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The world’s 50 best travel apps

Essential add-ons to make your travels smoother and your smartphone smarter

Shooting and sharing in Hong Kong© leungchopan / Shutterstock.com

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Forget the armchair explorer: this is the age of the pocket traveller. In the not-quite-decade since smartphones burst onto the market, ingenious developers have come up with an impossible range of apps designed to make your travels smoother, cheaper and more fun. Where once you would have had to wrangle over the phone in broken French to book a room in Paris, or bury your face in a map the size of a billboard to negotiate your way around the streets of Kyoto, or identify a mountain according to the contours of its peak – your smartphone now does your work for you. Each of our 50 best travel apps, then, has earned its place on the list by virtue of doing something halfway useful. But more than that, many of them push the boundaries in some way, being innovative, quirky or (in some cases) downright space-age. So browse well, take your pick and get globe-trotting – because with a few of these in your pocket, you may never look at the world in the same way again.


Plan

Logistics not your forte? This handy apps will help you prep for your journey

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FlightTrack

Follow the path of thousands of international flights on slick, zoomable maps, with detailed information on departure gates, delays and (heaven forbid) cancellations. Great for those anticipating the arrival of loved ones, or particularly nerdy train-spotters looking to up their game.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($4.99) and Android ($4.99)

  

 

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WeatherPro

An intuitive app offering weather reports for well over two million geographical locations, feeding in everything from cloud formations and atmospheric pressure to wind speed and humidity, all in enough detail to leave Michael Fish clammy-palmed with excitement. It’s also accurate to the point of clairvoyance, so if you’re travelling to Berlin and it predicts rain, pack your best umbrella.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($2.99) and Android ($2.99)

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Entrain

There are plenty of theories floating about concerning the best methods for beating jetlag, but the pointy heads at The University of Michigan are better placed than most to give scientific counsel. Three cheers, then, for their quirky app, which takes your travel dates and destination and dispenses advice on how to adapt your circadian cycle in advance by optimising lighting levels throughout your day. Entrain is nicely complemented by JetLag Genie, which helps you alter your sleeping times before setting off.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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XE Currency

Don’t bother paying up for one of the many currency conversion apps out there in the digital hinterland – this freebie is slick, easy to use, and – best of all, since it uses live currency rates – completely accurate. It’s been downloaded more than five million times to date, so don’t even think about hopping on a plane without it.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Packing Pro

Anyone who says there’s no exact science to packing has obviously never tried to cram a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos into the same suitcase as a giant inflatable beach ball. Thank the lord, then, for this. Tell it where you’re going, how long for and who with and it’ll spit out a suggested list of what you might need, split up into essentials (passport, currency), clothes, gadgets and more, with separate lists for additional family members. Packing List offers much the same service to Android users, and for free.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($2.99)

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Sunscreen

Until the bashful lobster look finds its way into the style zeitgeist, this is a crucial piece of kit for those venturing to sunny climes. Having detected the UVI rating of your current location, this nifty little app sets a countdown timer to alert you when you’re due your next slathering of sunblock. All you have to do is input your skin type and the SPF of your lotion, then kick back and soak up some worry-free rays. Android users can download the near-identical Sunscreen Reminder Pro.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free)

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Tipulator

Leave 10% on the table after a meal in Tokyo and your generosity will cause offence; do the same in New York and you’ll be called a skinflint. Thankfully, wherever you go, there’s this: a nifty tip calculator to help the mathematically challenged split bills and tips while neatly sidestepping social embarrassment. Note that it doesn’t tell you the standard tip rate for the country – you’ll need to look that up separately.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Air Sharing

In the cut-throat world of business, time is money, making a seven-hour trans-Atlantic flight a lot of wonga indeed. Thankfully, just because your laptop’s packed away doesn’t mean you can’t keep your eyes on the prize. Essentially, this (admittedly pricey) app turns your iPhone into a wireless hard drive, allowing you to quickly and easily load it up with documents at the airport, then browse and amend on the move throughout your trip.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($4.99)

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EHU

Not the most thrilling addition to your tech arsenal, this one, but essential all the same. Designed for campers and caravanners, the app provides a simple and effective way to keep track of the electrical output of your various travel gadgets, meaning you’re less likely to burn your pride and joy to the ground by overloading the circuit. Requires a little bit of preparation before you set off, but the resulting peace of mind makes up for it.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free). Only available in UK store.

