Some apps are tailor-made to ease concerns of travelers. The Google Translate app is pictured here. Skift
Skift Take: Permanxiety is now a sad fact of life. But you may be able to stress less if you lean on a handful of smartphone apps that can help you avoid health risks, security threats, and other potential travel snafus.
— Sean O'Neill
Skift launched the latest edition of our magazine, Travel in an Age of Permanxiety, at Skift Global Forum in New York City in September. This article is part of our look into the current state of the traveler mindset through the lens of the pervasive state of anxiety felt worldwide.
Download the full version of Skift’s Travel in an Age of Permanxiety magazine here.
Travel has always come with stress. But in recent years Permanxiety has layered on an extra helping of hassle. (Just feel that pang in your sternum after you have been pulled aside by an airport official for secondary screening or questioning.)
We can’t wish away hyper-nationalists or authoritarians — or all the drama those characters are inflicting on travelers and others. But we are happy to point you to a mix of mobile apps that can calm your nerves and help you cope with standard snafus.
We five-star these free and paid apps for Apple and Android devices because they will let you clear your mind. And having a clear head will make it easier for you to cope with the larger, unavoidable problems.
Companion: Ask a Guardian Angel to Watch Your Back
Travelers have always gotten the jitters when taking an unplanned walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood that may not be safe. One way to seek reassurance is to ask a friend or family member to keep you company — virtually. The Companion app enables this, letting a loved one track your journey home via GPS on an online map. The app pings out a few requests to various contacts to see who is available and willing to keep watch. Thankfully the person does not need to install the Companion app to participate; they instead receive a text message that links them to an interactive map showing the user’s location. In a worst-case scenario, the traveler can use the app to blare a terrifying sound to scare off the bad guys. Incidentally, this feature may become more common. In 2017, the Indian government declared that all mobile phones must have a built-in panic button to better protect solo women.
iOS and Android, Companion
CDC TravWell: Stay Healthy
One year it’s SARS. The next, ebola. Then zika. The series of international health scares seem endless. But being informed about the latest risks for specific destinations can take the worry out of travel. The top U.S. health watchdog, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides advice to international travelers via its CDC TravWell app. Tell the app where you’re headed, and it will fetch destination-specific vaccine recommendations — plus a checklist of what you need to do to prepare for travel, such as which over-the-counter medicines to consider packing. This app lets you store travel documents, keep a record of your medications and immunizations, and find emergency services phone numbers for most major destinations.
iOS and Android, CDC TravWell
1Password: Shield Your Passwords
No, a digital password manager is not a travel app, per se. But travelers will value how they can use it to access usernames and passwords for financial and other critical information while on the road. If a pickpocket snatches your phone, they won’t be able to crack the code and access your online accounts. A single password lets you keep in touch with all of your (and your family’s) internet accounts, loyalty and reward card numbers, plus copies of your family’s passport details. There are a few high-quality password management apps, such as Dashlane and LastPass. But the 1Password app wins points for its user-friendly interface, an easy system for handling the occasional two-step verification systems that sometimes crop up, and flexible data syncing choices.
iOS and Android, from $3 a month, 1Password
PackPoint: Prep for Your Trip More Efficiently
The prosaic worry about whether you remembered to pack a toothbrush and the right chargers for your electronic devices was enough, frankly. But ever-changing security and airline restrictions have compounded packing angst. For relief, turn to a packing list app. There are many checklist apps, yet PackPoint stands out for having especially relevant suggestions. Type in your destination, planned activities, and length of stay and PackPoint will recommend items you may have forgotten, like an umbrella or gym clothes. Make a list once and then morph it into a few reusable lists for different types of trips, such as a business overnighter, a ski trip, and a beach getaway. The app also offers advice tailored to the latest weather forecasts, so you’ll be ready for that surprise heat wave.
iOS and Android, $3, PackPoint
Grab: Avoid Getting ‘Hangry’ at the Airport
Once they make it through the airport security gauntlet, many travelers stay close to their gate, because of nervousness about missing a gate change or the flight. Grab is an app that enables a time-pressured traveler to order meals ahead at airport restaurants, so the traveler doesn’t have to venture far from the gate for long. Users skip the food court’s long lines by walking straight to the pick-up counters of restaurants when their food is ready. Grab’s services are available at 19 U.S. airports including Atlanta and Los Angeles, as of publication time. The app is slowly expanding overseas with an expected first stop at London’s Heathrow.
iOS and Android, Grab
Weather Kitty/Weather Puppy: Hit the ‘Paws’ Button
A great way to calm down about traveling is to have an app that gives you the weather forecast illustrated with a cat that is happy, scared, wet, or otherwise adorable. Of course, there is a Weather Puppy app, too. Don’t mock it until you try it, even if you’re not a pet person.
