Digital DNA: The Right App at the Right Time

Travel insights from Andrea Sedlacek, editor of The Compass

Here are the apps you really do need for their trip. Look like a hero when you  have the right app at the right time.

For getting around

Google Maps is essential, not just for driving yourself in a rental car but for finding public transportation options in countless countries. Plus, it gives you info on an attraction or restaurant, like operating hours, reviews and a link to the establishment’s website. It’s a must-have on any smartphone.

For personal transportation, Uber or Lyft are obvious options. For public transportation, Citymapper is a smart pick, giving you live bus, metro and train times throughout the majority of the U.S. and Europe. One of the most helpful features of Citymapper is that you can ask it to alert you when it’s time to get off your bus or train — which could come in handy the first time you’re in a destination or if you happen to take a quick snooze en route.

For communicating

Google saves the day again with Google Translate. You can type in text and have it translated into more than 100 languages. If you don’t have an internet connection, you can still translate into 59 languages by downloading an offline translation file (the app shows you how to do this). You can also draw text characters into the app instead of typing them and have that translated into 96 languages, which is helpful for languages that include characters that aren’t used in English.

The best choice for currency converter goes to Xe Currency Converter, ranked No. 1 by TripSavvy and a favorite of The Points Guy. Sure, you can use it for simple things like converting U.S. dollars to pesos, but it also has more robust features like live currency rates and the ability to send money transfers. The converter functionality works offline too, but like Google Translate, you have to download the conversion rate ahead of time.

For experiencing

Apps created for a specific location or experience can be well worth the download. Case in point: The Official Universal Orlando app. The key is to download the app before you arrive at the park so you can upload payment info, allowing you to just grab your phone and pay for your Waturi Fusion ice cream at Volcano Bay or your interactive wand from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter instead of bringing out your actual wallet. You can also check wait times for select rides, preorder food, browse interactive maps and set a reminder for where your car is parked.

The My Disney Experience app for Walt Disney World Resort is another theme park app to keep in mind. Use it to navigate the park, check wait times for rides and even access MagicBand features with the Disney MagicMobile pass. You can also use the app to check in to your hotel room and access your room with a digital key. The app syncs up with the Memory Maker experience, allowing you to download, edit and share the photos and videos taken as part of Memory Maker.

A few more experience-enhancing apps to consider are the SeaWorld app (for the Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego parks); LEGOLAND’s apps for both the California and Florida parks; the San Diego Zoo’s app; the National Mall App from the National Park Service and the app for Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.