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Top travel apps for iOS

There are plenty of apps in the App Store you can use to book flights, but this collection of apps is designed to make your travel days and vacation both easier and more memorable.

Between crowded airports, winter delays, and luggage loaded with gifts, holiday travel can be stressful. But with a little planning, you can make your trip a little easier from start to finish. So rather than gathering up a collection of apps that help you book flights, we decided to make a different kind of travel collection.

Packing Pro
Packing Pro lays out preparations for your trip and a packing list to make it easy to check things off. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Packing Pro ($2.99) gets you ready for your big trip before you leave by making sure you'll have everything you need while away from home.

If you like to make lists, this app is a dream come true for planning a vacation. You start by creating your trip entry, then add everything from pretrip preparations to every item of clothing you're going to need -- all by choosing each item from an exhaustive premade list. If your particular item is not already included (I couldn't find Q-Tips, for example), you can add items to the database that will be ready for every trip list thereafter.

What makes this app especially useful is the way it automatically organizes different items. The pretrip planning section, for example, reminds you that you might need to update your passport, buy travelers' insurance, and other odds and ends that might be easy to forget if they weren't waiting to be checked off your trip list. Your baggage list is also organized by category, so you have a section for clothes, a separate section for toiletries, and another for the gadgets you need to bring. All of these sections and categories are broken down using an intuitive hierarchical interface, and you can select from several themes to give your list a personalized touch.

As with every good list-making app, you can tap the screen to check off a list item, showing that you have it squared away. iCloud support also checks it off your shared lists with other devices so you'll never be confused about what's on each device.

For all its complexities, Packing Pro is mostly a simple list-making app. But with a list of tons of common travel items already available for you to add, and eye-catching interface elements, you can make sure you have every detail covered, saving you time and stress when you're about to travel.

Just Landed
Just Landed uses an elegant interface to show you the vitals on your friend's flight. By the way, you're late. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Just Landed (99 cents) is not exactly an app for the holiday traveler per se, but instead uses your GPS location and current flight schedules to help you pick the exact time to go pick up your friend or family member from the airport. So rather than the traveler, this app is for the person at the destination.

Just Landed sports a well-designed, minimalist interface with only the tools you need for picking up a person at the airport. The way the app works is, once you've gotten your friend's flight information, you can enter the flight number into the app to get the latest info about their flight on travel day, including whether the flight was delayed or will arrive early. From there, you can simply go about your day until the app notifies you (you'll need to keep notifications on) when it's time to leave for the airport in time to pick your friend up.

An added bonus feature is that Just Landed uses your GPS location and traffic data to show you the best route to the airport and figures out how long it will take you to get there. The app takes these factors into account when determining when to notify you, so you don't have to worry so much about what the roads will be like getting there. When you start your drive, the Maps app takes over, showing you the best route to take to get to the airport quickly.

While this app isn't for the holiday traveler, it will definitely come in handy for those who are picking up people at the airport. If you have a relative coming in for the holidays, check out Just Landed.

Snap a picture and say a few words and HipGeo adds it to your blog automatically with location info. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

HipGeo Travel Blog and Trip Journal (free) lets you tell the story of your holiday with images, videos, text, tags, and more, all tied to your geolocation. You start by signing up through Facebook or Twitter, then you can choose people to share your travels with.

Once signed up, you'll have your own personal blog on HipGeo where all your posts will live. When you're ready to start, you can either touch the camera button to take a photo or video, or choose the Post option to write a text blog. After hitting Post, your photo, video, or text blog will show up with a time stamp and your location automatically, along with whatever message you want to send to your followers. Essentially, it's an easy-to-use geotagging blog tool, but what it means is that you can go about your holiday vacation snapping pictures of family and writing a few words while HipGeo does all the hard work for you. What you get is a way to remember your Thanksgiving (or any holiday or vacation) that you can send to friends and family with pictures, locations, and your thoughts.

There are a number of extra features that will make HipGeo even more useful as you record your year-round adventures. When taking a picture, for example, you get a full-fledged photo editor with several effects to choose from, color balance controls, cropping, saturation, red-eye correction, text captions, and tons more. The extra photo-editing controls make for great-looking pictures that make your blog interesting to look at it as it tells the story of your journey.

