The Travel Apps of Our Dreams

It seems like smartphones can do just about anything these days, from waking us up in the morning according to our sleep cycles to translating foreign language signs we’ve just photographed. But our iPhones and Androids still can’t do everything.

As we put together travel plans for this coming fall, it occurs to us that some travel apps are still missing. Here are just a few of the award-winning ones we’re still waiting for.

10 Dream Travel Apps

1. What Would MacGyver Do (WWMD)

Forget TripIt. When you are in the middle of nowhere and the shit’s going down, who you gonna’ call? If you don’t have a signal, nobody. But wouldn’t it be nice to go all MacGyver, and know that a roll of duct tape, some nail clippers, a bandana, a head lamp and a business card can help you escape the pack of banditos waiting for you at the base of the volcano?

MacGyver Toolkit
Ready for the magic of What Would MacGyver Do?

Enter in the bits, bobs and gear available, describe the situation that needs to be overcome and let WWMD figure a way out.

2. Bedbug Detector

Bedbugs are everywhere: in the news and also in beds across the world, from the spiffiest 5-star hotels in New York to the dingiest of guest houses in Ecuador. If you’ve ever been bitten, you’ll know how truly awful they are. (In one of our worst bedbug bouts, we sustained well over a hundred bites each.)

Enter Bedbug Detector.

Hover over the bed in question and the app delivers a heat map of it. The red spots, those are the bedbugs. And if it looks like your bed is on fire (and not with passionate love), it’s time to hit the road to someplace with a bit less itch in its future.

3. The Haggler

I know, I know. Haggling is half the fun. Heck, it’s all the fun if you are one of those travelers who relishes grinding a street vendor down to $1.00 for that Che Guevara t-shirt.

But let’s say you find yourself in the middle of a market and you don’t know how to begin haggling, you feel at a disadvantage, you don’t know the language, or you just don’t have the energy to play the haggling game.

Audrey Gets in the Midst of Wedding Jewelry Shopping - Udaipur, India
A perfect opportunity for The Haggler?

Open The Haggler.

Haggler Basic allows you to take a photo of the item and have the app suggest a fair local price for it. Then it will give you some phrases to use in your haggling process. Use the “I’m Feeling Lucky” setting, turn the phone towards the vendor and have it do some basic haggling for you.

For more difficult higher-end items, Haggler Pro offers the opportunity to connect with a local. Via video chat, show the person the item you wish to purchase and then allow that person to haggle for you.

4. The Consul Finder

If you’ve ever obtained a visa to one of the stickier countries on the planet, you’ll know that not all consular officers are created equal. Some are traveler-friendly — they offer tea and biscuits. And then there are others. They show you the door. Add to this the fact that visa regulations not only change from country to country, but also from consulate to consulate.

There must be a way to sort through this more efficiently than random travel forums.

There is. It’s called the Consul Finder.

Enter your nationality, the country to which you are trying to get a tourist visa, and where you are currently located. This app will tell you where the friendliest (and least expensive) consulate is in the region.

5. Mini Taser

Tired of that bulldog slackpacker who won’t stop hitting on you? Need to dispatch with a few touts? You just exited the airport, are swamped in cabbies and need some space? A little behavior modification for someone cutting in line to get into the Sistine Chapel? You’re about to hand over your phone to a mugger?

The Mini Taser is just the app for you.

Two settings, subtle and brutal. Subtle is for the transgressor who needs an inconspicuous nudge to adjust his behavior. Brutal is for, well, you know.

A key pick for the solo female traveler.

6. Street Food Sleuth

Raise your hand if you’ve ever eyed up some fine looking street food and wondered, “Is that going to make me sick?”

Raise both hands if you ate that street food and actually got sick.

Don’t get us wrong: we love street food. While traveling, it’s often the cheapest and most enjoyable way to nourishment and local interaction. But some are still scared of it.

Burmese Street Food - Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar)
You know you want it

Enter the Street Food Sleuth. With this app, you can hover your smart phone over the street food in question and get a reading on lurking parasites and unhealthy bacteria like e-coli or salmonella. Eat street food to your heart’s content without the fear of hugging the bowl later that night.

Warning: Don’t bring the Street Food Sleuth to your favorite restaurant back home. You may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

7. Stag Party Avoider (SPA)

Having lived in Prague for five years and having waded through piles of post-stag party puke on Prague’s fine streets, we go on the record: stag parties (bachelor parties bent on cheap destruction) are a blight.

