Travel the world without printing a thing

Your complete guide to traveling without paper, from tickets to touristing.

Sarah Mitroff Managing Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
Expertise Tech | Health | Lifestyle
Sarah Mitroff
4 min read

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Mark Mann

Still printing out travel reservations and boarding passes when you head out on a trip? Break that habit now, because you can do it all on your phone -- really, all of it. A few hacks and travel apps are all you need to bid adieu to easily lost, tearable, inconvenient paper.

Itinerary on demand

Congrats, you're going on vacation! You've booked your flight, hotel, museum tour and surfing lessons, but now your inbox is a mess of confirmation emails. Instead of printing out each one or fishing through an endless thread while a check-in agent and the queue behind you wait impatiently, stay organized by taking screenshots of every email and grouping them in a folder on your phone. It's an especially handy trick if your data reception is slow, or if you're overseas and can't use your mobile data at all.

To do this on iPhones, briefly press the home button and sleep/wake button at the same time. On Android phones, hold the volume down and power button until you see the screen flash. The screenshots will save to your phone's Photos or Gallery app.

If you don't want to take screenshots, use an app such as TripIt, which organizes all of your travel emails for you as soon as they arrive in your inbox. It creates a consolidated itinerary with all of your confirmation numbers, travel times and other info that you can view offline, too.

Paper-free tickets

I haven't printed out a boarding pass in at least three years because I need only my phone and my identification to get through security and onto my flight.

Mobile flight boarding passes first appeared around 2007, and now nearly all major airlines and most major airports worldwide accept them. If you're traveling by train, Amtrak in the US and Eurostar in Europe both offer mobile ticket options through their apps.

Kyle Hilton

When you check into a flight on the airline's desktop or mobile website, choose the mobile boarding pass option and follow your airline's directions to retrieve it -- either by downloading the airline's app or getting a link through an email or text. On iPhones, you can usually add the pass to your built-in Wallet app, and then it'll appear on your lock screen shortly before your flight. You also can take a screenshot of the pass as a backup.

Just show your phone with the boarding pass when you get to the security checkpoint and your gate -- the staff will know to scan the QR code that comes on the pass. And if you need to check luggage, go the check-in counter as normal and let the agent know you already have your pass.

Recycle that old map

Still using a paper map to find your way from Madison Square Park to Madison Square Garden? Leave it at home on your next trip, and use Google Maps instead. Before you leave, download maps for any region in the world, and they'll be available when you need them -- even if you don't have Internet access. In the Google Maps app on Android and iOS, just search for a city or area, tap the bottom menu, tap download and select the exact area you want for an offline map. Just be advised that offline maps expire one month after you download them.

The downloaded maps work even better than a paper one because you can search for anything and get turn-by-turn directions.

Travel books are old news

I spent my last European adventure lugging around a thick travel guide of Italy to find places to eat and see. Now, I've replaced that book with a few apps on my iPhone.

Foursquare's recommendations for memorable places and amazing dishes make it my favorite restaurant guide. (The app is free on iOS and Android.) Tell Foursquare what you like -- ceviche, ocean views or craft beer, for example -- and it will suggest the perfect places for you, wherever you go. Plus, it will show you the most popular joints in any area, so you're sure to find a great meal.

Don't bother packing a phrasebook on your next trip, either -- use Google Translate (free, iOS and Android) instead. Type or say a phrase in your language, and it will translate it to the language you need and also speak it out loud. You can even point your camera at a sign and Google Translate will replace the foreign words with English translations on your screen.

With only a little prep, you'll never need to find space for a travel guide in your bag or pull out a crumpled boarding pass at the gate again. On your next trip, grab your phone -- and charger! -- and let your personal mobile travel agent do the hard work for you.

This story appears in the summer 2016 edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.