The world is huge

Don't miss any of it

Travel news, itineraries, and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.


Are Mobile Devices Now Travel Essentials?

Want to receive stories like this every day? Subscribe to our free Deal Alert newsletter.

TripAdvisor, “the world’s largest travel site” and a sister site of SmarterTravel, just released a survey about travelers’ use of mobile devices, and, to nobody’s surprise, these devices—primarily smartphones—have quickly established an extremely important place in the overall scheme of travel. The survey covered 1,000 respondents in the United States who have mobile devices, and found that although the most frequent use was to make/receive calls and texts, almost two-thirds of the respondents downloaded and used at least one specialized travel app:

  • While traveling: 62 percent use their mobile device to research restaurants, 51percent check flight status, 46 percent research destination attractions, 45 percent read traveler reviews, 42 percent research or book accommodations, and 34 percent research or book airline flights. In addition, 59 percent use their mobile device’s GPS function, and 47 percent have used their devices internationally.
  • Of course, they also use their devices for activities that aren’t travel specific, including talking and texting, sending photos, keeping up with news, twittering and tweeting, email, and playing games.

I generally dismiss out of hand all the many “where travelers are going” and “what travelers are doing” press releases and surveys I receive. I don’t see why you (or I) should care what destinations, hotels, activities, or restaurants are currently most popular or those the travel press has anointed as currently hot. What’s really hot is where you want to go and what you want to do. But in this case, the activities of experienced mobile device users can point the way for you to use your device more productively.

The primary mobile device you’re likely to be using is a smartphone such as an iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry, and, increasingly, tablets such as iPad. They can all connect to the Internet just about anywhere via a wireless phone link and most can connect directly to the Internet when you’re in a WiFi hot spot.

Clearly, the most full-featured way you can use a mobile device to do all sorts of things is to access and control your desktop or laptop remotely through your phone. Several VNC (Virtual Network Computing) apps enable you to control Mac, Windows, or Linux computers; recent trade postings list Pro 2.0 ($4.99), iTeleport ($24.95), and Remote Jr. ($7.99) for iPhone and iPad; Remote Droid ($1.99) and Gmote (shareware) for Android, and MobiMouse ($5.99) for BlackBerry; you can Google for others. VNC apps require that you install a corresponding VNC program on your computer and may require a minor tweak on your router, but once you’re up and running, you should have no problems.

The big advantage to using a VNC app is that it allows you to access all of the sites you normally access from your home or work computer and (presumably) have indexed as favorites. Of course, using some of those apps on a four-inch screen can be a challenge. That’s a major reason for the widespread use of travel apps tailored specifically to the small phone screen.

If you don’t want to use VNC, you can install as many as you want of the thousands of travel-related apps available through your Apple, Android, BlackBerry, and third-party app stores, or from major travel suppliers and agencies, specialized agencies, important independent sources of travel information, and mapping/location systems. Supplier apps are generally free; apps from specialized information sources may require a small payment.

Obviously, there’s no way I can even begin to provide detailed lists and recommendations. The travel press is full of “10 best apps” and similar reports; be sure to check out my picks from last year. But the scope of any 10-best list is severely limited. Instead, my suggestion is that you check out the websites of any agencies and information resources you rely on the most and download their apps.

We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Top Fares From