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LoungeBuddy

Even within the elite jet set there are various classes of traveller, and different airport lounges to match. Whether you’re after a quick pre-flight shower or hungering for a smorgasbord of exotic fruit, this neat app will suggest a lounge, complete with user reviews – just punch in your airport and level of access and the rest is taken care of.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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MarineTraffic Ships & Winds

The seven seas have never looked more crowded than on this wondrously detailed map, which draws on a massive database of official data to track thousands of ships in real time. Essentially a novelty purchase for anyone who isn’t a sailor, energy trader or pirate, MarineTraffic will nonetheless captivate anyone who’s ever dreamed of stowing away on a cargo ship and traversing the oceans.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($3.99) and Android ($3.99)

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Perfect World Clock

Does pretty much what it says on the tin, this one, providing easy access to the time in hundreds of cities and therefore averting arithmetic-induced stress your jetlagged brain could really do without. Nothing revolutionary, but still an essential download, especially considering the rather nifty option of adding several clocks as home-screen widgets.

Available on Android (free)

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TravelSafe

A potentially life-saving database of emergency service numbers for just about every country you’d ever care to visit, plus plenty for those that you wouldn’t. If you shell out for the Pro version (UK only, £0.99), there’s also embassy details should passports go missing and – for the truly paranoid – the option to pin certain services to your home screen as widgets, for one-touch access to police, ambulances and fire engines. iPhone users can choose from a range of similar apps, the best of which is Emergency Phone Numbers.

Available on Android (free)

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The Snow Report

As much as we hate stating the obvious, it’s a simple fact of physics that you won’t have much of a skiing holiday without snow. Keep this on your home screen and you’ll never be more than a chilly-fingered prod away from the latest ski reports for your local pistes, and there’s even detailed trail maps to guide you back to the lodge should you snowplough-turn your way into trouble. For Android users, OnTheSnow performs much the same tricks.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free)

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Onavo Extend

Anyone who’s ever accidentally downloaded a large email while on holiday will attest to the ridiculousness of data roaming charges, and while the European Union inches toward putting things right, in the meantime – and in other parts of the world – there are measures you can take to avoid an end-of-month sting. Once installed, this app drastically reduces the amount of data required to perform everyday tasks, such as retrieving email and posting to Facebook. We’re not entirely sure how it manages such a feat – we just know that it works and we’re not about to complain.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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MSW Surf Forecast

Okay, so smartphones don’t particularly complement the gnarly surfer aesthetic (can you imagine Keanu whipping out an iPhone in ‘Point Break’? Because we can’t), but still – it’s good to be prepared. Leading surf forecast website Magicseaweed’s app leads the pack, boasting comprehensive info on tides and weather conditions for most of the world’s big surf spots. The webcam streams are a nice bonus.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Book

As choice increases, the booking process gets paradoxically simpler, thanks to these nifty apps

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Skyscanner

This clean-looking solution does everything you’d ever need it to, aggregating fares from airlines and the big travel sites to bag you the best deal. For those really keeping an eye on the purse-strings, there’s also the option to pin your search to your start screen and keep an eye on price fluctuations. Use it in conjunction with an app like Yapta, which holds cheap prices for a small fee, and you’ll be on easy street. Neat.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Hostelworld

Not everyone who rocks a smartphone can afford to stay at The Savoy every night, so thank heavens for this – a geo-tagged directory of 35,000 listings for budget hotels, right at your travel-weary fingertips. The app also provides access to over 3.5million user reviews, minimising the likelihood of you signing up to a night in a flea-infested hell-pit.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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WorldMate

The closest thing most of us will ever have to a personal assistant, albeit a hell of a lot cheaper. All you have to do is forward your various confirmation emails for flights/hotels/hire cars/restaurant bookings etc. to trips@worldmate.com and the app instantly generates an itemised itinerary covering your entire trip. Better still, upgrade to the premium version ($9.99/year) and the app will keep you in the loop in real time, generating alerts to let you know when flights are delayed or gates change.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Airbnb