Worse yet, wading through mobs of would-be vomiters in places like Tallinn, Vilnius, or Bratislava does wonders to scotch a romantic nighttime stroll.

Enter Stag Party Avoider (SPA), the crowd-sourced, artificial intelligence method of avoiding staggering stag partygoers.

Based on your current location, SPA will give you a reading on stag parties in the area, complete with information about nationality (so you can tune your avoidance if you wish, choosing the lesser of evils).

How does it work, you ask? SPA intelligence is based on real-time crowd-sourced feedback (“I’m at Murphy’s pub and there are naked young men wearing matching t-shirts.”) and a patented Facebook activity-scanning algorithm that looks for keywords like “strip club”, “barf”, “beer”, and “There’s no way he’s getting married this weekend.”

8. You’re Off Track

While many of our best travel experiences have taken place in the context of getting lost, there have been times (oh, so many times) when it would have been nice to actually get where we were headed.

And having a map, even a Google Map, doesn’t always solve this problem. We need the genie in the phone – aka, You’re Off Track – who buzzes, rings or shocks us in case we’ve strayed too far off course.

Dan Checks Google Maps on iPhone - Madhabpur Lake, Bangladesh
In dire need of You’re Off Track in Bangladesh

Then we know to take out the phone, find where we are and get back on track.

Maybe you’re thinking “But how about TomTom?” The rub is that we don’t want our iPhone yelling out directions as we walk or bike down the street. Also, can TomTom guide you through the backwoods of Bangladesh in search of 7-layer tea?

You’re Off Track can.

9. Sticky Finger Finder

About to enter a busy market, festival or concert and wondering who’s on the take?

Open Sticky Finger Finder and let it scan the area for pickpockets.

Within seconds, the phones of nearby pickpockets and thieves begin to ring — with a custom ringtone, of course — making it easy for you to avoid them.

Busy Flea Market on Saturday Mornings - Vienna, Austria
Whose phone is ringing now?

Add-on modules include Tout Finder and Scam Finder.

Then, enter the Mini Taser app.

How does it work, you ask? We wish we knew.

10. The Travel App You Wish Existed

What iPhone travel apps or Android apps would you like to see come to life? Leave us a comment below and we’ll select the most clever ones in a follow up post.

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Comments

  1. says

    How about the super teleporter app? The one that can transfer your personage to a destination using nothing more that a smart phone signal! (And then we don’t have to use airlines anymore…)

  2. says

    Great list! One that you perhaps overlooked is iLaundry. You point the iPhone at the pile of clothes you’ve just been handed back as clean,ironed and neatly folded laundry in a stapled shut plastic bag and it tells you what is missing.

    Because, as you and I know, getting back to the hotel and finding half your underwear missing invariably translate to three hours back at the laundry shop trying to convince them you didn’t misplace your own clothes.

  3. says

    creative :)

    I can think of a couple more apps:

    accessibility finder (is it easy to get to? does it have a lot of stairs and/or a ramp?)

    Crowd spotter app, (or CSA) want to avoid those crowds? crowd sourced, they’ll tell you where they are!

  4. Shannon says

    The “Don’t forget it” an app that reminds you that you actually used the safe/locker in a hotel room and reminds you to get your fancy goods out of it before leaving.

    Also known as the “don’t unknowingly over tip the house keeper” app

  5. Robin says

    Can you publish the apps download link please? :-)

    Perhaps adding this …

    Lost Luggage Locator Basic …. airlines these days tend to ‘mislay’ luggage more and more frequently .. and for longer and longer periods. It is not unheard of that they simply say “we don’t know where it is”.

    ‘Lost Luggage Locator +’ offers the opportunity to actually get the luggage back (as you packed it) in your hands within 24 hours or less.

  6. says

    The Street Food Sleuth is very interesting! I used to get sick every-time when I moved to Mumbai for job reasons and I completely stooped eating them. But over the years I got used to it and my system is adjusting. You are cracking me up on the warning about this app bringing to a star rated restaurant :D

  7. says

    Ha ha ha loved that post :-) Great ideas here. On one hand i was thinking “yeah, if thoses apps existed that would definitely be reason enough for me to succumb and get an iphone at last” on the other hand i can’t help but think it would make travel less adventurous and thus less fun. Because hey without those apps then YOU get to be McGyver, and Agatha Christie of bedbugs, and make friends with people in filthy toilets when you move in there for a few days, and get lost in a city, etc …

  8. Anne says

    For jungle jaunts an app that (1) tells you if you still have food still in your bag somewhere, to avoid some animal knawing through your rucksack pockets in the night (2) shows if there are any animals you’d rather not come across on the way to the toilet in the dark (3) zaps mosquitos and sand flies….