HipGeo is free from the App Store and is a great way to document a trip, whether it's out of the country or just going home for Christmas. If you're about to go somewhere and want a neat history of your travels, you should check out this app.

You can also get HipGeo for Android.

You can do a few things on SeatGuru, but choosing a seat is the most important. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

SeatGuru (free) helps you make one of your most important decisions in air travel. Now, in an ideal world, you'd have a seat before arriving at the airport. But in this era of air travel, that's not always possible. Some airlines require a certain status level to select a seat early, some make you pay for the privilege, and others (hello, Southwest) don't let you do it until you board the plane.

Whatever your method, though, SeatGuru tells you everything you need to know to make your selection. Just like on the SeatGuru Web site, you'll see which seats are in an exit row or at the bulkhead, which have restricted legroom or don't recline, and (worst of all) which have a misaligned window. A handy color guide will give you the overall opinion on each seat and you can click on an individual seat to see more information. What's more, you also can research general information on the aircraft, including which routes it usually flies for the airline and the seat pitch (aka the amount of leg room) and width for each cabin of service.

You will have to know which kind of airliner you'll be on, but that information is readily available on your itinerary or by asking an airline rep. Alternatively, you can search by your flight number in the app to find your aircraft, but keep in mind that your airline may switch out your plane at any time due to mechanical or passenger load needs. SeatGuru covers a broad number of airlines from Aer Lingus to Virgin Australia.

SeatGuru also lets you look up flight schedules, make a reservation through partner sites, and search for a flight's departure status. These features do their job, but the interface is basic and not always intuitive. As such, you're better served making reservations through a dedicated ticketing app like Kayak. SeatGuru also can be slow depending on your connection, so make sure you're in an area with good wireless coverage before diving in.

You can also get SeatGuru for Android.

Shop, eat, and find your airline's lounge using Airport Guide. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

Airport Guide (free) is a like a guidebook for an airport. As CNET Blog Network author Matt Elliot said in his recent story on the app, it gives you the lay of the land and helps you decide what to eat, where to find a taxi, and how to get to your gate. Though you can use Airport Guide at any point on your journey, it's particularly useful if you have a few hours to kill while at a large hub airport like Denver or Chicago O'Hare.

There are lots of airport guides in the iTunes app store, and while none are perfect, Airport Guide is one of the best. For each airport listed you can see great information like maps of each terminal with the location of all gates, shops, and restaurants, airline lounges, and whether the airport has free (or paid) Wi-Fi. The ground transportation section shows the best options for getting from the airport to popular neighborhoods at your destination, and the parking section displays the rates for local garages. What's more, Airport Guide also shows if there are travel alerts or weather/air traffic control delays for your selected airport.

Airport Guide covers many of the major airports around the world, but as Matt found, smaller airports are listed as "coming soon." So if Airport Guide doesn't have what you want it's worth checking out other titles like GateGuru.

Track your flight and research every aspect of it with Flight+. Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

Flight+ ($2.99) is more expensive than many of the flight-tracking apps on the market, but it brings a lot of functionality not available with other titles (though FlightTrack, which is also available for Android, is a close second). Of course, you need a flight-tracking app to see if your plane is on time before you leave for the airport. It's also useful if you're waiting for a friend or family member to arrive.

Once you select a flight, you see all of the relevant information including the scheduled and actual departure and arrival times, terminal and gate information, and a map with the flight's approximate position and the weather and current time at the two cities. The maps are high-resolution, colorful, and fully detailed. You can elect to receive push notifications as flight times change, save notes for a flight, and view a short description of the aircraft.

Flight+ also delivers a ton of information that will satisfy both airline geeks and casual travelers. For most airports globally you can view a short description, current weather, terminal maps, and (in some cases) a photo of the terminal building. Also useful are real-time departure and arrival boards (just like the ones you'd see in the airport) that are continually updated and a world map showing all the domestic and international flights from the airport with nonstop service. The Airlines section is similarly detailed. Besides a short description of the carrier, you can see a map of its worldwide destinations, a flight board of all its flights across the system, and its current Twitter feed.

One complaint is that you can't track a flight without being forced to add it to a saved list. Though such a list is convenient for keeping track of a multileg journey, sometimes you just need to look up a flight's information only once. Also, while $2.99 is reasonable for the iPhone version, $4.99 is too steep if you want Flight+ for your iPad.