Planes, trains, and automobiles: Apps to get around the US this holiday season

Traveling during the holidays can be overwhelming or annoying depending on how far you have to go. Whether you’re flying, driving, or sitting on a cheap bus, getting to your final destination this winter is going to prove challenging if you haven’t searched for a ticket.

Here are some helpful apps that you can use to get to your holiday destination of choice. Whether you plan on flying or driving, there are a lot of apps that can help you plan your trip around the US or abroad. If you live in the UK, take a look at Zuzanna’s article on getting around the UK this holiday season.

Broken down by deals, airline companion apps, and helpful tools in Android and iOS, these apps should help make travel a little easier. At the very least, you’ll be able to find and purchase your ticket or find the best route home.

If you’re flying

If you’re going to be flying during the holidays, there’s a rumor that purchasing your ticket three weeks before the desired date will get you the best price. This may not work during the winter holidays, as travelers are grabbing any ticket they can to fly, but if you’re willing to lose a bit of sleep, flying either early in the morning or late at night may result in cheaper flights.

KAYAK (Android/iOS)

As one of the most popular travel deal sites, KAYAK’s mobile app provides the same usability as the website. It lets you search for hotels, flights, rental cars, and more, comparing across different travel sites. The service usually finds the cheapest flight that’s currently available, but there are instances where other sites actually have cheaper results than KAYAK.

KAYAK on Android

KAYAK is the best place to begin before drilling down your options.

Orbitz (Android/iOS)

Like KAYAK, Orbitz is another deal search engine for flights and hotels (it’s actually the service that I used the most when I was in college). The search engine isn’t as comprehensive as KAYAK, but you can still get a lot of options for different flights, even combining different airlines into one trip.

Orbitz on Android

Beware that there are cancellation fees with Orbitz that can be a bit unfair, and its customer service can be a bit annoying (at least it was when I used it a couple of years ago).

Hipmunk (Android/iOS)

I liked Hipmunk when it was first released because it categorized flights by ‘agony’. This means that it organizes flights based on length and other factors that could contribute to its high level of annoyance, like layovers. I never booked a flight through the app, but it’s a good reference to see how bad a particular airline or flight might be.

Hipmunk on Android

Expedia (Android/iOS)

Much like Orbitz, the Expedia app comes from one of the older deal sites. It’s another site that’s a good place to start, but may not have the best deals for flights. Like other apps, you can also book a hotel room if you need to. I’ve never had a lot of luck finding the best flights deals with Expedia, but the app could still be a good reference point for travel.

Expedia on Android

Airline companion apps

In some instances, you can also get cheap flights directly from a carrier, rather than buying one from a discount site. The best sales usually happen when carriers are trying to completely fill an airplane immediately before the flight date. All airline apps allow you to track your flight, and some of them let you purchase tickets in the app itself.

JetBlue on Android

Because some carriers allow only one free piece of carry-on luggage and charge extra for checked bags, being able to check-in using an app is a great time saver. If you have connecting flights, you can store your boarding pass in the app, which can be quickly scanned at the boarding gate. Here’s a selection of carriers that have supported mobile apps.

Also remember that if you have Passbook on iOS, you can import your boarding passes; Google Now will pull flight information from your Gmail account if you have the option selected.

If you’re driving

Driving can be an adventure. While flying is quicker, driving with a group of friends can be a fun diversion, as well as a cost-effective way to get home. Splitting money on gas and driving non-stop can actually be a more fulfilling journey, but obviously you might need directions to get from your starting point to your end destination.

Luckily, there are a lot of different navigation apps that you can use. Just remember, navigation can use a lot of mobile data, so you may not want to keep it on all the time.

Google Maps (Android/iOS)

Still my go-to for directions, Google Navigation (even in beta) can give excellent directions. With Waze-integrated notifications, you can see possible rough spots during the trip that you can avoid. And since Google Maps will save searches, it’s easy to pull up a list of recent places so that you’re not stuck typing in the same address over and over.

Google Navigation on Android

Apple Maps

iOS’ built-in maps app has improved a lot since its first release, though I haven’t used it since it was in its first beta. It provides a parallel navigation experience to Google Maps and since it’s the default app that launches with any link in iOS, you may have used it a lot. It will get you from start to finish, but I can’t say if the directions will be perfect.

Apple Maps on iOS

Waze (Android/iOS)

Even though Google owns Waze, it still exists as a separate app. It provides directions with user-provided updates for accidents or delays, meaning  that when you’re inside a city, it might be a better app to use to get directions home.

Waze on Android

GasBuddy (Android/iOS)

If you’re driving, you need gas, and depending on the city, prices can vary significantly. GasBuddy is a perfect app to find the cheapest gas on your trip. With prices updated by other users, you can search for the cheapest or closest gas station wherever you are. All in all, a great way to keep gas prices low.

GasBuddy on iOS

The goal is to get home safe

Regardless of whether you plan on flying or driving home for the holidays, the trip is going to take time and money. Time and money, however, seem reasonable when it comes to spending the holidays with family. When flying, finding the best deals is very time sensitive, and yes, you could have thought ahead and bought tickets months in advance, but who actually does that?

Searching for deals takes time, and finding the perfect plane ticket might not happen, but at least you could save some money. Driving is the other option, but it’s best done with friends who can pitch in for gas and driving duties. Use your collective mobile devices for directions and get everyone home.

The holidays are a great time to take a break and recharge for the new year. Getting home, is the first step.

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