These essentials remain on the first screen of apps on our smartphones, but the following offbeat but very useful apps cover part of the travel experience that are not necessarily related to straightforward logistics, and are making a bid to move up in the icon pile.
We've written in the past about how airing complaints on Twitter is often a successful way to get a travel problem solved. That said, unless you are a hardcore Twitter devotee subscribed to the feeds of all your travel providers, the chances that you can blast out a tweet in a few seconds that will be seen by a customer service rep are pretty small.
The Flyright app (iOS, Twitter) integrates with your Twitter account to post a tweet for you, with the added critical step of sending the tweet directly to an airline's Twitter handle, so you don't have to dig up the name yourself. Activity on the app has been light in recent weeks, with only occasional tweets from users, but it still works -- so your tweets will get to the right people, which is all you really need it to do.
Splid (iOS) is borne of a truly 21st-century notion: you can't trust everything you see in a photograph -- and neither can travel companies and courts. Since any picture of a filthy hotel room, broken airplane seat or scratch on a rental car can be discounted as having been altered in some way, Splid saves photos taken with the app that cannot be edited, which you can use as a "virtual witness" if needed.
The "Why use it?" section of the Splid Web site mentions a number of travel-specific potential uses for the app, including saving photos of accommodations, rental cars, travel documents, hospitals, baggage damage, car accidents and more.
Car Rental Secrets We Bet You Don't Know
Given the uncertainty of the overall travel experience these days, from epic traffic jams to large storms that can hobble air travel across half the country, travelers find themselves making more last-minute hotel bookings than ever. This can be a miserable experience, as many booking engines and hotels have cutoff times for same-day reservations, so you are stuck digging up and calling the local phone numbers of nearby hotels.
Hotel Tonight (Android, iOS) searches and books same-day stays as late as 2 a.m. at hotels in 12 countries and 100+ destinations, often at considerable discounts, according to dedicated users. One catch -- the app is truly for same-day reservations, and can't be used to book rooms before noon of the first day of your stay. From there you can do multi-day reservations, but on that first day, you will have to wait.
Others to check out:
Blink Hotels (iOS, Android)
Booking.com Hotels for Tonight (iOS)
Lastminute.com Hotel Deals (iOS)
Most major destinations, whether they are big cities, theme parks or big tourist attractions, are well-served by the big "stuff near me" apps -- AroundMe, Yelp, Urbanspoon and more -- but how does one find offbeat and unexpected attractions? Try the Roadside America app (iOS), which lists more than 9,000 offbeat attractions across the U.S. and Canada (note that there are different prices for the app depending on whether you purchase access to one, several or all regions).
What, Where and When to Tip (and How to Divvy It Up)
Although tipping customs are becoming more homogenized worldwide, knowing what, where and when to tip is still a source of considerable confusion among travelers. The Globetipping (iOS) and TippingBird (Android) world tip guides are searchable by country, type of service or transaction, and even specific individuals (hotel concierge vs. hotel cleaning staff, for example). Globetipping has a calculator built in to let you calculate percentages as well as split tips among your traveling party, which can be another tricky transaction when traveling with friends.
On this latter issue of splitting travel expenses with friends, Trip Splitter (iOS) is a slick entrant into the ranks of expense-splitting apps. Once you set up a trip with all the travelers and start entering information, the app tells you who paid what, who split what and the total paid per person.
Tips for Tipping Abroad
See the Sights, Stay in Shape
We often recommend walking and jogging as perhaps the best way to discover a new location, but figuring out where to do so can be tricky. Front desk folks don't always know the best running paths or what kind of run you might like, and when you head out on your own without a plan, you can easily miss some of the best attractions by mere meters if you take one wrong turn.
The WalkJogRun app (Android, iOS, Web) will help you figure out countless user-vetted routes worldwide, with turning instructions, accurate GPS coordinates, distances, sights and attractions, and more.
Photos and Postcards
Most social media web sites have deeply integrated mobile features -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are ideally suited to travel so long as you have an affordable Internet connection -- but they create only digital representations of your vacation. A couple of fun apps fill this gap by producing stuff that you and your family and friends can actually hold in your hands.
Getting your pics off your smartphone and into print form is often no less a hassle than it is with a big old DSLR; this is what the Printic app (Android, iOS) hopes to solve by allowing you to send photos directly from your phone to be printed as hard-copy photos and mailed to you.
Printic's product, which offers a space for captions, has a Polaroid-inspired retro feel that might be overly cute for some users, but that is part of the point. If you want something more straightforward, Snapfish's app (iOS, mobile Web) offers prints in traditional shapes and sizes without any captioning or format quirks.
Postagram (Android and iOS, as well as the Web) lets you select photos right off your phone to be made into hard-copy postcards. You can then enter snail mail addresses as well as a message of up to 240 characters, and the app will print and send your postcard to your intended recipient. Postagram ships to the U.S., Canada and most of Europe at present.
19 Tips for Better Travel Photos
The U.S. interstate system is lined nationwide with signs advertising the amenities at upcoming exits, but you don't usually see them until you are almost at the exit, and you might not see the type of amenity you need (coffee, fast food, gas, a hotel, etc.). The iExit app (iOS) tells you "what's coming up in real time when driving on the interstate." Never settle for Burger King coffee again.
On a trip to California a few years ago, I was stung by a stingray while surfing near San Diego. In wracking pain, without any doctor friends in the area or any clue as to how serious stingray sting complications might be, I "fell for 911," as the EMT later explained it over the radio to my strained amusement. I knew I was not in a life-threatening situation, but had no idea where to start with respect to finding a hospital phone number, talking to a doctor or caring for a sting.
Travelers frequently find themselves in non-emergency situations that still might require access to the phone number of the police department, fire department or hospital. In addition, travelers don't always know the local version of "911," which varies worldwide. The Help Call app (iOS) detects your location, searches a database of local emergency numbers and calls the nearest emergency responders in 126 countries.
Have any favorite offbeat apps we missed? Post them in the comments or on our message boards!