Traveling the world is one of the greatest joys a person can experience. Between visiting historic places, meeting new people, and eating new kinds of food, travelers can learn a lot about themselves and their place in the world.
That being said, traveling can be a gateway to stressful and dangerous situations. Losing luggage, getting lost, getting robbed, food poisoning, and social awkwardness are just some of the threats travelers face every day.
Thankfully, there’s a range of digital solutions to common travel questions that can help you make the most of any trip you take — wherever you might be going.
Planning ahead and traveling smart are the best ways to make sure every journey you take is fun, memorable, and safe. Below is a list of some travel hacks so you can spend less time on logistics and more time kicking back and sipping your drink of choice.
Use Mobile Passport to speed through the security line
You know how frustrating the security check can be at the airport. The long lines and slow service are everyone’s least favorite part of the trip, so imagine how convenient it would be to cut the process in half.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has released an app called Mobile Passport that greatly speeds up the security process. When you use it, you’re essentially filling out your declaration forms in advance. The app lets you fill out profiles for you and your family, then asks you a few brief questions about your trip. After that, it submits the info to CBP and gives you a barcode for the airport.
When you arrive at customs, you’ll now have access to a “fast lane” that’s dedicated only to Mobile Passport users. This line is significantly shorter and can help you get on your flight faster (so you can catch some shuteye before you land, hopefully.)
The app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Check your airline’s apps for alerts, flight delays, and standby options
These days, your airline offers more than just complimentary meals and in-flight movies.
One of the best parts about air travel in the smartphone era is the presence of apps from each of the major airlines. These programs offer plethora of useful features like flight check-ins, delay updates, and mobile boarding passes.
Depending on your airline of choice, every app will have different features to help you optimize your trip. In the United Airlines app, for example, you have the option to book tickets in the app. Seat availability updates are live, so in the event that you have a voucher due to a flight change, you might be able to snag a first class ticket on standby if you’re fast enough.
Most important are trip notifications, which alert you to changes or delays in your flight. In the United app, the notifications are stored in the inbox. There is a way, however, to get notifications directly to your phone’s lock screen — so you’re right on top of your flight even if you’re not in the app.
To access your notification settings on iOS, open the Settings app and tap Notifications near the bottom of your screen. When you’re in the Notifications menu, scroll until you see the name of your airline’s app. Tap it and select Allow Notifications. This will push any notifications from the app to your home and lockscreen.
To change notification settings on Android, open your Settings app and tap Apps and Notifications. Then, tap Notifications. In this menu, you can scroll until you find your airline’s app. Tap it and enable notifications in the next menu.
To get the app for your airline of choice, open the iOS App Store or Google Play store and search your airline’s name. It should be the first result that appears.
Speaking of Google, use Maps and Translate to get around
If you’re traveling to a foreign country and don’t speak the native tongue, Google has a free travel companion for you, which you can use on your smartphone or computer. Go to translate.google.com, enter the text, and you’ll get your English translation. You can also use it to reverse translate, from English to another language, which comes in handy for very important questions.
Then, use Google Maps to navigate to “die toilette.” Google is adding features to its maps app all the time. Use offline maps before you leave for your trip to download local maps; that way if you don’t have cell service, you’ve got your map on your phone.
Google maps is packed with bus, light rail and even Uber and Lyft estimates that estimate distance, travel time and even costs.
Exercise while traveling
For many runners and cyclists, finding the time to run or cycle while traveling is as essential as a morning cup of coffee. Things just aren’t right without logging a few miles, no matter how busy your schedule.
If that describes you, you might find that Strava is a must-have travel app. Strava will track your run, map your cycling route, analyze your training and let you upload and share your stats — all for free. Think: social network for runners and cyclists.
The reason it’s so great for traveling is because Strava allows you to see which routes are most popular and where the good stops are along the way. With Strava Local, travelers can see a guide to major cities around the world with data sourced from a pool of millions of users. Download for free for iPhone and Android.
Get cheaper tickets with Google Flights
Google always manages to worm its way into our lives in some form or another — but this particular feature is worth it. Google Flights compiles a ranking of the best deals for whatever journey you’re planning and lists it below the space where you buy tickets. This lets you compare and contrast ticket prices in the moment — allowing you to make smarter decisions when booking flights.
Google Flights also includes a handy meter below your list of rates that shows how typical prices are for your given trip. That way, you’ll know if you’re actually getting a deal or not before you click buy and complete your order.
Google Flights is free to use, but keep in mind Google’s penchant for data harvesting. If you’re buying tickets through Google, advertisers and other tracking entities will know your travel destination. Use Google Flights in an incognito window, or clearing your search history once you’ve finished buying tickets for maximum privacy protection.
Travel smarter with these 3 clever apps
Make the most of your own smartphone technology (even if you aren’t set up to make calls abroad.) There’s a huge variety of useful travel apps, but we’ve selected three of our favorites.
XE Currency is a free currency conversion app that includes the most up-to-date exchange rates and clean, simply menus for calculations. You can convert multiple currencies at once, as well as see how exchange rates are currently trending. It’s available for both Apple and Android smartphones.
Dark Sky goes above and beyond other weather apps to deliver “hyper local” weather conditions, temperatures, and forecasts. This lets you see the current climate in more remote areas, such as mountains — making hiking or skiing much easier. It’s available for both Apple and Android gadgets.
Wi-Fi Map might be one of the most useful travel apps around. This program lets you scout for free-to-use networks in your general area, allowing you to connect while you’re abroad. This is great if you don’t have a phone plan and are relying on apps like WhatsApp to contact your loved ones. The app is available for both Apple and Android devices.
Don’t forget about mental health! With the popular meditation app Headspace, users complete one meditation session every day for 10 days, and there are six series: Foundation, Sport, Health, Relationships, Performance and Headspace Pro. Each series after the introductory series has difference categories and meditation tasks for you to complete as you progress.
Headspace also offers meditation sessions called “Singles” for users to do on the go when they don’t have time to complete a full session. Some of the “Single” sessions include: SOS, Sleeping, Sport On The Go, Fear of Flying, Commuting, Walking and Running.
They also now offer an in-flight channel and audio exercises to help you relax, get some sleep and learn to meditate while flying – perfect for anxious travelers. The service is offered on 11 airlines. Download for free for iPhone and Android.
Use Twitter for direct customer support and feedback from your airline
Twitter, one of the most popular apps in the world, isn’t just for arguing online or sharing animated gifs. It’s a useful tool for directly engaging your airline when you have complaints, comments, or questions.
Twitter allows you to notify other users in the form of a mention. This is done by making a tweet and using the @ symbol followed by the username you’re trying to contact. Once you’ve tagged the airline’s username, you can type out your question or comment, and hit send to post the tweet to your profile.
The real power of Twitter as a channel for customer complaints in any industry is that it is a public channel. Your complaints (and compliments, let’s be fair) are there for all eyes to see. Brands hate seeing customer complaints aired on social media. JetBlu and Virgin (part of Alaska Air) are the quickest to respond to tweets, according to a study by Conversocial; they respond within 5 minutes. United was one of the slowest, taking longer than 5 minutes.
Almost every major airline operates a Twitter account. If you’re not sure about the exact username, you can perform a search in the search bar in the upper left hand of the website. If you’re in the app or on mobile, it’ll appear at the top of your screen.
Keep in mind: airline social media teams respond to a large volume of comments and requests. Due to high demand, it may take some time before they respond. Thankfully, the public-facing design of Twitter displays your comments on your airline’s profile, so it’s in their best image to respond as promptly as possible.
That’s the beauty of Twitter support. It’s like having a direct line to Customer Service — minus the elevator music, of course.