Need to book a hotel at the last minute? Want to find cheap gas?
Just in time for the holiday travel season, we thought we’d recommend some apps that could make your trip — whether it’s by plane, train, car or bike — a little less stressful. We consulted with travel experts, including the folks at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and our own app expert, Hayley Tsukayama (be sure to catch her app recommendations each Sunday in The Washington Post’s Business section). Thanks, too, to Aimee Custis, communications director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
We’ve tried to focus on free apps, organized by mode of travel. If there are apps out there that you love, please feel free to share them with us.
(Note: Unless otherwise noted, all apps listed are available for iOS and Android devices.)
Travelers will fill the nation’s highways this holiday season. According to AAA, 86 million people are expected to drive to their holiday destination.
Headed to see relatives? RoadNinja could make that trip a little easier (and save you some money). RoadNinja tracks your location and lets you know the price of gas at stations at upcoming exits. It also lets you know what’s at exits in the opposite direction just in case gas is cheaper going that way. The app also will tell you which restaurants, shops and other attractions are just down the road.
If your travels take you through Virginia, the Virginia Department of Transportation has its VDOT 511 app. When you switch on this app, the first thing you’ll see is the following warning: “DO NOT USE THIS APP WHILE DRIVING.” It’s a straightforward app, without a lot of fancy doodads or graphics. It gives you travel times for the state’s major routes tied to your current location. The “Basic map” tab will show you a color-coded map that helps spot delays. There’s also a link to VDOT Twitter messages grouped by region.
If your travels take you beyond Virginia, think about downloading the INRIX app, which offers just about everything a commuter or road warrior might want. There’s traffic news and a traffic map. When I set my location, I also got screenshots from VDOT’s traffic cameras. With one click, you can text or e-mail your arrival time to family and friends. The app will note construction or congestion with small icons along your planned route and places a little checkered flag icon at your destination.
If you’re big-city bound, you may need to find a place to park once you arrive.
SpotHero is a parking app that allows you to find, reserve and pay for available spaces at nearby lots. Enter the time and date you need parking and the interface will show you a map of available garages and lots, complete with the cost for the time period selected. It will give you a description of the garage or lot complete with photo and directions for where to enter. It also will tell you how far the garage is from your destination. (In some cases you’ll need to print your reservation and hand it to the valet.) SpotHero is available in Washington, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Newark and New York City.
Along those same lines, ParkWhiz helps you find available spaces — in some cases with a discount — and reserve and pay for them online. It offers you a description of the lot and a handy Google map of the location. We found it worked on garages in Washington and around the region, in such towns as Rockville and Ballston.
According to AAA, about 5.5 million holiday travelers will be flying to their destination. Frequent fliers recommend downloading the app for the airline that you’re using.
There are lots of apps that will help you track your flights, but here are two recommended by our frequent fliers:
The FlightAware app will allow you to track your flight (or that of your loved one). You can check individual airports for delays. A map will show you the flights arriving and departing into the airport of your choice. As a reporter who writes about airports, the FlightAware Web site is indispensable.
The free version of Flight Tracker operates much the same as FlightAware. Input your flight information and it will tell you what type of aircraft you’ll be flying, advise you of any delays and tell you the gate from which you’ll be departing. It also gives you a weather forecast for your destination. A minor quibble: I wish the app had the same pull-down menu of airlines that FlightAware offers.
If you get stuck or perhaps you’re looking for an escape from all that family togetherness, Hotel Tonight offers same-night reservations of hotels close to where you are. We love the ranking system, which includes categories such as “luxe,” “solid,” “basic” and “hip.” The gold bed next to your selection is the “high roller” category.
Amtrak ’s mobile app offers all the basics: It will allow you to book tickets and check schedules and train status. The welcome screen has a lovely shot of a train against a scenic background. (A second app offers Amtrak’s glossy on-train magazine, Arrive). It gets pretty good reviews from users, though one said he wished service alerts were available directly from the app, noting that it’s not always convenient to go to the Web site.
Part of traveling is knowing what the weather will be at your destination. Some folks are perfectly happy with the weather app that’s packaged with their phone, but many want a bit more.
The newest AccuWeather app version offers some fresh features, including forecasts that refresh every five minutes and options that allow you to get more detail. You can easily add cities by name or by Zip code. A fun feature takes the forecast and offers advice on whether it’s good weather for, say, a barbecue or a trip to the beach. The health tab ranks the risk for particular medical conditions, such as the flu or migraines. The app also has a video and news feed.
Another favorite among weather watchers is WeatherBug . There’s a lot to like here, with all of the weather data plus the chance to share your weather photos with others. The app also features Spark, an exclusive feature that will tell you about potential lightning activity in your area. There’s also a pollen counter and footage from weather cameras in your area.