The all-conquering database for user-provided accommodation extends its tentacles into your smartphone, with an app that effectively serves as a pocket-sized version of the website. Whether you’re after a long-term let in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower or a night in an aluminium igloo in the Greenland fjords, you’re likely to find it among the 600,000-odd listings on offer.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Stayful

If you’re the sort of traveller who’d rather hand over the entire contents of your wallet than attempt to haggle, Stayful may be the app for you. This is no ordinary hotel booking service: input your budget and the style of accommodation you’re after, and it suggests a room, together with a price it considers fair according to its market analysis. If you’re happy with the deal, the app negotiates it with the hotel on your behalf – and more often than not, the hotel agrees. Result.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free)

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iCampsites

A great value guide to more than 9,000 campsites in the UK and Europe, backed up with user reviews, pictures and inch-perfect GPS coordinates. Looking for a little more than just somewhere to bed down for the night? Simply filter local results by facilities and you’ll soon be en route to a patch that’s right for you.

Available on iPhone ($2.99) + iPad ($3.99)

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Navigate

Negotiate exotic subway systems, find your nearest ATM and get familiar with Himalayan contours

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AA Parking

There are stacks of apps out there that’ll show you a map of nearby car parks, but for UK residents none does so in as much detail as this market-leading marvel. As well as tracking down spaces in their vicinity, users can also see at a glance how much they’ll have to pay to stay per hour and, for some car parks, the exact number of spaces available. Bank Holiday road trips just got slightly less stressful. The best bet for Americans is Parker, which is free to boot.

Available on iPhone + iPad (£1.49) and Android (£1.99)

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Uber

Legal challenges, negative publicity and a determined campaign from independent cabbies have yet to take the wind out of Uber’s sails. Depending on your point of view, the crushingly efficient cab-hailing app either represents the free market at its best or at its worst. But when you find yourself drunk in the boondocks at three in the morning without a penny in your wallet, there’s no denying its appeal.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Waze

GPS navigation meets social networking, with surprisingly effective results. Tap in your destination (there’s also speech recognition if you’ve got your hands on the wheel) and user-submitted traffic reports make sure you’re offered the quickest route for the current road conditions. Even if you’re not digging the whole sharing and caring vibe, it’s still a good $24.99 cheaper than TomTom’s sat-nav app.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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New York Subway

There are hundreds of apps that promise to make your journey on New York’s subway system less stressful, but none as highly rated or widely used as this slick and intuitive piece of software. As well as the usual maps and route planners, there’s also a natty augmented reality mode that uses your camera to overlay nearby stations onto your view of the city. Pretty neat, even by a hardened Noo Yoiker’s standards.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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AlpineQuest GPS Hiking

Go up a mountain without the right kit in your backpack and we’d be mighty surprised if you ever came back. And while sturdy shoes and some sort of stick (for fending off bears, naturally) are a given, GPS tracking software is another potential lifesaver. On this comprehensive orienteering app, maps come complete with contour lines, so you know what you’re getting into. They can also be stored on your SD card, meaning you won’t be left in the lurch should your mobile signal drop out. And if you’re doing some proper hiking, it definitely will. If the price tag puts you off, download the basic version for free.

Available on Android ($9.99)

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Allpoint

There’s any number of apps that can point you to a nearby ATM, though many, frustratingly, only display those that accept a particular card type. Allpoint, which covers machines that participate in that particular network, will come in useful for most US-based users. If ever you’re seized by the sobering terror of realising you’re in a moody part of town with no money for a cab, you’ll be grateful that you downloaded it.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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CityMapper

Google Maps may have the upper hand in rural areas, but for the harried commuter and the urban flâneur there’s no better way to stay oriented than this. Dizzying megalopolises are reduced to linear paths and simple itineraries courtesy of the journey planner feature, and live updates on everything from traffic and diversions to the weather ensure that you won’t get caught out. Essential.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Maplets

Google Maps and CityMapper do a fine job of orienting you down streets and toward landmarks, but even they have their blank spots. Which is where Maplets comes in. Essentially a gigantic database of specialised maps – some official, others created by users – the app will help you find anything from a Starbucks in Dubai Airport to the mummies in the British Museum.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($2.99) and Android ($2.58)

