I work for a tech company whose mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. It's a lofty statement, but one that I've started to think isn't all that impossible to achieve. From search to driverless cars and virtual reality (see picture above), this mission dictates everything Google does as an organization.
As technology advances at a blistering speed, there seems to be no task that can't be accomplished with the simple tap of a button. However, we run the risk of becoming so reliant on the screens in our palms that we've lost sight of the world around us. I will personally admit that I'm as guilty as anyone of this.
When it comes to travel, there are thousands of apps out there ranging from hotel deal-finders to virtual guides for North Korea. Don't ask how I know about the latter. I've picked out a few apps that come in handy before, during and after a trip. Some are a bit obvious whereas others might be less familiar. Some of them aren't even really travel-specific apps. Regardless, all of these apps enable us to focus on what matters: the world around us, not the screen in front of us.
There are tons of flight aggregator sites, but I find most of them to be riddled with ads and a bit clumsy to use. I'm a very visual person, and I love the way Hipmunk lays out flight options in a simple, intuitive timeline view. It's particularly helpful for multi-destination trips spanning different timezones. On a side note, I use Hipmunk for planning but usually don't purchase my flights from aggregators. Sites like Orbitz and Expedia get you with fine line T&Cs and almost always strap you into the middle seat. You're airline status is pretty irrelevant when booking discount flights from these sites as well. When possible (and not cost prohibitive), you're much better off booking directly from the airline for a more flexibility and transparency.
Before picking your seat, head over to SeatGuru to make sure you've made the right choice. It flags the best and worst spots so you don't end up stuck in a seat with no leg room and no windows. Also keep in mind that most airlines are constantly updating their fleet with new aircrafts, particularly for long-haul flights. The aircraft you fly on makes a huge difference in comfort and entertainment. No one wants to take a 10 hour flight to South America with no seat back entertainment.
TripAdvisor and travel guides like Lonely Planet are great starting points when researching a new destination. However, once you get past famous landmarks and tourist sites, I would take their recommendations with a grain of salt. A one-star rating from a grumpy reviewer who was confused by the website and didn't actually go to the restaurant is useless. I enjoy pulling together recos from various sources like travel magazines, local blogs, design sites and newspaper articles. With Pocket, I simply pin the item and then save it on my device for offline viewing. No wifi necessary.
This is an obvious one. The best thing about the app is what it can do without internet connection. Before heading out, pull up the location you're headed to and and save the map for offline viewing. As long as your phone has GPS, you can also view your exact location in real-time without wifi or a data plan.
When I first moved to London, every local recommended I download this app. There's no better app for getting you from point A to point B via public transportation. It will tell you the best routes to take, down to the the exact minute when the next bus or train is arriving. The app currently only services a few select cities (including NYC and London) with more on the way.
If public transportation is not your style or not readily available, Uber is a great alternative. The private car service is extremely convenient and, in many cases, noticeably cheaper than taxis. In London, Uber cars cost roughly 20% less than standard black taxis. The app is now available in dozens of cities around the world. If you'r traveling alone or late at night, it's likely a much safer travel option, particularly in massive cities like Istanbul, Mumbai and Shanghai.
When you're traveling with friends, it's nice having an easy way to communicate with the group. As a Googler, it pains me to recommend this app over our own. However, I have to give Facebook Messenger the nod over other messaging apps like Hangouts and WhatsApp primarily because of its VoIP capabilities. The voice call feature has been crystal clear every time I've used it.
In full disclosure, I've never used the mobile app (iOS only). However, I've used Artifact Uprising on desktop multiple times to make photo albums and holiday gifts. You can use your photos to create a range of products, from traditional albums to calendars and wooden boxes. Everything is beautifully designed using recycled paper and lacks the kitschiness of other sites like Shutterfly.
Before you laugh at me, just hear me out. If Google+ has one redeeming quality, it would be its photo capabilities. You can change the setting so that all photos on your device automatically sync to your account in the cloud. Don't worry, no one will see them unless you choose to share. The app also includes slick built-in photo editing capabilities from Snapseed. Lastly, the auto-awesome functionality is a bit silly but sometimes yields some hilariously awesome results.
That's all for now. Let us know what some of your favorite apps are!