There is no question that smartphone and tablet apps can improve your travel experience — whether it's for business or pleasure — by helping to inspire, plan, organize and save time and money. The travel apps below are either new, recently launched or have made significant improvements in the last year.
AFAR Media: AFAR Media (you might have heard of its AFAR travel magazine) has released a stunning travel app by the same name. Find guides, highlights and individual travel hot spots in more than 7,000 cities and towns in 239 countries that will appeal to culture seekers, foodies and wanderers alike. Make your own lists of to-dos or discover refreshing options near your location. Addicting. Available on iOS. Free.
Airport Transit Guide: The ultimate guide to ground transportation at 470 airports around the globe was made available to Android and
Camera Awesome: The long-hoped-for Android version has finally arrived. From the makers of SmugMug, the photo backup service, this app allows you to take faster, properly exposed pictures. Start living beyond your smartphone's default camera. Also allows for sharing on Facebook, Twitter,
Flight+: Your one-stop shop for airline, airport and flight info. Get real-time updates for every flight in every airport in the world. That's 16,000 airports. Wild, eh? The flight board is mesmerizing, with rotating red ink that reports individual flight delays you can check before heading out the door. You can also sync it to your TripIt account and get push notifications for gate, terminal, flight status changes and more. Available on iOS. $3.99.
Grid: A visual organizer that helps you not only create a trip planner but also craft post-trip travelogs with your photos and notes. That's right, a fun way to journal before, during and after your trip. Available on iOS. Free.
HotelTonight: The wildly popular same-day hotel booking app had a big year. It grew from eight countries and 77 destinations to 17 countries and more than 250 destinations, as well as increased its hotel partners to more than 5,000 worldwide. You now can book your hotel room earlier (starting at 9 a.m.), use the Snapchat feature to take hotel photos and share with the HotelTonight community. And you can access top luxury suites around the globe with the "HighRoller" feature. Available on iOS and Android. Free.
JetPacCityGuides: A quick way to find destinations such as "10 Best View Spots," "10 Bars Women Love," "10 Most Photographed Restaurants" and "7 Hipster Hangouts." The app analyzes Instagram photos to deliver the most popular hangouts. Totally different from a normal travel guide, and it's one that's perfect for travelers who don't plan ahead or who have time to hit only a few spots. Available on iOS. Free.
JetRadar: Who doesn't want a cheaper flight? This search engine finds and compares airfares of 728 airlines across five booking systems (Airtickets.com,
LoungeBuddy: Get access requirements and info for more than 1,200 lounges in 200 of the world's busiest airports. The best part? You can check out photos of the lounges and filter by amenities before heading over. Available on iOS. Free.
Lyft: Say hello to drivers — background-checked and personality screened — willing to give you a ride in 19 U.S. cities. It's called on-demand ride sharing. All you have to do is log in through Facebook, set your pickup location and request a "lyft," then make a donation to your driver and rate him or her. This year it revamped the rating system so you can give detailed feedback on your drivers, and it added multiple credit card options. Available on iOS and Android. Free.
National Geographic City Guides: Its free guides to New York, London, Paris and Rome are filled with stunning photography, essential info and plenty of fun facts. Pay the $4.99 and the app can create and share custom itineraries, map walking routes chosen by National Geographic editors, list not-to-be missed sites and more. Access to its "Secrets" is worth it. Available for iOS. Free; $4.99 each or $12.99 for all four.
Peek Tours and Activities: Say no to boredom. Take the Peek travel personality quiz (don't worry — it's easy) and select one attractive travel photo over another. Then find activities near your location or, if you're planning ahead, in 17 U.S. cities, London and Paris. Expect a visually pleasing grid of photos that beckon with themes such as day trips, food tours, sightseeing, adventures, under $50, walking tours, romantic, what to do with groups and more. Expect 15 more cities to be added this year. Available on iOS. Free.
Rove: This mind-boggling app tracks your movement by GPS and creates an itinerary and map of where you've been and the method of transportation you used. Make sure to give it access to your camera roll if you want it to include photos. Fine-tune your stops in the edit function and add photos and notes to your transit journal. Buy the Pro version ($1.99) if you want to export it as an Excel doc — used mostly for work-related projects to track time you've spent somewhere. Available on iOS. Free or $1.99 for Pro.
Spin: Just what the doctor ordered for homesickness. This app lets you video chat with up to nine people. There are even sounds and images you can add. Downside? It wasn't that easy for me to figure out on my own. I had to take the video tours in the "Spin Tips" section and practice a few times before I got the hang of it. If you plan on using it while abroad, be sure to download it from U.S. iTunes store before you go. Available for iPhone and
DuoLingo: The cheapest language class you'll ever take. What I love about DuoLingo are the multifaceted ways to learn. Take bite-sized quizzes that teach you how to read, pronounce and write the language you're learning. The levels are short, so the user doesn't get intimidated or lose interest. Current courses in Spanish, English, French, German, Portuguese and Italian. Available for iOS and Android. Free.
Waze: The single most important app for road trips or local commutes. A large and loyal community shares info that includes road hazards and police car sightings. But the feature you won't want to live without is the alternate route option. Waze calculates which routes will get you there the fastest. Fantastic because you might leave before knowing there was a pileup on your route. This year also brought a new feature: comedian Kevin Hart "riding along" with you and commenting on your turn-by-turn directions. Turn it off when you don't need it because it eats battery juice rather quickly. Available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Free.