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6 Essential Apps for Budget Travelers

By Alex Howard, Lonely Planet Writer
January 12, 2022
A smiling woman using her smartphone.
Dan Grytsku/Dreamstime
With these apps on your smartphone, you’ll save time, money, and hassle when you travel.

Whether it’s spending hours pouring over airfare, sleeping in noisy hostels or battling through the red-eye squished in coach, traveling on a budget can feel like a hustle. Thankfully there are a handful of travel apps that can help save a few bucks on your dream trip – and help you plan for your next one. These are six of our favorite apps for budget travel.

1. Tripcoin

The best way to save on travel is to know where your money is going. Tripcoin is an expense-tracking app that works offline, which is great for international travelers who aren’t buying a local SIM card. A geo-location feature breaks expenses down by country, and a currency converter automatically converts new expenses into your home currency. Helpful graphs also outline daily expenditures, and you can create unlimited trips to track how much each jaunt costs.

2. Skiplagged

Skiplagged capitalizes on a loophole airlines hate: hidden-city ticketing. It works like this: sometimes booking a flight beyond your intended destination is cheaper than simply booking a nonstop flight. For example, say you want to fly from San Francisco to Washington, DC. A regular round-trip ticket would cost $340, but a route from San Francisco to New York, with a layover in DC, is $140. You simply walk off the plane in DC. Airlines have gone to great lengths to put a stop to it (United sued Skiplagged in 2018, and lost). Skiplagged advises not tying any purchases to frequent flier accounts, as airlines have been known to invalidate air miles you’ve accrued with them.

3. Splitwise

If you’re traveling with friends, Splitwise can help keep track of who owes what to whom. The app keeps a running total of IOUs, so everyone gets paid back at once, rather in than a bunch of smaller transactions. Automatic email reminders keep the misers in check, and integration with PayPal and Venmo (US only) makes settling up friendly debts a breeze.

4. Hopper

There are several apps that analyze historical airfare data to determine whether it’s the right time to buy your airfare, but few of them are as cleanly presented and feature-packed as Hopper. Features like notifications when the airfare for a specific route drops, price prediction advice that gives you an idea when it's the right time to buy, and an option for flexible dates give Hopper a leg up on airfare deals. Put in your home city and destination and Hopper displays a calendar for the year ahead, with color-coded dates indicating when prices should be at their lowest.

5. HotelTonight

HotelTonight allows travelers to arrange last-minute accommodations, often at prices lower than if they’d booked in advance. These last-minute reservations often have deep discounts so hotels can increase occupancy on rooms they weren't able to book in advance. A ‘Daily Deal’ feature also unlocks a reduced-priced hotel that must be booked within 15 minutes. If you don’t mind waiting until the day before or day of to book your hotel, this app can save bundles on accommodation.

6. AirHelp

Lost luggage and delayed or canceled flights can be a costly experience, but many travelers are eligible for compensation when something goes wrong. Often, however, there are dozens of hoops to jump through – forms to fill out, phone numbers to call and lines to wait in. AirHelptakes care of most of the process: you add your trip details, AirHelp determines if the airline owes you money, and then they send you the money. The catch: AirHelp takes a cut of the compensation as the price for convenience.

