All you need is a smartphone to use countless tools to make your trip easier and stress-free — from bag tracking to augmented reality.
Love to travel but hate the stress? We hear you. Between flight delays, missed connections, language barriers, and figuring out how to squeeze all your must-see sites into just a few days, sometimes it can feel easier to stay home.
But before you toss your passport in the dumpster, keep reading. New technology has made it easier (and cheaper) than ever to plan a seamless vacation.
In fact, the key to a smooth travel experience is probably already in your pocket: a smartphone. Sally French, lead travel writer for NerdWallet, won’t leave home without it. “When you’re traveling these days, having a smartphone is imperative,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, adding your phone can now integrate into every step of your trip.
We’ve pulled together the best apps, devices, and technology to help simplify each stage of your next big adventure.
Planning your trip
Gone are the days when we needed a travel agent to plan our vacations — with a smartphone, you essentially have a travel agent at your fingertips. With a new class of apps and maps, you can preview tours, explore the streets before you go, and even have an app build your itinerary.
Explore before you go
In most cities, it’s impossible to see everything there is to see in one trip — so how do you know which attractions to choose? When it comes to museums, at least, Google has you covered. Google Arts and Culture teamed up with more than 1,200 museums around the world to build virtual tours of the galleries. Click through before you decide which ones are worth the trip!
You can also check out the general neighborhood using Google Maps Street View. Familiarize yourself with nearby stores and landmarks so you’ll feel less overwhelmed when you arrive.
Outsource your itinerary
Forget the binder full of confirmation numbers, reservations, and maps — and start using apps like TripCase or TripIt. Both of these apps use your confirmation emails to compile every detail you’ll need for your vacation, from hotel reservations to train tickets to car rental confirmation numbers.
With TripCase, just forward every confirmation email to the app, and when you log in, you’ll have a fully interactive itinerary — and even better, you can add to it as you explore.
Transportation is often the most stressful part of a vacation. Maybe your flight is delayed, or the airline loses your bags — and it can feel like your fate is in someone else’s hands. But new technology like flight trackers and AirTags help you reclaim some of that control so you can start your vacation off right.
Tag your bags
Losing your luggage is the easiest way to derail a great vacation. To avoid spending hours at the customer service counter — or giving up and buying new clothes and a toothbrush for your trip — Apple’s AirTag tracker is the solution.
AirTags are small, silver tokens that connect to Apple’s “Find My” network (which you may already use to find a lost iPhone or iPad.) AirTags use other phones, tablets, Apple Watches, and anything else in the network to triangulate their location, which means crowded areas — like airports — are ideal places to use them.
The devices are FAA approved, so you’re free to slip them into any checked or carry-on bag that you want to keep track of. Use the “Find My” app on your phone to watch your bag get loaded onto your aircraft, take your flight with you, and slide into baggage claim. And if something goes wrong, you’ll know where your bag is before the airline does.
AirTags can also help you throughout your trip! Keep them in your purse or wallet so you don’t lose any essentials.
Track your flight
You don’t need to wait for updates from the airline anymore. Apps like FlightAware put the power in your hands. To get alerts about your flight — including takeoff time, expected airport arrival, time at the gate, and any diversions — simply click on the bell icon at the top of the screen, select your flight, and choose between email or text alerts.
If you’re worried about weather delays, the app also superimposes real-time radar information that could affect your flight. And if you just need to pass time in the airport, FlightAware uses FAA information to track every plane in the sky, so you can see where every plane around you is headed in the world.
Exploring the culture
It’s never been easier to explore places unknown. From translation to food delivery, there’s an app for that.
We’ve all been to a restaurant with a menu we don’t understand, or needed to ask for directions in a country where we don’t speak the language. Sure, you could work on your miming skills or carry a phrase book. Or you could just use Google Translate.
Using the “microphone” button, you can speak your question into your phone, and it will say it out loud in the language of your choice. (Don’t worry – it can do the same when your server replies!) You can also use it to practice new phrases and learn a bit of the local language.
If you have an iPhone, it now comes with a Translate app that can even translate written text. Just position your rear camera over the menu or brochure, and it will translate it in realtime.
Wander a little less aimlessly
We all love the idea of wandering the streets of Paris or Milan until we stumble on a cute little cafe for lunch. But what happens if you don’t stumble on it? Google Augmented Reality helps you see what’s right in front of you. Hold the camera up to the street, and it can tell you where your nearest treats and treasures are — and give you detailed, realtime directions to get there. You’ll feel like a local in no time.
Next-level room service
Sometimes, after a long day of sightseeing, you just want an evening in. Sure, you could call room service, but what if you had the whole city at your fingertips? Food delivery apps like Seamless, GrubHub, and UberEats can turn even a relaxing night at the hotel into a culinary adventure.
Will your Medicare plan travel with you?
Like employer-sponsored commercial plans, Medicare has geographic limits on coverage. Original Medicare will let you see any doctor who accepts Medicare, anywhere in the country – but it doesn’t cover international medical care, even in emergencies. If you’re planning on frequent overseas travel when you retire, you might want to look into Medicare Advantage plans. Some of these plans do provide international coverage for medical emergencies. To compare plans in your area, check out our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.