  9. says

    That WWMD app idea is fantastic. I’d like there to be a really good translator app. Something that could translate any language, even really uncommon, or less known languages.

  10. says

    In the first update you could add a “Can I Swim in That?” app to predict the likelihood of getting bilharzia based on a picture of the body of water in question.

  11. says

    How about the “Is This A Really Poor Idea?” app…Enter in what you’re about to go do and the app will tell you what level of idiot you are for attempting it…

  12. says

    Forgot to put in my own example for the ITARPI app – taking off for a week on my own on a rented motorcycle in northern Vietnam. During the rainy season. With very little riding experience. Yeah, that was a Poor Idea.

  13. says

    Funny stuff. I love the street food sleuth- I can’t tell you how many times I have guessed wrong and ended up spending days investigating the local toilet scene.

  14. Amy says

    These are great! Almost feels like there should be some Hogwarts spells for some of them. What about a currency exchange app – what hole in the wall place is going to offer me the best rate and how do I find it and is it even open? or legal? Or how about a unique photo angle app – point it at famous landmarks or views, and get some kind of rating or percentage on how many times a photo has been taken from exactly that same angle? Or a shrinking landmarks app – locks you into exactly where to hold your hands to create the I’m holding up the Taj Mahal illusion…okay, I’m walking away from this now :)

  15. says

    Thanks everyone. I figured it’s about time to respond to some of your brilliant and often hilarious suggestions. I’ll be writing a follow-up piece citing some of these suggestions. Very creative, made me smile.

    @Matt: Oh man, you have captured the dreams of generations of travelers with that one. We’re in Berlin now with a “shelf” toilet. Will the Toilet Transformer transform it?

    @Jordan: Post the links where you’ve found them ;0

    @Erik: Channeling Star Trek for our Earthbound travel adventures, are we?

    @Stuart: Another one that seizes the dreams of just about every traveler out there.

    The story of the missing laundry strikes a nerve. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it. But I’m now in particularly short supply because of laundries in Buenos Aires and Thailand.

    @shannon: Actually, this is one of the more realistic ones, I imagine. I don’t doubt that someday accessibility might be an overlay in Google Maps.

    @Joan: In truth, I can only dream. For now, at least.

    @Shannon: Wow. This is a good one. We have a friend who sets alarms for each and every thing he needs to be reminded of. We once had him over for dinner and put a bottle of wine in the freezer to chill. 20 minutes later, an alarm. I’m not disciplined enough. And I would need an app to do this for me intelligently and automatically.

    @Robin: I’ve asked others to do the same :)

    I could have used that. I think there’s a bag somewhere in Delhi airport. And also a box of desirable reading material floating around somewhere between the U.S. and Prague.

    @Sailor: Mumbai has some of the best street food around. But I too have been bitten by that bug (particularly on my first trip there in 1997).

    @Pete: Based on experience? For me, certainly:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2011/01/facing-fears-wiping-out-getting-up-again/

    @Yolene: The app-less app. The reality is that we’ll always need to be MacGyver, even if he exists in some form in our iPhones. Problem-solving is indeed at least half the fun. And the results often provide more than half the stories.

    @Henry: Thanks.

    @Anne: That’s a good one. Not just for the jungle, but for national parks in the U.S. like Yosemite where if you leave food in your bags, you’ll attract the bears.

    Any app that makes mosquitos and sand flies vanish would be an instant purchase for me.

    @Alouise: The translation app would be popular. There are apps that are close, but still clunky. I think those are within reach.

    @Scott: Thanks. Glad you got a chuckle.

    @Liv: How readers react to this list is in fact a personality test :)

    @Brent: Wow. I’ve been there and thought that. Funny suggestion. I know some murky bodies of water just screaming for that app.

    @Peter: Glad you enjoyed it.

    @Petina: It was fun. We had a good laugh, particularly when we recalled the experiences that motivated the idea.

    @LB: That sounds like the Magic 8 Ball. Did you do something like this:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2011/01/facing-fears-wiping-out-getting-up-again/

    Or did you just have to deal with mud? The timing of your comment is funny…we just recommended someone to ride a motorbike in No. Vietnam around Sapa and Bac Ha. But during the rainy season, I imagine it’s a little sticky.

    @Kenny: Know that you are in good company. We can commiserate. In retrospect, it’s part of the experience though, isn’t it? (I know that’s all rationalization on my part.)