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Travel Tips

Free Music in NYC: Where to Find Rock, Jazz, Opera, and More All Summer Long

Between the sweltering subway stations and the above-ground heat and humidity, New York can be brutal during the dog days of summer. But for those who choose to stick it out in the city instead of escaping to the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore, there are rewards to be had. Each year, from early June to late September, an array of artists take to the stage in al fresco venues across the five boroughs –and you can catch most of them for free. Spanning diverse genres (think: everything from opera to afrobeat) and drawing capacity crowds, the city’s outdoor program is one of the summer’s highlights. Mark your calendars: these are the shows you won’t want to miss. SummerStage in Central Park and Beyond With almost a hundred performances in 18 parks around town, the City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage is perhaps the best-known fest, and thanks to a newly renovated stage and sound system for 2019, its flagship Central Park venue is ready to rock. For the first time ever, this year’s slate of performers is evenly split along gender lines. It kicked off with pop-soul singer Emily King on June 1 and continues through September 24, when the B-52s close out the season with a ticketed benefit show. In between, New Orleans rapper Big Freedia gets her bounce on, New York post-punk rockers Parquet Courts bring the noise, and the Met Opera recital series packs the house. (The opera has dates in each borough, though, so if you miss it in Manhattan, there are plenty of additional options.) Other Central Park highlights include jazz singer Corinne Bailey Rae and indie favorites Alvvays, the Courtneys, Japanese Breakfast, and Hatchie, but you can also see the Mountain Goats at East River Park and the Wailers with Junior Julian Marvin at Marcus Garvey Park. And cool cats take note: The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival takes over Marcus Garvey and Tompkins Square in late August. Free Music in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn At Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Sheila E. headlines the Only in Queens Festival (also part of SummerStage), while flamenco dance company A Palo Seco performs at Queensbridge Park and calypso legend Mighty Sparrow plays Springfield Park. Up in the Bronx, Slick Rick hits Soundview Park and salsa star Ray de la Paz takes over Crotona Park. Over in Staten Island, Lisa Lisa and Jody Watley steal the spotlight at Corporal Thompson Park. In Brooklyn, Fela! The Concert travels to Coney Island’s Ford Amphitheater, Black Moon and Smif-n-Wessun host the Duck Down BBQ at Betsy Head Park, and funk collective Everyday People storms the stage at Herbert von King Park. Celebrate Brooklyn The jewel in Brooklyn’s park system is Prospect Park—just like Central Park, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and it has the summer schedule to match its rival across the river. Like SummerStage, BRIC Arts Media’s Celebrate Brooklyn offers a mix of paid and free shows, with the one and only Patti LaBelle opening the season, gratis, on June 4. NPR Tiny Desk Concert winners Tank and the Bangas play a few weeks later, followed by a Calexico/Iron & Wine joint ticket; Nilüfer Yanya opens for Broken Social Scene, and Liz Phair headlines with some help from Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. World music star Salif Keita hits the bandshell in July, and for the Latin Alternative Music Conference, a selection of talented artists command the stage: Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, rock en español stalwarts Enjambre, and Latin indie folkster El David Aguilar. Rounding out the bill are Americana trio I’m With Her, a dance performance choreographed by French-Algerian maestro Hervé Koubi, a screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as part of the first-ever Lou Reed Tai Chi Day, and classical outfit Alloy Orchestra providing the soundtrack to a 1925 German silent film called Varieté. (Come early to catch Lava, the “feminist acrobatic modern dance troupe” providing the opening entertainment.) And finally, Bogotá-based cumbia stars Bomba Estéreo see out the season in style, bringing the party to wrap things up at summer’s end. For full lineups of free music in all of NYC's five boroughs, visit City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage and BRIC Arts Media’s Celebrate Brooklyn.

