitor flights and get notified by email as soon as a specific fare goes up or down, and then buy your tickets directly with whatever airline (or airlines) you choose.
Pro tip: If you want to make the app easier to access, tap Chrome’s three-dot menu icon while viewing the website and select “Add to home screen.” That’ll give you a more traditional mobile-app-like icon that can then pull up the tool with a single tap.
One other utility that might be worth keeping handy is Hopper — but there’s a very specific purpose and also an important asterisk involved. Hopper watches flight prices over long periods of time in order to track trends and show you how fares are likely to fluctuate based on when you fly and when you make your purchase. If you’re booking your own travel and either footing the bill yourself or trying to stay within a limited company budget, that knowledge can be incredibly helpful to have.
But Hopper’s ultimate goal is to get you to book your tickets through its service, and that doesn’t necessarily seem like the most advisable thing to do. User reviews on the Play Store mention difficulty changing itineraries once they’re booked with Hopper and challenges getting through to the company’s customer service.
So what I’d suggest is treating Hopper as a resource and not a ticket-purchasing portal: Use it to research optimal travel dates and purchasing windows, if you need to, and then take the info it gives you and plug it directly into either Google Flights or the appropriate airline’s website to buy the tickets directly from the source — and without the potentially problematic middleman.
Speed up your border entry
If you’re traveling internationally — and have a valid passport from the U.S. or Canada — the Mobile Passport app can save you precious time when you enter the U.S. by allowing you to submit your passport info and customs declaration form through the app upon landing and then skip the regular line on your way through border patrol.
Despite its name, the app does not replace your passport; you still need to carry that with you. And not to worry: It’s authorized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protections agency and totally legit.
Track your mileage
If you drive your own car for business, Microsoft’s MileIQ makes it easy as can be to keep track of all your mileage for later reimbursement. Once you set up the app on your phone and activate its “Drive Detection” feature, you don’t have to do a thing: It’ll automatically detect when you’re driving and then log all your miles in the background. It even uses current IRS-mandated reimbursement rates to calculate what you’re owed.
The app has some interesting advanced options, too, such as the ability to set specific work hours and then ignore any drives that occur outside of those times.
MileIQ is free to use for up to 40 drives per month. For unlimited access, you’ll have to pony up $6 a month or $60 for a full year of service.
Pay less for gas
Why pay top dollar for top-offs when you can drive an extra minute from the highway and save yourself (or your company) some money? GasBuddy gives you the insight you need to find fuel that won’t break the bank: You just open up the app, tap the option to find gas near you, and then either look through a list of nearby gas stations and how much they’re currently charging or switch to a map view to see prices plotted out around your present location.
GasBuddy has a bunch of other features you probably won’t want to mess with, but the app’s price searching ability is worth every penny (particularly since the app is free and thus costs you precisely zero pennies to use).
At your destination
Track your travel expenses
When it comes to more general expense-tracking, Expensify is the app to have in your arsenal. Expensify lets you simply take photos of receipts with your phone — or forward invoices and receipts via email — and it then extracts the relevant details and organizes them into reports. The app is available on the web as well, and it offers direct-export integrations with QuickBooks, Xero, and other accounting services.
Expensify costs either $5 or $9 per person per month for businesses, depending on your needs. You can try the app out with a free individual plan, too, though that limits you to just 25 imports per month and lacks many of the service’s advanced expense reporting and integration options.
Find a place to stay on short notice
The next time you find yourself unexpectedly stuck somewhere — be it due to a cancelled flight or a road trip gone awry — don’t panic. Instead, snag the free and easy to use HotelTonight app. HotelTonight searches around your current location to find hotels with open and available rooms, but that’s not all: It also scores you legitimate savings on the rates, by way of an apparent deal wherein hotels let the service sell rooms at a discount in order to fill last-minute vacancies. I spot-checked a handful of the app’s recommendations, and the savings were absolutely real.
HotelTonight has handy details and ratings for all the hotels it recommends. And once you find something suitable, all it takes is a few taps within the app to book your room and be ready to roll.
Find Wi-Fi anywhere
Why waste money on mobile data when Wi-Fi is all around you and waiting for the taking? Just open WiFi Map to see an interactive map showing available Wi-Fi networks in your area (or any other area you want to search). The app lists out speed information and even provides user-submitted passwords to secured public networks in some instances.
Just note: When you first open WiFi Map, you’ll be pressed to upgrade to a $40-a-year premium subscription. That allows you to eliminate some rather aggressive ads within the app and also gives you the ability to download information in advance for offline viewing. You don’t have to make the upgrade, though (and arguably shouldn’t bother); if you want to use the app for free, just tap the “Continue without subscription” text when the upgrade prompt appears.
Also, when searching for available networks, be sure to tap the three-line menu icon at the top of the results list and change the setting from “Show All” to “Recently Connected.” That’ll weed out old (and thus likely to be inaccurate) info from the list and show you only networks that have been confirmed to work by other users within the last 90 days.
Convert and translate anything
For your next border-crossing journey, let XE Currency Converter convert currency for you without the usual headache. Once you tell the app your home country’s currency and select which foreign currencies you want to convert into, all you have to do is type in a dollar amount to get an instant glimpse at the exact equivalent based on up-to-the-minute conversion rates.
And when language translation is what you require, the aptly named Google Translate app is the tool you want. It’s jam-packed with practical features, such as the ability to translate text instantly from an image you capture with your camera and a “conversation mode” that lets you have a (somewhat awkward) back-and-forth dialog, in real time, with someone speaking a different tongue.
Stay fit wherever you go
Who says you have to stay sedentary just because you’re traveling? Skip the underwhelming hotel “exercise facility” and turn to RunGo to find and navigate popular running trails wherever you are. It’s free to use, with an optional $2-a-month or $15-a-year premium upgrade that gives you a variety of extra features you probably won’t need (unless you really want to sync the app with a Strava activity tracker).
If you’d rather get your heart pumping from the privacy of your own room, snag the Nike Training Club app. It’s filled with easy-to-follow workouts, ranging from the intense and Crossfit-reminiscent “Bodyweight Only Benchmark” to the simple and stretch-oriented “Run Ready Yoga.”
You can find workouts for practically any amount of time you want — as little as five minutes, even! — and you can browse specifically through “no-equipment workouts,” assuming you don’t carry your entire collection of kettlebells with you every time you travel. And best of all? The app is completely free to use.
The only thing you’ll be missing is an excuse.
This article was originally published in June 2018 and most recently updated in September 2021.
Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.