iOS and Android, Weather Kitty
Blur Photo Editor: Don’t Reveal Too Much Online
Social media seemed like a wonderful way to let friends and family members know about your trips. But then the bee in the honeypot appeared: You can’t ever be fully sure if strangers can see the photos you post. Sometimes you want to protect your privacy. A case in point: If you post a photo of your airplane tickets for an exotic trip, enterprising troublemakers might use the information on the ticket in ways you won’t like. This app, highly rated by users, lets you blur out sensitive details — or the faces of children who are minors — with just a finger swipe.
iOS, Blur Photo Editor; no Android app but Android has similar apps like Touch Blur Photo
FlightAware: Become an Airport Ninja
On average, one out of five U.S. airline flights was canceled or delayed in the last year, based on data measured up to May 2017. Often the first passengers on a canceled flight to get in line or on the phone with an agent are among the first to successfully rebook on the next flight to a destination. Given that so many planes today fly nearly full, it’s urgent to be among the first to rebook. There are many fine flight alert apps, but FlightAware soars for its rare “meeting the flight” option, which ensures anyone who is meeting a plane can be alerted to any delay or cancellation. The app also helps with vetting upcoming departures, particularly on small airlines flying tiny routes. Knowing that the flight out of Corfu always leaves two hours late will help a traveler plan ahead.
iOS and Android, FlightAware
Citymapper: Mind the Gaps in Google Maps
Feel better about how to get from point A to point B in an unfamiliar city with an app that can give you directions. It triumphs at sharing little tips on how to navigate major cities that it usually takes locals months to master, such as the optimal subway exit from which to leave and the current timetable for a local bus. Plus it has fun bonus tricks, like letting you click “rain” mode to get different point-to-point advice, minimizing the chance you’ll get wet.
iOS and Android, Citymapper
Google Translate: Speak When You Don’t Know the Language
Not knowing the local language can strike fear in even the hardiest of travel hearts. You’ve already known one solution to this problem: Google lets you look up quick-and-dirty text translations. But you may not know that the search giant says its translation quality improved more in the year 2016 than in the previous ten years combined. You may also not know that you can translate text in images, such as a street sign or a menu, by pointing your smartphone camera at the words and using the Google Translate app to give you the meaning in about 30 languages. You can even use the app without an internet connection to translate among 52 languages.
(Related: Google’s New Earbuds With Real-Time Translation Have Huge Implications for Travel)
iOS and Android, Google Translate
Rome2rio: Go the Last Mile Smartly
Getting there is supposed to be half the fun, except when you’re not sure how to make it the proverbial “last mile” of your trip, such as from an airport to your vacation rental. Google Maps and its peers are sharp tools, but Rome2rio excels as a supplement by searching any city, town, landmark, attraction, or address across the globe with thousands of suggested routes to get you from point to point. The best part is that the app typically offers accurate price estimates for Uber, taxis, trains, ferries, and buses so that you can pick the fastest or cheapest way to your ultimate destination.
iOS and Android, Rome2rio
Revolut: Get Travel Money More Flexibly
If you prefer to use a debit card or cash while traveling internationally, you’ve faced doubts about whether your bank card will be accepted at local stores or whether you’ll find a low-fee ATM. Now a few startups are attempting to offer a consistent way to move your money in and out of various currencies while traveling. The best-funded is Revolut, a UK-based startup that has received $88 million in investment. It lets you get, send, and exchange money in multiple currencies. The process is two-step: A traveler loads money onto a prepaid debit card, which he or she then manages via the app. Revolut says it offers a better deal than using bureaux de change and that it has served more than 700,000 users, a larger group than its UK-based rivals Monzo and WeSwap claim. The downside: You need a UK bank account to use it, as of publication time, though that was expected to, um, change.
iOS and Android, Revolut
Beditations: Defragment Your Brain
If you’re having a difficult time sleeping, Beditations, delivered by the app of the same name, are meditations designed to guide you into quality sleep. Just choose an evening Beditation to ease you into sleep, and a morning Beditation to gently wake you up at your desired time. Why, you ask, should you use an app instead of say a meditation from memory or a book? Because the app comes with ambient rain noise that plays after your bedtime meditation, so you won’t be distracted by external noise at the hotel and lose your Zen. Many Beditations are free, or you can also unlock them all for $5.
iOS and Android, Beditations
SAS Survival Guide: Channel Your Inner MacGyver
For 20 years, the SAS Survival Guide has been the much-discussed handbook for surviving any situation, in any place and any climate. Written by a former Special Air Service (SAS) instructor in the British Army, John “Lofty” Wiseman, this app will help you fend off a bear attack or avoid getting stuck in quicksand. But it’s best to read it before you get into those fixes.
iOS and Android, SAS Survival Guide
Download Travel in an Age of Permanxiety magazine here