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GasBuddy

Forget time – for the car owner gas is money, and there’s little worse than the feeling that you’re being stiffed on your fuel expenditure. The helpful folk behind this app have taken this truth to heart, turning out a valuable map of gas stations in North America, together with the prices offered at each one (as submitted by users). The data is surprisingly thorough and accurate, and a spiffy search function allows you to locate the cheapest suppliers in your area.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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PeakFinder Earth

When asked why he wanted to conquer Everest, George Mallory famously replied, ‘Because it’s there.’ Much the same reason could be given for the creation of this app, which offers little practical purpose but a good deal of satisfaction. Point your camera at the skyline and it will identify every peak in view, from piddling hillocks to Himalayan giants, just because they’re there. Good fun when you’re hiking.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($3.99) and Android ($3.99)


Explore

You’ve made it to your destination. Now what? Here’s what

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Foodspotting

While apps that aggregate crowd-sourced restaurant reviews may be ten-a-penny, those that focus in on specific dishes are a far rarer species. Luckily, this one works a treat, responding to your every gastronomic whim with user-generated recommendations from your local area. In downtown Madrid with a penchant for paella? Prod around a bit and within seconds you’ll be en route to the best in the city.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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FourSquare

Though it shot to fame as a social networking tool, this location-based app has become a godsend for curious travellers. The way it works is simple – fire up the app when you arrive at any given place (everything from restaurants to churches are listed) and you’ll see a list of tips from those who’ve been before you (‘try the cheeseburger’, ‘arrive by 9am for a good pew’, etc.). Check in regularly enough and you’ll claim virtual mayorship of that particular venue, with some venues even offering perks (a free pint, discounts, and so on) when you claim the crown.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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English Heritage Days Out

A comprehensive guide to over 400 English Heritage sites and National Trust conservation areas, featuring facts, figures and directions from your current location. So, if you happen to live within a stage-coach ride of one of England’s statelier corners, the next time a holiday rolls around, ditch the ‘House of Cards’ marathon, pack some sarnies and go revel in the underappreciated brilliance of ye olde kingdome.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Wi-Fi Finder

With data roaming charges still laughably high in many places, knowing where to find a decent wi-fi hotspot is essential if you’re to keep the twitterati up to date with details of your latest sojourn. No need to charge through the city waving your handset around like a fly-swatter, though – simply fire up this handy app, courtesy of the folk at JiWire, and follow directions to your nearest source of wireless internet. Best of all, the offline mode means you can download maps before you go, thereby dodging a massive bill.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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TripAdvisor

Stripping away the glossy magnificence ladled on by just about every online travel agency out there, this is the place to find brutally honest reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions and more. The userbase is notoriously hard to please, so be warned that you’ll most likely find exclamation mark-strewn rants next to your favourite spots. Still, on the flip side, touch down in a strange city with nowhere to stay and you’ll only ever be a few prods away from the warts-and-all opinions of travellers just like you, but angrier.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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HearPlanet

Handy though they may be, the trouble with guidebooks – and indeed their digital equivalents – is that digging through them to find the information you’re after invariably means less time appreciating the thing you actually came to see. This innovative bit of software solves the problem by reading the information (farmed from Wikipedia and its own database) directly into your ears. It’s a bit like one of those audio guides they hand out at museums, then, only better for your street cred. The free version has no offline functionality.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($3.99) and Android ($0.99)

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YPlan

Noting that only a minuscule fraction of all events ever sell out, the canny chaps behind YPlan spotted a niche and filled it. Combining expert curation with personalisation algorithms, the app notes your location and suggests upcoming events in your area – gigs, club nights, film screenings, pop-up restaurants – for which tickets are still available. Then it offers you the chance to book, often at a discount. Why plan indeed? (Note: for the time being only London, New York and San Francisco are covered.)

