June/July 2009
The Way We Move: Top 20 iPhone Travel Apps
Forget Super Monkey Ball. New iPhone travel apps are changing how we interact with the world.
Text by Steve Casimiro

It's March in Saigon and I’m staring up at a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh—the fourth of the morning—when I realize I know almost nothing about him. But I don’t reach for my guidebook. Instead I pull out my iPhone, tap on an app called Air Sharing, and within seconds I’m scrolling through dozens of Wikipedia pages, photos, and PDFs I’d saved for precisely this moment. Like that, I’m an Uncle Ho expert.

In the short year since the opening of the Apple App Store, iPhone applications have already begun to transform travel. No, I’m not talking about More Cowbell. I’m talking about location-aware apps, shareware apps, and just plain good idea apps. Want the best pho in Saigon? Just ask Google Mobile. Looking for the coolest attractions nearby? HearPlanet will find them—then read their Wikipedia entries out loud. And that’s just the beginning. According to tech analyst Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies, which counsels corporations like Microsoft and Philips on future technology, GPS-enabled apps will be fully personalized within the next 18 months. Imagine landing in Buenos Aires only to have an app sort through your most played songs, then search out upcoming concerts you might like. So with more than 2,000 travel apps and dozens being added every week, where do you begin? With the 20 best, of course.

Do you have a favorite iPhone travel app? Is there a new travel app that we should know about? Let us know your thoughts in the commenting area below.

Follow National Geographic ADVENTURE on Facebook and Twitter!

1. Next Flight
Got bumped? Leaving early? Next Flight tracks scheduled departures from more than 4,200 airports and 1,100 airlines. It sounds overwhelming, but you can filter by carrier. $2.99

2. UrbanSpoon
Urbanspoon is the gold standard in the U.S., London, Melbourne, and Sydney: Shake your phone, watch the dials spin like an old-school slot machine, and up comes the best guide to local restaurants yet. Free

3. HearPlanet
Like having a tour guide in your pocket, HearPlanet tells you what attractions are nearby and then plays the Wikipedia description aloud. $5.99

4. Air Sharing
Don’t waste time (and money) downloading docs abroad. Air Sharing lets you save HTML Web pages, PDFs, text files, you name it, for off-line perusal anytime, anywhere. $4.99

5. Tweetie
Finally, a practical use for Twitter. With Tweetie you can send vacation pics and witty comments from afar faster and more easily than with any other app. $2.99

6. IAmHere
Want your friends to know exactly where you are? (Scorpion Bay, Baja!) IAmHere sends an email with a link to Google Maps. In my tests it was accurate to within a hundred feet. $0.99

7. World Customs
Which way to wrap that kimono? World Customs dispenses international dos and don’ts, one for every day. (Kimono? Left over right.) $0.99

8. Wi-Fi Finder
International data rates can be crushing, so finding Wi-Fi is key, especially if you Skype. Wi-Fi Finder tracks over 200,000 hotspots in 135 countries. The only quibble: It could do better at distinguishing free from paid spots. Free

9. The Weather Channel
Weather Bug and AccuWeather come close in the race for full-featured meteorological apps, but the Weather Channel’s gets the nod for customization and the ability to check out conditions in multiple locations at a glance. Free

10. Google Earth
Although slow even on Wi-Fi, browsing satellite images of anywhere from your vacation destination to the top of the Matterhorn is still one of the best ways to get the lay of the land. Free

11. Packing
Become a packing perfectionist with this easy tool. Create lists of necessary items and check them off as you go. The packing application will make preparing for your vacation a breeze. $1.99

12. Room
If you're always forgetting your hotel room number—and modern keycards don't remind you, of course—log it in this free program. Free

13. FlightTrack Pro
Made for busy travelers like you, just forward your airline confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and TripIt flight itineraries will appear automatically in FlightTrack Pro. $9.99

14. Lonely Planet Phrasebook
At $10, it's spendy for a one-language application, but—very cool—it speaks the translated phrase aloud. Perhaps not such a big deal in Mexico, but in tongue-twister countries, such as Morocco, it's a huge plus. $9.99

15. Skype
Break the international calling shakedown—jumping on a Wi-Fi network lets you make free (or cheap) calls. Free

16. WriteRoom
Amazingly, the iPhone comes with no way of syncing text files and its Notes app stinks. This simple word processing tool transfers text easily between desktop and handset so you can leave your laptop at home. $4.99

17. Amazon Kindle
The Kindle's nice, but why carry two devices when you can download e-books directly to your phone? Have an iPhone AND a Kindle? Once you've bought the book, you can read it wherever you want. Free

18. Cheap Gas
Pretty straightforward—shows you the least expensive petrol wherever you are. Awesomely helpful if you don’t know the area. Free

19. Babelingo
Great linguistic value—300-entry phrase book with 11 languages for just $3.99.

20. Where
Shows you what’s around you, from Starbucks to movie theaters and show times. Free