Travel Tips

5 Big "Don'ts" for Nature-Loving Travelers

While "leave no trace" is a familiar refrain to most people who enjoy time outdoors, the truth is that many, even nature lovers with good intentions, sometimes leave their mark in ways that can damage the natural surrounds. There are many more ways to impact the environment than just neglecting to pick up your trash. To provide guidance, the Boulder-based Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, has developed the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace (lnt.org/why/7-principles/) to help people minimize their footprints while enjoying the outdoors. As the following five important "don'ts" illustrate, even the most idealistic travelers can run afoul of the center’s principles and leave an unwanted impact in ways that are not as immediately noticeable as a pile of trash. 1. Don't Geotag Photos on Social Media These days, an excursion into nature hardly feels complete until you take some pictures and post them on social media. While snapping shots of beautiful natural settings is harmless, pictures that include a geotag indicating the exact locations create what some call a “digital trace,” which can cause increased foot traffic to areas not equipped to handle it. Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend is a classic example of a once moderately trafficked spot that exploded in popularity due to geotagging on Instagram. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area recently implemented visitor fees and restricted visitation numbers to curb the problem. In response to the growing over-trafficking issue, Leave No Trace created a set of social media guidelines (lnt.org/new-social-media-guidance/) that suggest, for instance, tagging photos with a state or region rather than a specific location. And better yet: post images that demonstrate good Leave No Trace principles. 2. Don't Stack Rocks in the Name of Art The temptation to create an artful tower of carefully balanced rocks is strong when you’re sitting next to a river full of smooth, flat stones. Resist this temptation. Rock stacks, also called cairns, have long been used by land managers to mark trails, but over the past several decades, hikers’ random rock towers near rivers and streams have piled up. Not only can creating your own rock art cause confusion and get people lost, but moving rocks around can disrupt the surrounding ecology. Every river rock contains a mini eco-system of plant life and micro-organisms on its surface, and a variety of insects, fish, salamanders, crawfish, and macroinvertbrae live and lay their eggs under and among these rocks. Moving them exposes the wildlife to predators and the sun, and causes sand and silt around the displaced rocks to erode. The simplest solution to this issue is to savor time spent next to water in other ways – sketching, journaling, and just relaxing. If you simply can’t fight the urge to stack rocks, Leave No Trace suggests using only stones that are already loose of sand, silt, or soil. Also, only build on hard, durable surfaces. Once your stack is complete, snap a picture, and then return the rocks to their original spot. 3. Don't Feed Wild Animals When you love animals, it’s hard to resist the urge to toss a few food scraps to a cute chipmunk, a gentle deer, or a charming bird. But feeding human food to animals is never a good idea, and actually harms those critters we claim to love. Human food does not contain the nutrients that wild animals need, and eating it not only damages their health but also alters their natural behavior. Instead of hunting and foraging for food in the wild, human-fed animals will show up in places where humans gather, increasing their risk of being killed by a car, and becoming a hazard to humans and pets. While intentionally feeding wild animals is a big no-no, it’s important to remember that food scraps unintentionally left in the wild are also harmful. Always store food securely and collect and remove all trash--even those biodegradable apple cores and baby carrots. Also, try to eat over a plastic bag or bandana to catch crumbs so they don’t scatter around the area. 4. Don't Forget to Help Your Dog Leave No Trace Dogs make great outdoor companions, but it’s important to remember that they can damage protected outdoor spaces just as easily humans. Off-leash dogs can disturb sensitive wildlife habitats like nesting areas and they’re more likely to chase and harm wild animals. In fact, a 2009 Australian study found that the only thing that caused more disruption than off-leash dogs was low-flying jet aircrafts. Dog owners can help their furry friends be good outdoor citizens by respecting dog restrictions in conservation areas and following leash regulations in places that allow dogs. The good news is that there are plenty public lands in the U.S. that allow dogs. And while this should go without saying, always pick up after your dog. Dog waste doesn’t just smell bad and potentially carry diseases, it also contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that create favorable conditions for harmful algae to bloom and invasive weeds to grow. Putting dog poop into a plastic bag and leaving it beside the trail to collect on the way back is not a viable solution. Leave No Trace suggests investing in a dog backpack to transport the waste. Or try to bring a canister to carry bags away for proper disposal. 5. Don't Improperly Dispose of Human Waste When you gotta go, you gotta go, even if there’s no latrine in sight. There is a right and wrong way to poop in the woods, and unfortunately improperly placed human feces is a growing problem in outdoor recreational areas. To avoid pollution of water sources and decrease the likelihood of others stumbling upon your waste in the wild, Leave No Trace suggests hikers and campers create a “cat hole” in a spot that is at least 200 feet--about 70 steps--away from water, trails, and campsites. The hole should be at least six inches deep and four inches wide. (Packing a small trowel can help with this task). When finished, cover the hole with the original soil and then disguise it with some leaves or rocks. Using natural materials such as leaves or snow for wiping is ideal, but a small amount of plain, white non-perfumed toilet paper is okay if buried in the cat hole. Of course, the human waste option with the least impact is to pack it out. Some popular high-elevation and backcountry sites such as Denali and the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park already require visitors to pack out their own waste, but it is worth considering any time you are hiking in freezing conditions or canyon environment or whenever you are near a body of water. Many people choose a handy W.A.G bag, a double-bag kit which includes waste treatment powder and an outer zip-closing bag.