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Musement

One of the more recent arrivals in the crowded city guide scene, Musement doesn’t offer anything too radical: select your city, and browse a range of local venues and events. But, being Italian in origin, the app puts an emphasis on the arts and fine dining, and it distinguishes itself with a carefully curated selection of museums, art exhibitions, restaurants and bars. Official partnerships with the venues allow you to book directly, sometimes at a discount.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Time Out

Even if we do say so ourselves. The Time Out app is a beast in terms of in-depth coverage: it serves an ever-growing number of cities where we have a presence. Just landed in New York and need to know which restaurant, bar, club or in-the-know retro hipster Victorian carpentry seminar to head to TONIGHT? And within an eight-block radius of your current location? Switch the city, tap the relevant ‘near me’, and presto – you get updated recommendations straight from our editors’ messy desks to your tidy little mobile screen.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Communicate

Make yourself heard – and get into a fight – with these nifty tools

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Google Translate

Another Google product, another market cornered. As far as general translation apps go, this is unbeatable: it boasts enough features to sate all but the most pedantic linguists, and a few bonuses too. Particularly intriguing is the Word Lens tool, whereby you point your camera at a foreign word, which is then translated in real time on your screen – great, unless you’re caught trying to decipher a ‘No Cameras’ sign.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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WhatsApp

The unstoppable cross-platform messaging system is slowly but surely doing what until recently was thought impossible: rendering the text message obsolete. Data (that’s pictures, videos, sound clips and GPS tags as well as text) are sent using either wi-fi or your phone’s web package, so even if you’re sending a message to someone on the other side of the globe, there’s nothing to pay. Absolutely essential for keeping in touch with overseas chums, and, providing you can find some wi-fi, great for sending off-the-cuff holiday snaps back home.

Available on iPhone (free) and Android (free)

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Touchnote

Remember postcards? Those rectangular, papery things you used to scrawl down tales of your far-flung travels on back before the world went digital? This app-cum-print-service allows you to hark back to the analogue era by creating and sending physical cards bearing your own travel snaps and text to anywhere in the world, for a thoroughly reasonable $1.33-$2.99 a pop. Just select your fave pic, submit it together with the destination address, and it will be printed and sent off by someone in a shop somewhere.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Swearport

Ever wanted to call an Ethiopian a maniac, or approach someone on the streets of Helsinki and suggest they do something improper with themselves? Well now, thanks to this neatly indexed catalogue of international expletives, you can. Just remember to wipe it from your phone before the cops show up.

Available on Android ($1.00).

  

  

 

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Document

Because your holiday didn’t happen unless half the people you’ve ever met know about it

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Photosynth

While your phone’s on-board camera may be just the job for immortalising otherwise hazy memories from a night on the town, it simply wasn’t designed to do justice to the likes of the Grand Canyon or Mount Fuji. Thankfully, with this ingenious app bolted on, awe-inspiring panoramic shots can be created in an instant – just choose your scene, press the magic button and it’ll handle the rest. Naturally, it’s fully integrated with Facebook, so get snapping and watch those ‘likes’ rack up. Android users can make use of the similar Panorama 360, also free.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free)

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iMovie

Apple’s movie-studio-in-your-pocket remains the best option for itchy-footed techies looking to shoot and send tantalising snippets of paradise back home. Especially impressive is the pared-down editing suite, where soundtracks and shot transitions can be dragged and dropped to create moving postcards with serious production values.

Available on iPhone + iPad ($4.99)

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Flipagram

If you’re keen to arrange your holiday snaps into some sort of narrative – or you just want to show off your plate of sashimi from multiple angles – this is an essential download. All you have to do is select your fave photos, sequence them and pick a track from your iTunes (or from an online database) to soundtrack it, and the lot will be ‘flipped’ into a slideshow that you can then smear all over your friends’ Facebook feeds.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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Bonjournal

The vaguely French name is no accident: this is a travel journal app with class. Where most apps tend to pile on features with every update until you can barely navigate your way out of the menu screen, Bonjournal strips things down to a Zen-like minimum. You’re invited to pen diary entries, perhaps spice them up with a couple of pics – but no more. The resulting journal, laid out in a sleek Muji-like aesthetic, can be sent by email, published on Facebook or even converted to PDF.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free)

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Tripcast

We tend to cherry-pick the best of ourselves for our social media avatars, and that’s as true of the holiday pics we publish as anything else. So, in the spirit of transparency, Tripcast requires you to invite people to your photo album before you’ve uploaded anything. They will then receive every single photo that you post in real time, together with a location tag so that they can track your progress.

Available on iPhone + iPad (free) and Android (free)

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