    @Agne: It would be. Certainly for me. I might never put my iPhone down.

    @Amy: They are spells in a way, I suppose.

    The currency exchange app idea is amazing. But imagine if you had this, you could play arbitrage buying from one and selling to another. The possibilities are fun to consider.

    Your “photo cliche” app would be precious. Like facial recognition, it would have a travel photographer cliche recognition algorithm and give you a thumbs up or down based on the uniqueness of your eye. Brillant!

    The “Eye Crush It” (this is a reference to an ancient TV show Kids in the Hall) app is also terrifically creative. Holding up the Taj Mahal and crushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa between your thumb and forefinger. Love it.

  16. says

    Here are my top 3 iPhone travel apps or Android apps that I would you like to see come to life:

    1. KIller Coffee Finder: Having owned a cafe, I can’t stand bad coffee and trying coffee is always risky when you’re in a new place. I’d love to have an app that pulls and analyzes ratings and reviews from multiple sources and gives me a “potential for disappointment” score for each cafe and coffee house in an area.

    2. Area Danger Alert: It pulls local crime statistics and cross references with violent crime news and assigns an overall “danger score” to any area you’re thinking of exploring.

    3. Crazy Landlord Checker – A listing of crazy landlords (and why they’re crazy) in all major cities where someone might want to rent a short-term furnished apartment or house.

    Consider this: Run a contest to find the best submission and partner with an app developer that wants the PR and have them build the app. Poll your fans to discover the most wanted features of the winning submission.

  17. Mariza says

    Annoying tourist detector. Want to try a great restaurant, bar, or cafe based on great reviews on tripadvisor or yelp or a recommendation from a friend or hotel staff? Then you get there and find out it is now a big tourist trap and lost that quaint ambiance and the food is not that great. This app will alert you to never go there or the best time of the day to avoid the tourist crowd and hang out with the locals. This app would also tell you what the locals like to order so you can avoid getting treated like a tourist.

  18. Mariza says

    I’d like an advanced Google transit app which tells you the most convenient form of transportation based on specific criteria you select to narrow down your search such as cost, time, safety, and cleanliness. For example, if you don’t have time or patience for the bus/subway, the app might suggest you take a taxi instead and also suggest the best corner and quickest and cheapest cab to flag down. It will alert you to any cabbies that might rip you off or rob you. This app might suggest you save your money and walk to your destination if it is faster than waiting in traffic or sitting through numerous bus or subway stops along the way. If the bus/subway is the best option it might alert you to skip the first arriving bus/train and take the next one for whatever reason. Detectors included with app: nasty smell, germs, annoying people, pickpockets, violent criminals, terrorists, etc. Taser, Your Off Track, Sticky Finger Finder and Stag Party Avoider apps would all be included with this app.

  19. says

    @Adam: Fabulous suggestions, borne of experience. Love it.

    iPhone coffee finder. iBrew? iBean? The more you travel, the more you’ll be asking for your app to flash red when it’s not actually coffee being served, but Nescafe.

    Am iSafe? I’m wondering if some fledgling apps like this exist. Would be really useful, for travelers (and for home buyers and apartment renters, for that matter).

    Crazy Landlord. Oh my god, laughing. We’ve been pretty fortunate, but I’ve heard some horror stories.

    Really like the contest idea. Great ideas all around.

    @Mariza: Being lead astray with all those recommendation sites, are we? I hear ya’. There’s gotta be a better way. If I could build an app to get closer to the truth of the experience, I would. One of these days.

    Maybe the app you are talking about is called iShill. On the internet, shills are a dime a dozen. Sometimes it’s tough to plow through their spam.

    The transit app is brilliant and doable, I’d think — even the cabbie rip-off identifier. (There’s an app in Bangkok where people submit feedback on the safety and friendliness of cabbies.) The case where the app suggests you walk instead is the magic nugget, particularly in a city. Nothing worse that sitting, languishing in traffic.

    As for all those detectors, maybe they can be add-ons :)

    Thanks for some great suggestions!

  20. says

    Hysterical and so practical. I could so use the your off track app – how about a Tuk Tuk driver app – it sends out a signal that instantly repels tuk tuk drivers and renders them mute.

  21. says

    @Juls: Hilarious. Sounds like you’ve been spending too much time in and around Khao San (or perhaps Bangkok in general). The Mute Button render hecklers and hawkers all…silent. You got in just in time. You just might see this one in our follow-up piece!

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