Android travel apps: The power user's trio

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Android travel apps are a dime a dozen. Finding the right combination of tools to actually make your life easier, though, takes a lot of trial and error. Believe me -- I've been at it for ages.

Android Travel Apps

After trying nearly every Android travel app in the book, I've finally found a trio of programs that work together in perfect harmony, automating all of the hassles of organizing and managing a trip. They've made my travels simpler and less stressful than ever. I hope they'll do the same for you.

Here's the formula.

Android Travel App #1: TripIt

• Cost: free

• Link: Android Market

The nucleus of our Android travel app trio is a neat little program called TripIt. Once you install TripIt onto your phone, you'll create a free account with the service. Then, anytime you make any travel plans -- flight reservations, hotel reservations, you name it -- you simply forward the confirmation email on to plans@tripit.com.

TripIt will process whatever confirmations you send, extract all the important details, and turn them into a comprehensive user-friendly itinerary for your trip. It uses your email address to associate the info with your account, so everything automatically shows up in your TripIt app. You don't have to waste any of your time messing with organization; all you do is forward your confirmations, and TripIt handles the rest.

Hang on, though: That's just part one.

Android Travel App #2: FlightTrack + FlightTrack Pro

• Cost: $10

• Link: Android Market (main app); Android Market (pro upgrade)

Our next Android travel app is where the automated interplay really starts to get cool. FlightTrack, by Mobiata, monitors and tracks your flights in real-time right on your Android device. As your trip approaches, the app watches for any changes in your itinerary and alerts you if anything comes up -- a new gate, a delayed departure, or any other airport-related inconvenience.

FlightTrack has a host of helpful features, but the piece of the puzzle that's core to our setup is the app's widget. When you're traveling, you just throw that little 4x2 box onto your phone's home screen (or even the lock screen, if you prefer), and -- shazam! -- you have a regularly updated, at-a-glance window into all your flight statuses for the day.

But wait -- there's more: The FlightTrack Pro add-on upgrade allows the app to interface directly and seamlessly with TripIt. Once you complete a quick one-time setup of the integration, your itineraries will always show up on their own in the FlightTrack app and widget -- no work required on your end. That's automation, baby.

The FlightTrack Pro upgrade is an extra five bucks on top of the $5 main app price. Dropping 10 bones on a single service feels like a lot in our era of free downloads, I know, but trust me: If you travel with any frequency, this is well worth the one-time cost.

Android Travel App #3: Google Calendar

• Cost: free

• Link: It's already on your phone!

The last Android travel app in our trio is one you already own: Google's own Google Calendar utility, preinstalled on almost all Android devices. As an Android user, there's a good chance you're already using Google Calendar to manage your various events and appointments. With our power-user setup, keeping your calendar up to date with your travel plans is about to get a whole lot simpler.

TripIt, you see, can also automatically sync with your Google Calendar account. That means anytime you add new travel plans, they'll instantly show up in your calendar agenda, too.

Configuring the TripIt-Google Calendar integration is relatively easy and, best of all, it only has to be done once:

First, go to TripIt's calendar sync page and click the link to "Get your iCal feed." Select the option to "Subscribe to calendar feed," then copy the text that appears on your screen (it'll be a long string of characters starting with "webcal://www.tripit.com").

Now go to the Google Calendar website. Click the "Add" link underneath "Other calendars" on the left-hand side of the screen. Select "Add by URL," paste in the address, and click "Add Calendar."

Finally, open the Calendar app on your phone. Press the Menu key, then select "More" and "Calendars." You should see TripIt as one of the available calendars; make sure it's set as "synced, visible" and click "OK."

That's it: From now on, your travel plans will automatically show up in your calendar -- no extra steps required.

(If you don't already, by the way, you can also use a home screen widget to keep your full Google Calendar agenda at your fingertips. Android has a built-in Calendar widget available; there are also numerous third-party alternatives in the Android Market. Personally, I like Pure Calendar Widget.)

Android Travel App Trio: The End Result

All together, then, with our Android travel app setup, here's what you'll experience in your future travels: 

  • You'll forward any confirmations from airlines, hotels, and anything else travel-related to plans@tripit.com. That's the only work you'll ever do.

  • FlightTrack will automatically import your travel info and silently track your flights for you. If/when anything changes, FlightTrack will alert you on your phone.

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  • All of your travel plans will automatically show up as individual events in your Google Calendar.

  • On the day of your travel, you can drop the FlightTrack widget onto your home screen or lock screen to have an at-a-glance look at the departure and arrival time, gate info, and other pertinent details for all your day's flights. FlightTrack will already have populated itself with the itinerary, so everything will automatically be there the second the widget is in place.

Not bad, eh? Once set up, it's a powerful system that saves time and helps you stay organized without the hassle. I've come to depend on it for all of my travels.

Now, if only the apps could somehow create more legroom, we'd really be set.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at eSarcasm, his geek-humor getaway.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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