The ultimate smartphone holiday guide
07 Jun 2012
Plan, book and enjoy your summer hols using just your smartphone
After the long, dark, miserably cold British winter, which seems to be continuing well into July, you’ll be desperate for a little sun to thaw yourself out. Don’t bother yourself with stressful visits to the travel agents, though. You can organise and book up your perfect getaway using just your mobile phone – everything from which flights to take to which restaurants to dine in.
Book Your holiday
Pick a destination
- Virgin Holidays Brochures (iOS) – Free
The first stage is to work out where on Earth you actually want to go. Not an easy task, but apps such as the Virgin Holidays Brochures will highlight possible destinations. It’s as basic as it comes – browse the list of available brochures, then download to your phone to flick through when you’re out and about. The brochures are huge and take forever to download though, so make sure you’ve got a decent Wi-Fi connection.
- Rough Guides Wold Lens (iOS) – Free
If you’d rather draw inspiration from exotic images, this is the app for you. Almost 300 photos from around the world give you a brief glimpse into different cultures, while the beautiful landscapes will have you reaching for your credit card. Be warned that all of the photos download to your device the first time you open World Lens. As with the Virgin Holidays app, make sure you’re working over Wi-Fi.
- Apple Newsstand – Prices vary
Apple’s Newsstand also offers a good range of emags to browse, buy and download direct to your iPhone or iPad. The likes of Cruise International highlights fashionable holiday destinations, complete with glorious photos that make your life seem even more dull and dreary. Don’t forget that the Apple Store also stocks lots of travel ebooks and the excellent Michael Palin audio books, which give you a vivid taste of worldwide cultures.
- World Map Darts (iOS) – 69p
If you’re still struggling to pick a place to go, this simple app can do it for you. Just select your favourite continents and the maximum distance you’re willing to trek, and a virtual dart will pierce a potential holiday spot at random. The app also displays Flickr and Google images of the place before you commit, in case your dream destination is actually a scabby warzone. Of course, you could just jab your finger at a map of the world and save yourself 69p.
Sort the transport
- Easyjet (iOS, Android) - Free
The old EasyJet app only let you manage your existing bookings, but now you can search for flights and book up tickets too. The interface is an orange dream and we were impressed by the speed of our transactions – you can have a holiday booked up in just a couple of minutes. Once you’re paid up you can add extras such as the infamous Speedy Boarding up to two hours before take-off, as well as checking on the status of any Easyjet flight. An essential app for thrifty travellers.
- TripMate 247 (iOS, Windows Phone) - Free
If you’re not a fan of Stelios’ budget travel, or want to spread your search for flights a little further, this excellent free app scans a huge range of airlines for the best possible deals. Flights are neatly presented, ordered by price, and all the big names are in there (including Easyjet and Ryanair of course). You can book up right through the app.
- The Trainline (iOS, Android, Ovi, BlackBerry) - Free
Perhaps you’d rather stay at home and explore the lush and pleasant British landscapes? Maybe you’re less about moules frites, and more into mince and dumplings? In that case you’ll need a quick and easy way to search for and book up train tickets. Step forward the free Trainline app. You get a full breakdown of the available ticket types and associated costs for each service (which is complex enough to reduce a Buddhist monk to tears), and payment is swift and secure. As an added bonus, the app also calculates the quickest route home from your current location, if you end up in the British equivalent of the Bates Motel.
Room with a view
- Trip Advisor (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ovi) - Free
TripAdvisor’s excellent app is essential for anyone planning a holiday. Every aspect is catered for, from booking up flights to working out the best place for a cheeky Daiquiri. However, the flight planner is best avoided – at the time of writing, it was constantly crashing or returning errors on every version we tried.
Thankfully the hotel booker is much better. Enter your destination and you’re presented with a list of hotels, which can be filtered by price or rating. You can check out in-depth customer reviews, see a full list of amenities, and even squint at blurry photos from other travellers. If you need more info you can quickly get in touch using the supplied contact info, or visit the official website. Or simply save the hotel for later if you want to shop around.
The actual booking process can be a little glitchy as Trip Advisor pulls in information from a number of different sites including Expedia.co.uk and Venere.com. At least you can see offers from a range of agents, so you know you’re getting the best possible deal.
- Booking.com hotels (iOS, Android) - Free
Another excellent app for sorting out your holiday pad. Type in the city you’re visiting and the dates you’ll be there and you get a comprehensive list of available hotels, sorted by price or popularity. Each hotel listing comes with photos, blurb and an average rating from reviewers. You’re given a choice of rooms, from standards to suites, and the price given is the total cost. If you’re satisfied, click ‘book now’ and the room is yours. Seriously, who needs a travel agent?
Plan your holiday
Now your holiday’s booked, it’s time to get planning. You’ll need some kind of itinerary, however rough, to get the most from your trip. Luckily there are tons of great apps to help you do just that. You’ll also need to look into your network’s roaming charges if you plan on using your mobile abroad, so you don’t get stung with outrageous bills on your return.