Travel Tips

Getaround Makes the Car Rental Experience Personal

It’s happened to the best of us: your flight was delayed, you’re landing in a city you’ve never traveled to before, the kids (and you!) are cranky, and you just want to get to your hotel. But you’re thinking about the last time you rented a car: it took 20 minutes to get to the rental depot and another 40 minutes before you turned the key and pulled out. But you need a car for the weekend. Enter: Getaround (getaround.com). The company provides a nifty service that blends the Airbnb sharing model with the accessibility factor that defines bikeshare program. So grab a cab or the train from the airport, check into your, shower, and figure out the car thing later. How It Works Getaround basically provides a way to rent a car from someone in the vicinity. Like all sharing platforms, it starts with the app. Once you download it, the company vets you, verifying your credit card and Department of Motor Vehicles record. As soon as you’re cleared, you have the capability to unlock and start the vehicle you book, thanks to technology the company developed and patented. The car is fully connected, so you can use the app to identify where it’s parked, unlock the door, and start the car. At the same time, the car owner can use the app to see the precise location of his vehicle. Getaround aims to make errands or day trips a breeze. You can rent a car--the style of your choice--by the day or by the hour, which is the key feature that differentiates the program from traditional car rentals. There’s $1 million in insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance and customer service. How It Started Getaround launched in 2011 and is available in 300 cities in the U.S. and Europe today. Founder and CEO Sam Zaid developed the idea as talk about self-driving cars became more and more of a widespread discussion. “We were looking at the future of transportation and imagining if all the cars on the road today were fully connected and maybe even self-driving or partially self-driving," said Zaid. "Also, think about it: if you owned car, would you park it for 23 hours a day? Or would you let friend or family member use it? If you can imagine a world where your car is connected and it’s easy to move around, the idea of sharing cars isn’t that crazy.” Given how so many other industries are moving towards a sharing model, it makes sense that it was only a matter of time until driving services evolve even beyond ride-hailing apps. “We feel that transportation is moving away from ownership to a shared model. What we have today is not sustainable,” said Zaid, noting that there are 250 million cars in the United States; they sit in parking spaces and garages for a total of six billion hours each day. “If we’re more efficient with cars, it could solve a lot of problems.” A Positive Environmental Impact According to independent studies by the University of California Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center, every shared car removes 10 cars from the road, which translates into 100,000 pounds of carbon pollution. The studies also say that 1,000 shared cars can offset up to 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide. In addition to addressing solutions to pollution, Getaround is proving to be in sync with the lifestyle of millennials. According to studies conducted by the company, 51% of millennials believe car-sharing is better, compared to car renting, at providing opportunities to try something new or different. Of people who car-share, 91% say that the service, along with ride-sharing and public transit, allow them to live completely car-free lives.

