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Apps for Traveling Smarter

John Moore, |Special to CNBC.com
Tuesday, 17 May 2011 | 9:46 AM ET

Whether you’re a leisure traveler or a corporate road warrior, you’ll find a wealth of mobile apps to help make your journeys more productive and enjoyable.

The problem is that there are so many of them—about 350,000, according to Henry Harteveldt, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

“If you’re a frequent traveler, you’re going to want applications that can help you improve your productivity, reduce your chance of delay or chance of stress, and help you maximize your enjoyment during your off hours,” Harteveldt says. “There’s no single application that can do [all] that. Some, such as those that track frequent flier or loyalty program account activity tend to be more popular with business travelers. But social media applications, entertainment applications and destination applications are really as relevant to leisure traveler as they are to business travelers.”

The apps highlighted below cover a wide range of needs, from booking a hotel to getting around town to getting work done.

Planning Your Trip

When it comes to booking a flight, it’s hard to beat Kayakfor its simplicity. Enter your destination and travel dates and you’ll get several options that you can sort by price, time, or airline. A single click brings you to the appropriate booking site. You can also book hotel reservations and rental cars. (Free: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone/iPad)

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Keeping your itinerary in order can be a chore, especially for a multiple-destination trip.TripItstreamlines the process by organizing flight and gate numbers, hotel reservations, and rental car confirmations into a single itinerary.

The basic version is free, but frequent business travelers can download a Pro version for $49 a year that includes mobile alerts for flight delays and gate changes, as well as the ability to keep track of your travel rewards accounts. (Free: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone/iPad)

Business travelers can ill afford to be held back by delays. FlightTrack Proculls data from 5,000 airports and 1,400 airlines to deliver real-time alerts to your mobile device about changes to your flight time or gate information. The app integrates with TripIt and you can sync updated information with your phone’s calendar. ($10: Android, iPhone/iPad)

Whether your job requires you to make a last-minute sales call or you’ve decided to take a spur of the moment vacation,Hotel Tonightlets you book same-day hotel reservations at discounted rates. Currently available for hotels in a dozen major cities, including New York, Chicago, and Miami, but the company says more cities are on the way. (Free: iPhone/iPad)

Getting Around

When you need to book a restaurant reservation, OpenTableuses your GPS location to deliver seating information for restaurants in your area. You also accumulate reward points for each reservation. (Free: Android, BlackBerry, HP webOS, iPhone/iPad, Windows Phone 7)

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Public transportation is often the cheapest and most convenient way to get around, but it can be confusing in an unfamiliar city. AllSubway HD includes 125 subway maps for major cities worldwide, including New York, London and Buenos Aires. Because the maps are downloaded to your phone, no Internet connection is required, so you can refer to a map even while underground. ($1: iPhone/iPad)

Don’t worry about hailing a cab in a busy city. TaxiMagicis integrated directly into local taxi dispatch systems in 30 cities, allowing you to book a ride with a few taps of your smartphone. You can track the arrival of your taxi through dispatch updates and a map view. You charge the ride to your credit card and can expense the trip with an e-receipt, ideal for business travelers. (Free: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone/iPad)

No matter how much advanced planning you put into your trip, it’s easy to find yourself with a bit of downtime. Gobyhelps you find things to do in your area, from sightseeing to cultural events to adventure activities, so you’ll never be left wondering what to do next. (Free: Android, iPhone/iPad)

When traveling overseas, keep track of what you’re really spending with Oanda Currency Converter. The app culls data from interbank market rates for nearly 200 currencies. It even adjusts results based on whether you pay by cash or credit card. (Free: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone/iPad, Windows Phone 7)

It always pays to be prepared in case of emergency. Emergency Call contains nearly 1,000 emergency numbers for countries around the world. The app determines your GPS location, including the address, allowing you to direct emergency services to the proper location. ($2: iPhone/iPad)

Travel Dollars - A CNBC Special Report
Travel Dollars - A CNBC Special Report

Getting Down to Business

When you need to stay connected, Spotslocates Wi-Fi hotspots by matching your location to a database of half a million worldwide hotspots, grouped by free and subscription services. ($2: iPhone/iPad)

Keeping track of expenses is a must for business travelers. Exgis Time and Expense Prohandles that task. It also manages your client lists and calculates total mileage traveled for clients and projects. After you input your information the app exports the data as a spreadsheet. ($14.99: BlackBerry)

If you need to access a document on your corporate database but don’t have access to a laptop, Boxlets you share Word, Excel, and PDF documents. (Free: Android, iPhone/iPad)

Multiple Choices

The travel apps featured here are among the most popular and critically regarded in their categories. But you can find a variety of apps within each niche. Choosing the right one depends on your particular needs.

“We’re seeing people trying to develop applications to fulfill unmet needs or to make life easier,” Harteveldt of Forrester Research says. “It’s highly personal. You need to figure out what you really need and how much will you use it.”