Roaming contract extensions
Your phone should by default be activated to work abroad, and tri-band and quad-band handsets will work in almost every country on Earth. Standard phone contracts allow you to make calls and access the internet when out of the country and your phone will automatically connect to partner networks when you touch down in a foreign country. You’ll likely receive a text message welcoming you to the network and explaining the charges. If you’re on Pay As You Go you’ll need to top up before you leave, and SIM-only customers should check with their provider before setting off. Restrictions sometimes apply – for instance, Three doesn’t allow international roaming for the first two months of a SIM-only contract.
Of course, the biggest drawback of international roaming is the wallet-draining charges, which are especially steep when you wander out of Europe. Calls can cost well over £1 a minute, while texts are usually around 50p to send home. If you want to get online, be prepared to auction off all of your worldly possessions – Orange charges £8 per MB of data, while other networks are just as expensive.
If you’re willing to go without checking emails and browsing the web, we recommend switching your phone onto ‘flight mode’ while abroad. This prevents your phone from connecting to a network, so you’ll avoid call and data charges but will still have access to your apps. However, if you can’t live without the web, ask your network about roaming bundles. See below for a round-up of the best international deals.
T-Mobile: The ‘Euro Booster’ offer gives you 3MB of data per day for just £1, up to 50MB per month for £10.
Vodafone: The free-to-activate ‘Vodafone Passport’ deal charges you a reasonable connection fee for calls, then allows you to use your inclusive minutes. Texts are just 11p.
Orange: Add a bundle to your package to keep costs down, including £5.10 per month for 25% discount on European calls, and £3 per day for a 30MB daily data allowance.
O2: Contract customers have a monthly data charge cap of £40 (after which 50MB of data is free). Pay £10.21 a month for cheaper calls and texts when travelling in Europe.
Three: Currently there are no international bundles or deals.
With some of these bundles, you’ll have to be careful with your usage. Remember, if you go over your limit, you’ll be charged full-price by your network – and an eye-watering bill is not the best end to your holiday.
You might be tempted to use a maps app like Google Maps when abroad, but this is a surefire way of burning through your data allowance and racking up huge bills. A better method of getting your bearings is downloading a map before you leave – see the ‘Digi-Guides’ app below, which is just one option. You can still use GPS to track your location when abroad, and it’ll be free of charge – but beware! Some phones such as the iPhone use Assisted GPS (A-GPS) to track your position. This makes use of surrounding masts, which will incur a data charge. Avoid this by switching to Flight Mode.
Draft an itinerary
- Trip Advisor (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ovi) - Free
The Trip Advisor app isn’t just good for checking out hotels, it’s also a comprehensive guide to the best attractions, tours and monuments. If your time abroad is limited you’ll want to carefully plan out an itinerary, to cram in as much as humanly possible. This is a great place to start.
Almost every attraction on Earth has been reviewed and rated, with tourists posting up their personal pics. If something catches your eye you can check it out on a map, visit the website and get in touch for more info. We would’ve liked the app even more if it gave opening times and prices for museums and other attractions.
- Footprint Guides (iOS) – Free to download app, small charge for each city guide
If you always lug a travel guide away with you, you’ll know how bulky and cumbersome they can be – not to mention that whipping one out on a street corner instantly earmarks you as a tourist. Lose the bulk by downloading one to your phone before you leave. The Footprint app is free to download but you have to pay for each city guide you add. Each guide details the not-to-be-missed sights of each location, as well as the very best restaurants, hotels, pubs and clubs. You also get essential tips on money, food, getting around, tipping and more. There’s a decent but by no means definitive selection of guides, so if you can’t find what you need, try something like the Lonely Planet guides instead.
- Cool Places (Android, iOS) – from £1.49 per city
UK travellers should check out the Cool Places guides instead, which give comprehensive overviews of a number of scenic British towns and cities. The layout is standard, with things to do, places to eat, watering holes and hotels all reviewed and rated. You have to fork out for each guide, however, and you aren’t getting anything you couldn’t find on Trip Advisor. The selection also borders on the quaint, with big cities such as Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and London all missing.
- World Travel guide by Triposo (iOS, Android) - Free
If your flights and hotel drained the last of your savings, you can also download travel guides like this one for free. World Travel pulls information from Wiki Travel and other open sources, presenting it in a logical fashion. Best of all, you can download any guides you need before jetting off, saving you from ridiculous roaming charges when abroad!
Enjoy Your Holiday
You’ve checked into your hotel, dumped your bags and pulled on your crease-proof shorts and garishly loud shirt. You know all the top sights and attractions thanks to that planning you did back home. But don’t ditch your phone in the hotel safe just yet – your portable pal is an invaluable tool for exploring a foreign land.
