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Jun 202012
 June 20, 2012  Posted by  Travel
avoiding summer rental scams

Reduce stress and enhance your travel experience with these great free and cheap smartphone apps, some of which are handy to have even at home.

Let’s start with the free ones:

  • Sit or squat – Sometimes, you just gotta go, but don’t know where.  This app guides you to the nearest free public toilets, in stores, parks and other locations, in the United States and internationally.  This U.S. version is sponsored by Charmin, and, unfortunately is loaded with ads. The upside is that users can rate a bathroom for cleanliness, which helps all of us sit or squat more confidently.
  • Wi-fi Finder – As its name implies, this app helps you find a hotspot, and even shows you where to find the strongest signal.  To save data costs when you are traveling overseas, download the database in the United States and browse wi-fi locations offline. For iPhone and Android.
  • My Language Translator – Break language barriers with this app, which translates short phrases into 52 languages, to help you read menus, road signs and such.  For Apple devices. For Android users, there’s a similar translator, iTranslate.
  • XE Currency Converter – Just how much is a Euro, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Singapore dollar, Mexican peso, Cuban peso, Argentine peso, Indian rupee, Indonesian rupiah, Israeli shekel worth?  How will you know if it’s a bargain unless you know how much that souvenir or meal costs? This app converts dozens of currencies.  I also use the XE website before I leave home to find out the official exchange rate, so I have a basis of comparison with what banks and money exchanges are charging at my overseas destination.  Available for Apple, Android and Blackberry devices.
  • TextPlus – This app lets you send and receive texts for free anywhere in the world.  It gives you a free phone number to give to give to friends and family.  For iPhone, iTouch, iPod, iPad, Android and Windows Phone 7 devices.
  • Skype – The app is free, and it allows free call anywhere in the world to another Skype user.  If your phone friend or relative doesn’t have Skype, their international rates are a good bit lower than what your smartphone provider charges.
  • GasBuddy – Find the cheapest gas nearest you, via the GPS setting on your phone.  For use in North America only, via GPS on your smartphone, and also by zipcode on the GasBuddy website.
  • Around Me – On a trip to Baltimore recently, a fellow journalist I was with needed some over-the-counter stuff for a funny tummy.  A couple of clicks located the nearest pharmacy via the GPS setting on her phone. No wonder this app has six million users a month. It sorts by category the same way as your car’s navigation system. For iPhone, iPad and Android. The free version is peppered with ads; the $2.99 version is ad-free.
  • Pocket – This handy app lets you save favorite web content so you can view it later, without an internet connection – especially handy overseas and on cruise ships, when internet or wi-fi can cost arms, legs and other body parts.  There are versions for Apple, Android and Kindle devices.
  • PocketRanger — Put a park ranger in the palm of your hand, with these guides to state parks, including everything from hiking trails and campsites, to history and the wildlife, flowers and trees you will find.  Not every state is represented — yet.
  • TripAdvisor City Guides – There are 30 national and international city guides, ranging from popular destinations like New Orleans to “bucket list” cities like Rio de Janiero and Marrakech.  The apps offer opinion and reviews by the public with some additional information by professional travel journalists.  For iPhone and Android.
  • Other city guides – A growing number of cities, including Austin, Santa Barbara and Denver, are now publishing their own apps for visitors.  These are generally published by that city’s chamber of commerce or the conference/visitor’s bureau, and feature dues-paying members of that chamber or association.

Now for travel apps that are cheap, rather than free:

  • Sutro Media – This is the largest publisher of smartphone apps for travel, with more than 300 country and city apps written by professional journalists.  City guides like my own New York City on the Cheap app, available in for iPhone/iPad and Android versions, are just $2.99, with free updates.
  • Roadside Presidents– This is a great app for families, with destinations related to U.S. presidents, such as the ice cream store where President Obama worked during high school. It’s a painless, even fun, way for the kids to learn a bit of history and geography on a family road trip.  $2.99, iTunes only.

So many apps. So little time.  Click here for free apps for smarter driving, also by auto expert Evelyn Kanter.

Do you have a favorite free or cheap travel app we missed?

Photo credit Kiawah Island Resort

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting on good deals and warning about bad ones, for longer than she cares to admit publicly. A native and lifelong New Yorker, she was the first consumer reporter for CBS News and for WABC TV “Eyewitness News” and helped launch the “Sales and Bargains” column in New York Magazine. Evelyn is the author or editor of more than a dozen travel guidebooks and apps, including Peaceful Places New York City, and owns and operates NYC On The Cheap and EcoXplorer. A long-time tree-hugger, Evelyn also writes about green travel, green cars and saving the green in your wallet for national and regional publications, including a column syndicated by Motor Matters and for, AAA magazines and airline inflights.

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