The Wanderland Essential Holiday Travel Apps

This post was brought to you by Avis. As always, all ideas and opinions are my own.


I’m not embarrassed to admit I consider my iPhone as essential a travel necessity as my passport. Which is kind of entertaining considering I was one of the last people on earth to release their iron-clad grip on the Blackberry and make my way over to the Apple side, but I guess you could say we are making up for lost time.

As a full blown app-oholic, I’m always looking for new ways to be wowed by game-changing travel apps. Heading out on the road this holiday season? Here are a few of my favorites.

Essential Apps

1. The Transportation Treat: Avis Now

Already dreading the lines at the car rental counters this holiday season? Download the new Avis Now app.

This new app allows you to go through the entire rental car experience without ever taking your eyes off your iPhone – until you sit in the driver’s seat, that is. You can make a reservation, choose an exact car using real-time availability, and then use your phone to guide you to the particular parking spot and even unlock vehicles with connected capabilities. Same deal on the way back in. You can return your car with a few phone taps, and don’t have to interact with a representative whatsoever — unless you wish to. It’s the introverted automobile lover’s dream!

Having had a few fairly stressful car rental experiences recently in the UK and in Hawaii, I only wish I could go back in time and have avoided all drama with this brilliant time-and-hassle-saver of an app.

2. The Airport Must Have: Gate Guru

Is there anything worse than half-heartedly settling for a mid-terminal Sbarros only to learn that there was a Chipotle just a few gates away? Never feel that pain again with the download of Gate Guru, which I use almost exclusively to check out airport dining options, filtered by gate and terminal. While it’s not always reliable internationally, it’s a must have for domestic travel in the US.

Runner up: For the most part, I’ve been flying long enough to know what seat I want – aisle for a short daytime flight when I plan to be working and guzzling water and tea to stay awake, and window for overnight flights when I want to sleep against the window. But occasionally I turn to Gate Guru’s sister app, Seat Guru, for a few more details. Seat Guru will tell you what kind of plug situation a seat has (full outlet vs. USB vs. fend for yourself), if reclining is blocked by an exit row or bathroom, and any other perks or pains you need to know about for those seriously long haul stretches. To be honest I find the desktop version of Seat Guru to be much more user-friendly than the app itself, but I still have it downloaded just in case of on-the-go emergencies.

3. The Time Killer: Been

Flight delays, long bus rides, endless lines at the train ticket counter. There’s no avoiding it – travel involves finding a way to entertain yourself through lots of long boring stretches. Enter Been, a deliciously indulgent app in which you can create a 3D map of your global and US travels. I was humbled by the calculation that I’ve hit up just 15% of the world – lots still to go! – but was pretty chuffed with reaching 42% of the states in my home country. This is basically the digital version of the scratch off map I have in my childhood bedroom… and I can’t wait to get more color on both.

Runner up: Next Episode. Fellow TV junkies, gather round – I got this tip from an in-the-know reader when I confessed I had a hard time keeping track of my series. If you’re marathoning your way through Bloodline en route to Florida, download this app and never lose track of what episode you’re on ever again!

Been App

Been App

4. The Accommodation Star: Overnight

I don’t have many accommodation booking apps on my iPhone – frankly, that’s the kind of travel detail that I usually take care of ahead of time on my laptop. However, spontaneous trips do happen, and when they do, Overnight has got your back.

What’s Overnight, you ask? I like to describe it as the love child of Airbnb and HotelTonight; an on-demand accommodation app that allows you to find chic and stylish rooms and apartments available around you that very evening. Perfect for everything from nightmare travel days when you’re stranded in the wrong city to impulse getaways when you’re suddenly in the right one.

5. The Budget Big-Wig: Splitwise

Long before Splitwise existed, long before an iPhone was even a twinkle in my eye, I basically hobbled together an analog version of Splitwise on the back of an envelope for every trip I went on… quaint as that was I’m feeling pretty darn grateful for the app these days.

Splitwise allows you to create trips with multiple friends, family members or whoever and input what each person has spent, and who the expense should be split between. At the end, it does all the math for you and spits out who owes who what – and is even connected to Venmo so you can settle up with the swipe of a screen. Splitting the check – or hotel bill, or flights — has never been easier.

Runner Up: I’ve raved plenty about Trail Wallet around these parts – after experimenting with several travel budget-tracking apps, this one is my absolute favorite for juggling multiple currencies and tracking cash transactions. Worried about over-spending on Christmas gifts or going over budget for your big New Year’s trip to Mexico? Create a custom category and you’ll never again wonder what happened to all those pesos you withdrew.

Splitwise App

Splitwise App

6. The Vacation Photo Editor: Snapseed

Don’t you dare post that sunset photo with a crooked horizon line (unless it’s intentional of course, in which points for artsy effort). I’ve never met an iPhone pic that couldn’t be gussied up with Snapseed. Lighten, brighten, crop, remove red eyes and more with a few finger swipes – it’s basically Photoshop for smartphones.

Runners Up: Typic and TimerCam. If you want to add fun text and quotes to your photos, try Typic, which I’ve found to have an impressive range of fonts and a wide editing ability. Flying solo this season? Grab great shots and wide-range selfies with TimerCam, which works exactly like a timer would on a traditional camera.

Snapseed App

Considering how many of these apps came as suggestions from friends, family and my travel community in the first place, I can’t wait to hear what you guys are going to recommend in the comments!

What are your personal essential holiday travel apps?