- Trip Advisor (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Ovi) - Free
Although you can plan which eateries to hit before you jet off, you can’t always be sure what culinary mood you’ll be in. That’s where Trip Advisor once again comes to the rescue. Search by cuisine type and price, and you’ll get an ordered list of the best restaurants around you, including full reviews and photos from visitors. You can even email most restaurants and reserve a table through websites such as BookATable.
- PicsArt Photo Studio (Android) - Free
It’s barely worth lugging a compact camera around when your trusty mobile can take perfectly good pics, and slips so nicely into your pocket. Check out our Genius Guide to taking excellent photos, but if you want to mess around with your touristy shots, we recommend this excellent free app for Android.
- Digi-Guides (iOS) – From 69p
If you’re new to a city and want to explore beyond the usual touristy sites, these guides are like a local friend. As well as the usual attractions, you get some detailed tours of the region, taking in all kinds of hidden surprises, with plenty of pictures, maps and audio descriptions thrown in. Best of all, you can download it all before you leave home, so there’s no roaming data charges.
- Lonely Planet Phrasebooks (iOS, Android) - £3.73 each
These individual phrasebooks cover a respectable range of languages and aim to teach hundreds of basic everyday phrases. Comes with audio clips, so you don’t mess up pronunciation and accidentally ask a waiter to put his pants in your soup.
- Earworms (iOS, Android) - £5.99
If your memory sucks but you’re still determined to learn a new language, Earworms provides a novel way of burying phrases in your brain. By combining relaxing chill-out music with the usual words and translations, this app embeds everyday expressions in your long-term memory. Put it on and relax, and you’ll be surprised at how much sticks with almost no effort at all on your part. There’s an impressive range of languages including Dutch, Mandarin and Japanese, and each one teaches you how to order food and drinks, ask for directions and have basic conversations with locals.
- Google Sky Map (Android) – Free
If you’re on a romantical trip out in the wilderness, this time-honoured app is guaranteed to get the passion flowing. Aim your phone at the stars and it helps you pick out the planets and constellations. Remember folks, nothing is sexier than pointing out a bit of Pisces.
- RideMax (online app) - $15 (£10) for 90-day subscription
Disney fans planning a trip to the LA or Florida parks need to check out this fantastic time-saving software, available as an online app (compatible with all phones/tablets with web access). Tell RideMax what times you'll be there and which rides you're all mad excited to check out, and by the grace of some form of dark arts, you'll get a full itinerary telling you which times you should visit each ride to ensure minimal waiting in queues. We tested RideMax on the LA park and the estimated wait times were scarily accurate. Combined with an excellent range of essential hints and tips for getting the most from the day, we easily managed to check out all of our favourite rides, even factoring in plenty of breaks for stuffing our faces with expensive snacks. Don't waste your cash on a queue-jumper ticket - just subscribe to RideMax and your magical day will be even more amazing.
Essential Travel Accessories
- Power Freakz Evolution 3000 solar charger - £39.99 - www.pcxuk.com
Before heading out, simply charge the Evolution 3000 from the mains for around five hours. You can then use it to recharge your smartphone and other mobile devices when you’re on the road, using the bundled collection of changeable heads. The handy power meter shows you how much charge remains, and the solar panel can be used to give the Evolution 3000 extra juice. Even if it’s overcast, you’ll get two to three full charges before the Evolution 3000 dies.
- Griffin Survivor iPhone 4S case - £29.95 – www.mobilefun.co.uk
Adventure fans who enjoy excursions to the desert or rainforest need a phone case that’ll survive the elements. This Griffin case not only protects your mobile from accidental drops, but its military-standard construction repels heavy rain and dust storms too.
- XMI X-mini II Mini Speaker - £11.99 (www.amazon.co.uk)
This miniature speaker is deceptively tiny, but blasts out surprisingly powerful audio, perfect for filling your hotel room with tunes from your phone. Simply charge it via USB from your laptop, and it’ll go for over ten hours. Just remember not to use it on the bus, kiddies.
Survive the Dreaded Delays
Stuck in an airport all night while your plane sits on a runway in Tel Aviv? Fear not, these addictive games and apps will keep you occupied!
- Plants V Zombies (iOS, Android) - £1.99
The most addictive game we’ve ever played, this bitter feud between vegetation and the undead will keep you occupied for weeks. A cartoony tower defence game that’s surprisingly deep and includes tons of extra modes and content, making it the best two quid you’ll ever spend.
Another strangely addictive game that’ll make your journey disappear. Flick cartoon squids around the screen in this turn-based RPG, destroying enemies and building up your sea creatures’ experience to upgrade their abilities.
- Kindle app (iOS, Android) – Free
If you like getting stuck into a good book on holiday, but your case is bursting with sun lotion and flip flops, why not convert to ebooks? The Kindle app is free to download and you can buy books for as little as 99p from Amazon. Stuck for ideas? Why not try Crack, a nifty little thriller written by Chris Barraclough, that was shortlisted for the Page Turner Prize 2011? You can read a free sample and grab it for less than a quid right now – bargainous!