Free summer travel apps for iOS

It's summertime and if you're thinking that it's time to get away, I've got the perfect set of free apps to make your vacation plans a success.

iPhone
CNET

Summer is here in the northern hemisphere and many probably already have their vacation plans set for a short getaway to enjoy the weather. But if you haven't made any plans yet, I've gathered up some highly rated apps to help you get out of town.

This week's collection of apps will help you plan the perfect trip. The first is a popular app that checks for the best flights to your chosen destination and looks for the best deals. The second will help you find the best food in your location once you get there. The third is a mapping and guide app that lets you download the information so you'll never get lost -- even when you have no connection on your iPhone.

Hipmunk
Sort by Agony to make sure you don't end up with several layovers and late-night flights. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Hipmunk (Free) takes some of the hassle out of finding the best flight by showing you several possible flights on a timeline, then letting you sort by various criteria to find the best flight for you. Like any good travel app, Hipmunk offers buttons to quickly select your departure and destination airports and the dates you want to travel, and then you can select the number of travelers. Then you hit the Search for Flights button to get the best flights available.

The way Hipmunk displays the flights is what sets it apart from other apps. When the app has gathered all the data, you get a list of all the flights from each of the different airlines displayed on a timeline. But each flight is color-coded and shows the complete flight time and each of the layovers (if there are any) graphically. Tap on a flight to show exactly how much time the flight takes and the length of each layover. With one more tap you get the full information like flight numbers, exact times, and the type of planes you'll be flying on.

What's particularly fun about this flight-finding app is that you have a few more options from the search result screen using the buttons across the bottom. An Agony button lets you sort by the level of, well, agony on your trip -- the app looks for late-night flight times, multiple layovers, and other factors that might make spending a bit more money worth the trouble. A Cost button lets you sort from cheapest flights to the most expensive. A Depart button shows departure times from earliest to latest. Finally, a Length button lets you weed out the longest flights with the most layovers.

Overall, Hipmunk is a great way to experiment and find cheap flights, with cool sorting options, graphical results that help you make your decision, and fast load times so you don't have to wait. If you're looking to take a trip in the near future, check out this app.

Lunchbox
Colorful pictures and easy-to-read reviews will get you to the food and drinks you want nearby. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Lunchbox (Free) is a fun way to find local food and drink spots based on those who have already been there. Whether you're on vacation or just want to find something new, Lunchbox makes food and drink discovery a snap.

When you launch the app there are only three choices of categories to choose from: Food and Restaurants, Coffee and Tea, or Bars and Nightclubs. All you have to do is touch your selection and the app brings up the names of places near your GPS location, colorful pictures of the venues, and short reviews written by people who have been there. When you touch a location you get a map at the top with the address, phone number, and a menu (if available) right below and you can also browse through numerous tips from other people who have been there. Just below that, you can swipe through color photos of the food taken by other people. This is what makes Lunchbox more than just a menu -- you can actually see what a restaurant has to offer to help you make your decision.

Lunchbox doesn't do much beyond that, but it doesn't need to. It's just the right app to have if you're in search of food or drinks wherever you are. If you're out and about -- especially in a place you've never been to before, Lunchbox is the perfect way to get the food and drinks you want with tons of recommendations from the people who have been there.

BohoGuides offline travel guide
All the information you need is available offline, but the design isn't the greatest (notice how San Francisco overlaps the map button). Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

BohoGuides offline travel guide (Free for one city guide) doesn't offer the polish found in the interface for LunchBox, but it has an exceedingly important feature for travelers: you download the guide for the city you're in so you'll have it even without a connection on your iPhone.

The app gathers all of its information from Wikitravel and you can browse through several categories for each city to find out more. Hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and popular spots all have extensive descriptions for each location. But you also can find out where not to go: in BohoGuides you can read up on the more dangerous parts of a city so you know just what to avoid. You can find out about spoken languages in the area, the best transportation options, where to find work, where to shop, and tons more. The information about each city is exhaustive and welcome to anyone who has never been in a location before.

The only thing I don't like about the app is the interface. A good UI designer would have organized the information better and made navigation much easier, but as is, you're dealing with a long list of items that, once touched, produce a wall of text that's difficult to get through. All the information is there, mind you, but it just seems like there would be a better way to display it.

Still, if you're on the road or in another country, the ability to view maps and info offline can be extremely useful. For this reason, if you're planning a vacation this summer, I recommend you download this app or one like it in case connection issues leave you out in the cold.

 

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