Travel Tips

Vacation Budget Blunders: 8 Ways Travelers Throw Money Away

Your vacation budget—like any good financial plan—should reflect your priorities and your aspirations. That said, keeping a lid on your travel expenses can be more easily said than done. The good news is: Planning an affordable trip on a budget doesn't require financial wizardry. The first step is to understand the common pitfalls that can waste your hard-earned (and hard-saved) vacation dollars. Here, the eight biggest mistakes travelers make when planning a trip budget—and, most importantly, how not to make them ever again. Mistake No. 1: Not Establishing Clear Priorities Before you begin building a budget, you need to identify what aspects of your vacation are most important to you and your traveling companions so that you can allocate funds appropriately. To simplify that inherently subjective process into something highly actionable—and, we hope, even fun and inspirational)—start by separating your “must-haves” from your “wants." For example, is staying at a 5-star resort a must-have for you? Would flying coach instead of something tonier be a deal breaker for your or your friends or family? Just because you’re visiting, say, Southern California, is it really essential to your experience that you pony up for a pricey rented convertible? Mistake No. 2: Not Reviewing Your Finances Before you even start establishing a travel budget, you’ll want to assess how much you can realistically afford to spend on your vacation. This requires taking a close look at your finances, including your savings and credit card debt. If you don’t have enough cash squirreled away, you may want to adjust your priorities (in other words, return to No. 1, above), or push back your travel dates to give yourself time to save up. Having trouble saving? Try budgeting software such as Mint, a free online tool that not only shows you what you’re spending each month but also suggests ways to trim your expenses. Month after month, incremental savings can add up to money for gelato, restaurant meals, and souvenirs, and maybe even plane fare and hotel rooms. Mistake No. 3: Not Using a Spreadsheet Sure, just hearing the word spreadsheet may slap a great big whomp-whomp on your trip-planning process. But compiling all of your travel costs in one place will help you figure out roughly how much money you’ll have to spend on your vacation—and the best way to do this is, indeed, to use a spreadsheet. There are a number of travel-budgeting spreadsheets that are available online for free. Our favorite is thiseasy-to-use template from Vertex42.com. You simply plug in a quantity and unit cost for each item; for lodging you can enter the number of nights you’ll be staying and the cost per night, and the worksheet will calculate the total costs for you. As you enter your travel costs into the worksheet, the handy pie chart will show you exactly where your money is going based on spending categories (e.g., hotels, meals, flights). It’s that easy. Mistake No. 4: Overlooking the Smaller Expenses Though lodging, food, and airfare tend to be the three largest travel expenses, there are a number of smaller travel costs that are worth factoring into your overall budget—they have a way of sneaking up on you if you’re not paying attention. Some of the most common expenses people forget are: Airport parking Travel insurance Gas Gifts Souvenirs Cell phone fees, such as data roaming charges when traveling abroad Visa costs Foreign transaction fees on your credit card (see more about this below)Vaccinations Gear (e.g., snow pants, ski masks) Toiletries Taxis and ride-sharing services Mistake No. 5: Not Factoring in the Exchange Rate Researching your destination’s exchange rate might seem like an obvious step, yet some travelers forget to do it before departing for an overseas trip. Before you leave home, check exchange rates online. One way to save money is by obtaining currency from your bank or a currency exchange instead of waiting until you arrive at your destination, because airport kiosks, hotel desks, street vendors, and shops make extra money by charging an undesirable rate of exchange. Mistake No. 6: Not Giving Yourself a Buffer While a degree of discipline is crucial, you also want to give yourself a little flexibility. Take a cue from any responsible CFO and set aside a portion of your funds—about 10 percent of your total budget—to allow for the unexpected. On vacation, that can mean the occasional splurge or any unplanned or emergency expenses, such as a flat tire (road trips don’t always go as planned!) or medical care. Label this as “miscellaneous” on your spreadsheet. Mistake No. 7: Forgetting About Foreign Transaction Fees Some credit cards charge up to a 3 percent fee on foreign transactions, which is why we recommend that international travelers apply for a credit with no foreign transaction fees, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. One caveat about credit cards: There are some destinations, such as Cuba, that do not honor U.S.-based bank or credit cards at all—meaning you’ll have to arrive with cash. Mistake No. 8: Not Understanding Hotel Fees Last year, U.S. hotels collected a record-high $2.93 billion in fees, according to research by Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. Unfortunately for travelers, some hotel fees are buried in lengthy disclosure statements or tucked into bill summaries at checkout. But by knowing in advance what these hidden hotel fees are—and how much they cost on average—you’ll be able to set a more accurate budget. What hotel fees should you watch out for? Check out our article “Beware of These Hidden Hotel Fees.” Some hidden fees can be quite expensive. Daily resort fees, for instance, can cost up to $50 per night, and they typically appear only after you have selected a room and are about to pay for the reservation, warns Randy Greencorn, co-founder of ResortFeeChecker.com, an online tool that, as its URL suggests, allows users to look up resort fees at more than 2,000 properties around the world. TALK TO US: How has a travel budget helped you save money for your trip priorities? We’d love to hear your tips—or blunders!—in the comments below.For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.