Traveling during the wintertime can be fraught with frustrations, from navigating crowded airport terminals to coping with weather-related flight disruptions and heavy roadside traffic. But while traveling around the holidays will inevitably be hectic, happily, there are some smart, sanity-saving apps to help you deal with common aggravations and make travel a little more manageable. As Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content at travel media company Skift puts it, being connected is key. The most practical and effective apps "are the ones that we use in our everyday lives," he says.
To help you discover digital-savvy tools that put clever solutions in the palm of your hand, U.S. News solicited guidance from top travel pros. Stay connected, in-the-know and ready for any stressful situation with these smart (and free) apps at your fingertips.
For a comprehensive and easy-to-use navigation tool, consider Maps.me, says Chris Christensen, the creator behind the award-winning AmateurTraveler.com site. The app, which is compatible with iOS 8 or higher, offers downloadable offline maps and enables users to pinpoint nearby attractions and city highlights while on the go. Best of all, the tool can save you from shelling out a pretty penny for hefty data roaming fees. "Keep your phone in airplane mode for cost reasons but still get the ability to look up addresses and have turn-by-turn walking and driving directions," Christensen advises. Another trusted tool and top runner-up is Google Maps, which offers inventive features, such as the ability to search for specific points of interest and places and even receive directions without Wi-Fi access.
To take the hassle out of coordinating travel plans, turn to TripIt, which is compatible with Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and iOS. "I would not know where I was without TripIt," Christensen says, pointing out that you can simply email your accommodation and flight confirmation details to email@example.com after registering to keep track of upcoming trips. Aside from keeping all your reservations in one place, the TripIt Pro tool (available for a $49 annual fee) also offers up-to-the-minute, real-time flight notifications, so you can easily change your plans if your flight is delayed or canceled. Plus, TripIt recently unveiled significant updates for its recent iOS 10 upgrade that include the rollout of TripIt for iMessage, which enables all TripIt users to quickly relay their itinerary details to co-workers, family and friends from the Messages app.
With Waze (owned by Google), you can easily pinpoint alternative routes to dodge bumper-to-bumper traffic on the road. Clampet points to Waze as a must-download app if you're planning to hit the road during the peak travel season. Aside from directing you to different routes, the app, which is compatible with iOS 7 and higher and Android devices offers unique features that allow users to communicate with other road-trippers, pinpoint the nearest gas stations and easily receive and offer commentary on current highway conditions so other drivers in the area are notified with real-time traffic updates and delays.
[Read: 8 Great American Winter Road Trips.]
If you're the type who likes to breeze through security lines, do yourself a favor and download the My TSA app. With the app, you can spot "security delays before you get to the airport," Christensen says. Aside from the chance to report or review current wait times longer than 30 minutes, you can also easily pull up what's prohibited in security screenings to ensure your items aren't confiscated once you reach security. Even better, if you punch your airport into the app, you can stay attuned to the latest delays and learn whether your flight is impacted to pivot your plans quickly.
Flying overseas? With the secure Mobile Passport app, you can "speed your reentry into the U.S. at select airports," Christensen explains. The app, which is authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and is accessible in major metropolitan airports in Chicago, Miami, New York City, Seattle and 16 other U.S. hubs, allows you to skip the cumbersome task of filling out a paper form and simply fill out an e-form and scan a receipt with an encrypted barcode when you reach the front of the Mobile Passport Control line to reenter the country. Even better, downloading the app (compatible on both iOS 8 and higher and Android devices) enables you to get through customs quickly thanks to the app's separate passport lane.
If you like to closely monitor your upcoming flights, an essential tool to add to your arsenal is Flight Aware, Clampet says. He recalls a time when he was waiting to get on a U.S. Airways flight and he was notified via the Flight Aware app of a flight disruption quicker than the announcement at his gate. The app, which is compatible with iOS 8.4 and higher as well as Android devices, delivers up-to-the-minute statuses for commercial flights across the globe along with real-time notifications for flight cancellations, delays and gate changes.
If you're chasing a deal during the popular winter holiday travel season, you may be out of luck, but if you have some flexibility in your schedule, turn to HitList for travel inspiration and deals, Clampet says. The app is especially handy for a quick weekend jaunt, with frequent airfare deals and alerts, he adds. The app, which is compatible with iOS 8.2 or higher, is easy to use. Simply enter your desired destination into the app, and you'll receive price alerts for fare drops to your desired locale and save yourself extra hours of searching different third-party booking sites. Best of all, you can scope out where your friends want to go and start planning your trip together.
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