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11 mobile apps to enhance your travel experience

By Isabel Eva Bohrer and Sharon Machlis
June 29, 2012 06:00 AM ET

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor LLC
Price: Free
OSes reviewed: iOS, Android
Other OSes: Nokia, Windows Phone
Alternatives: For restaurant choices specifically, consider the Zagat ($9.99/year for iOS and BlackBerry, $24.95/year for Android) or Yelp (free on iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry and Palm) apps.

This well-known Web-based travel community has a great deal of useful crowd-sourced information, and I often check what others have to say there before booking a hotel or a restaurant reservation. The mobile apps bring much of that information to your mobile device. You can search for places to stay and eat, and find things to do, as well as filter results by category and see results plotted on a map. You can also see a summary of reviews -- how many users have offered ratings of excellent, very good, average, poor or terrible -- as well as read the reviews, which can also be helpful, since one person's drawbacks might not be another's.

For a truly important vacation decision, such as where to stay for a week, I'll typically use the TripAdvisor website, since there you can also see a reviewer's history -- how many reviews they've done in how many cities and how many times their reviews have been rated helpful. You can also click through to see the person's other reviews, so you know if they're only posting glowing accounts or if they do nothing but complain about everything.

Unfortunately, you can't get all that information on the apps. On the iPad app, you can see the number of other reviews a reviewer has posted as well as how many have been voted helpful, but you can't click through to see them. On an Android phone, there's no information easily available about the reviewer beyond that specific review.

Bottom line

TripAdvisor is a useful app to load if you're looking for a place to eat or something to do.

-- Sharon Machlis

TripIt Travel Organizer

Concur Technologies
Price: Free. $3.99 version has no ads. $49/year for Pro account includes instant alerts, alternate flights, frequent travel info, other features.
OSes reviewed: iOS, Android
Other OSes: BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7

TripIt is an organizing app that can turn your confirmation emails for flights, hotels or rental cars into a handy organized format by date. It then adds details such as layover times for multi-leg flights, directions from airport to hotel, your hotel on a map, weather forecasts for your destination and more. The Android app lets you look at past trips, while the iOS app displays current and futures trips only.

TripIt Travel Organizer
TripIt Travel Organizer
Click to view larger image.

What's nice about TripIt is that you simply forward your confirmation emails to the app and information is automatically pulled out of the messages and entered in TripIt's useful format. What's less nice is that if the data doesn't come from one of the thousand or so major chains that TripIt understands, those emails aren't going to be properly parsed. You can add information manually into either your app or via the main TripIt website -- simple hotel reservations are fairly easy to input; adding events to attend can be somewhat more cumbersome.

TripIt Pro offers flight delay alerts, help finding alternate flights if yours is canceled, frequent-travel-program point tracking, auto sharing and refund notification if your airfare becomes eligible. You can share trip details with other TripIt members using a free account, although you'll be prodded to sign up for Pro.

If you use multiple platforms, additions and changes made in your TripIt account on one device are synced everywhere. And mobile apps don't need to be connected to the Internet to view the information -- just update and sync ahead of time.

Bottom line

If you plan your own travel and don't enjoy keeping track of multiple confirmation emails for a trip, TripIt can be a useful assistant.

-- Sharon Machlis

Wi-Fi Finder

JiWire
Price: Free
OS reviewed: iOS
Other OSes: Android

Wi-Fi Finder allows you to search over 545,000 free and paid public Wi-Fi locations in 144 countries worldwide -- and the best part is that you don't have to be online to do so. I recommend starting by downloading the 38MB offline database from the app's home screen (if subsequent updates are available, the app will automatically notify you).

Once the data is downloaded, you can then enter your current location even if you're offline. Country, state/region, and city are required (you select from a drop-down menu), while entering your ZIP code is optional. Search results show free and paid Wi-Fi locations, including the name, address and type of location (café, hotel, etc.). Unfortunately, paid locations are just labeled as "paid" -- a further improvement would be if the app listed the actual prices.

If you're already online, the app allows you to find Wi-Fi near your current location (using location services) or worldwide. For the latter, you can enter a street, ZIP code or city.

Results are shown in map form, with free locations signaled in green and paid Wi-Fi locations in blue (if your device's location services are enabled, the app displays the distance and turn-by-turn directions). Search results can be filtered by provider and type of location; a key even lists HP ePrint locations, which can be especially useful if you're in need of a printer while traveling.

Finally, you can bookmark and share Wi-Fi locations, and if you know of a hotspot that isn't listed, you can submit it.

Bottom line

The ability to find Wi-Fi without having to use Wi-Fi is especially useful when you're traveling and not using 3G/4G.

-- Isabel Eva Bohrer

Isabel Eva Bohrer can be found at www.isabelevabohrer.com.

is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her email address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
articles Machlis RSS | blogs Machlis RSS.

See more by Sharon Machlis on Computerworld.com.

Read more about Mobile Apps in Computerworld's Mobile Apps Topic Center.



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