Michael Lamb reveals some of the top online apps and tricks the seasoned pros use to make travel easier.
Homeaway was #1 in the "mi casa es su casa for a price" game until Airbnb came along. It still boasts a massive inventory, but the interface is beyond dull compared to the filter-friendly fun of HouseTrip and Airbnb.
HouseTrip's interface is simplicity plus compared to AirbnB, which for some reason makes it unfeasibly hard to see accom in order of price, although the latter scores for its Instant Booking.
HouseTrip deals only in whole homes so there's none of the hassle of sharing with hosts, and I can personally vouch for their customer service after a little last-minute pickle I got into in Burgundy last year.
Planning a trip is a lot of fun - until it's 1am, you have 30 browser windows open and you've googled yourself into a coma.
My go-to source for sensible, concise, up-to-date info is Wikitravel. Being a wiki means it dishes up unbiased advice that is thoroughly mediated by the watching masses.
According to the site, 300,000 writers and/or travellers access the site every day, so it really is a gem of accumulated knowledge.
Having stress-tested it on trips to some obscure locations, I'm a big fan.
3. Trip It Pro
The days of laboriously typing and amending an itinerary are so over. I always use the free version of Tripit to build my travel plan. Once you've set up a trip, you simply forward any confirmation emails you receive - flights, hotels, etc - to a generic email Tripit address. The system recognises your sender's email and automatically adds the booking to your itinerary. There's a browser and an app version, while the Pro upgrade offers features such as enhanced alerts, alternative flights and tracking of reward points. Oh and a heads-up: you can go Tripit Pro free for 30 days if you want to "blag and cancel" for your next sub-month long adventure.
The other free option is Tripcase, which looks similar to Tripit.
Lounges are airside Business Class - and we all want that. Food, booze and wi-fi are the default offerings, with some lounges going all the way up to hot-stone massages and foot rubs. Now even us Economy Class schmucks can wangle our way into the promised land thanks to Loungebuddy.
This app-based lounge directory is a pay-as-you-go job, so you just search the airport, pay a one-off lounge fee and the bain-maries full of lamb korma are all yours.
Priority Pass is the same but different. This is a membership set-up, with annual fees ranging from $137 to $553, (on the cheapest plan there's another fee each time you use a lounge). They boast 900+ lounges on their network, plus for another fee you can take a guest with you.
Much more than just tracking Granny's flight back from the Gold Coast, FA is a go-to resource for pre-vetting your prospective flight bookings, especially on the smaller routes on obscure carriers. Knowing that flight out of Havana always leaves an hour late will save a tsunami of pain when you don't miss your connecting flight in Cancun. Another app called Flightboard puts the clickety-clack arrivals and departure board right there on your phone (and its design is, cutely, based on the board at Charles de Gaulle). Flighttrack offers a consumer-skewed app compared to the more industrial Flightaware.
6. Packing Pro
To travel is to pack. Cancel that - to travel is to pack light. Packing Pro is where you go - it's the #1 iPad travel app for a reason. This is basically outsourcing your dodgy memory to an app - instead of going through that fallible mental checklist for each trip you can go "bal-list-ic" - see what I did there - creating your custom inventories. Of course it also has list-making help tools in case Barbados is threatening a miraculous snowfall and you'll need to pack a jumper. Especially great for families with a million things to pack or road warriors who have different kind of trips to manage.
Automatically keep track of your route and places you've visited without taking your phone from your pocket. I still have two separate trips to France from about 10 years ago blurred in my mind and still haven't figured out which one involved that carjacking out the back of Nice airport (don't worry, I escaped unharmed and unrobbed). With Polarsteps the impromptu becomes the imprinted.
These days Couchsurfing ain't just for the kids - it's a great way to trim the cost of your next trip, meet some locals and have some money-can't-buy experiences. It's not just couches either ... you could end up in a gorgeous conservatory in Dorset or hanging off a canal boat in Provence. Accommodation is free, although the karmic credit plan theory means you should, in all conscience, throw open a spare room at your gaff to some Danish surfers or Kenyan hip-hop artists every now and again.
9. Hotel Tonight
Blowing into town with no accommodation planned counts as travelling on the edge these days, and with the Hotel Tonight app you can get the thrill of the last-second deal - and possibly end up five-star for two-star prices. I got a $220 hotel room in Sydney for $99 - happy with that.
10. A razor-sharp travel agent
Every travel pro knows when to let go. You could spend three lifetimes researching airfares, hotels, things to do, places to go and what to eat ... and then mess up a booking with the wrong local time and down comes the whole lord mayor's show.
New Zealand has a wealth of good travel agents - from the big firms to the small independent shops. They take the risk out of planning big trips.
WORTH KEEPING AN EYE ON
- lets you trade your airline seat - even as you board - if you have a spot someone else wants. Cash for you, comfort for them. Currently US-only, but looking to expand.
Escape is a new app in beta with killer options for flight search and comparison, including lowest price per kilometre. It also gives frequent fliers the ability search for routes with the highest "kilometres earned" for their specific loyalty programme, though how global this will be is yet to be seen. Still for the power flight hacker, Escape could be travel gold.
Seatguru... the old fave for seat browsing and figuring out the difference between layouts in a 777-200 and a 777-300. Or if you suddenly notice your booking is on a Tupolev Tu-204 and you're not sure if that's a kind of plane or something from the periodic table.
Have we missed your favourite travel app? Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org.