The Ultimate App Tool Kit
These 24 all-star apps take on essential travel tasks, from finding the best flights for your buck to locating the shortest lines at Walt Disney World.
Before the trip
FIND FLIGHTS Kayak's website set the standard for streamlined searching, and its app delivers the same ease-of-use on the go. Simply enter your destination and travel dates, and the app spits back options sorted by price, time, or airline; a single click takes you to the corresponding booking site. Free.
SCOPE OUT A HOTEL With thousands of user-generated reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions worldwide, TripAdvisor has long been a mother lode of unvarnished assessments. What it hasn't been is a model of simplicity. The app cuts through the clutter, bringing just the facts—er, opinions—filtered by price or neighborhood, to the fore. Free.
TRACK YOUR ITINERARY Forget paging through printouts of confirmation codes and terminal info. The TripIt app culls flight numbers, gate information, and even loyalty-program account numbers from e-mail receipts you forward. From these, it assembles a master trip itinerary you can access from anywhere. Free.
EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS Lonely Planet has created the perfect pairing of inspiration and information. First, flip through the colorful, photo-heavy 1000 Ultimate Experiences iPad app for thumbnail takes on some of the world's most intriguing destinations. Then use the brand's dedicated guides (for nearly 58 cities) to hunt for specifics, like how to get a bus pass for the MUNI in San Francisco or when to catch the ferry for a visit to Alcatraz. 1000 Ultimate Experiences $4, San Francisco travel guide free, other city guides $6.
SCORE A CHEAP ROOM If landing a rock-bottom rate ranks higher than remaining in complete control over where you stay, roll the dice with Priceline's Hotel Negotiator app. You choose a preferred star rating and an ideal price (recent successful bids in the area are listed as a guide), and the tool will lock in a room that meets your criteria. Bonus: The app uses GPS, which is priceless for lining up convenient last-minute accommodations for unexpected overnighters. Free.
GET A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW You've probably already used Google Earth's satellite images to zoom in on your childhood home or your current residence—in almost scary detail—but the intuitive app also serves as an easy way to suss out a hotel's rooftop pool deck or the size and location of various parking lots at a big museum or other attraction. Free.
MAKE THE MOST OF A LAYOVER Consider it Yelp for airports. GateGuru's app contains searchable directories for 92 U.S. airports and more than a dozen international hubs. They take the guesswork out of finding an ATM, a decent cup of coffee, or a 10-minute massage station—wherever you happen to be delayed. Some locations even have user reviews, rankings, and photos. Free.
CRAFT A CONTINGENCY PLAN For the frequent flier who has no time for snafus, FlightTrack Pro is an essential aid. In addition to storing and tracking your flights, it pulls vital info like gate changes and weather reports for 5,000 airports and 1,400 airlines. If your flight is canceled or delayed, it's easy to search for other connections while you're standing in line for the gate agent, or even from 30,000 feet—you can access the app's route-maps feature offline when you're in the air. $10.
KILL TIME IN THE TERMINAL First, give yourself some elbow room. Then fire up Scoops, a highly addictive game even a technophobe could master. Your only goal is to position a virtual ice cream cone under colorful scoops that fall from the sky, using the phone's motion-sensitive accelerometer to direct the cone with a tilt of the wrist. Free.
KILL TIME ON THE FLIGHT The perfect nervous-passenger distraction, Flight Control HD for iPad gives folks something to focus on while surviving a long-haul flight: an air-traffic-control strategy game that lets you manage planes' flight patterns by dragging them along the touch screen. If only getting to your real-world destination were so easy. $5.
ENTERTAIN THE KIDS IN THE BACKSEAT Dr. Seuss goes digital with iPhone- and iPad-ready versions of his best-selling stories. Let The Lorax app be your on-the-road babysitter: It reads the story aloud, and when you tap an illustration, the machine will speak its name ("Trees." "Grass." "Pond."). $4.
On the ground
LOOK LIKE A LOCAL Because some things just require visuals, Howcast's user-generated video tutorials cover everything from taxi strategies in New York City to the proper consumption of soba in Japan to nude-beach etiquette. (Then again, maybe some things don't belong in a video.) The short clips load quickly and particularly shine on the larger-format iPad. Free.