App lab: The best apps for planning a holiday

Planning a holiday used to leave you at the mercy of travel agents and guidebooks that were out of date by the time you got off the plane. But mobile apps are making planning holidays simpler, cheaper and more reliable by giving us access to information in real time. We’ve rounded up the five best apps for getting that vacation under way.

Finding flights: Kayak

Probably the most comprehensive travel planning app currently available, Kayak compares hundred of travel sights to give you everything you need to book your holiday at the best possible price. You can compare flights, hotels, package deals and even car rentals then book them without leaving the app. The price alert feature is a nice touch, letting you know if the price of the trip you’re planning goes up or down. Other features include an itinerary planner with built-in flight tracker and upfront info on all airline baggage allowances and extra charges so you don’t get caught out.

Available on: iOS, Android, Windows, Kindle

Price: Free (£0.69 for ad-free version)

Finding a place to stay: Airbnb

Airbnb has exploded in popularity recently with all your friends somehow claiming to have been using it for years. This app isn’t a comprehensive planning tool but offers something that no other service can. In it, you’ll find a community of over 15,000,000 people in 190 countries where users rent out their spare rooms and second homes to paying guests. You’ll often find apartments and rooms for much lower prices than local hotels, and community ratings ensure the worst hosts and guests get weeded out. If you’re looking for something unique on a budget this is the app for you: where else could you find over 600 castles to stay in?

Available on: iOS, Android

Price: Free

Planning what to do when you get there: Trip Advisor

So you’ve decided on a holiday location and booked your flights, but what are you going to do when you get there? That’s where Tripadvisor comes in. The app curates the largest selection of user reviews of restaurants and attractions for anywhere you want to go in the world. The app is even more useful when you’re on holiday: if you’re stuck for something to do or want to find a good local restaurant, the Near Me Now feature will automatically pick out the best places nearby. It’s worth checking out your hotel on Trip Advisor too: if the one you’ve picked has any nasty surprises someone’s sure to have written about it.

In fact, we think TripAdvisor is so useful that we’ve made an app of ourown in partnership with the site. The O2 Travel app features reviews of local restaurants and attractions from the TripAdvisor community. You can even save reviews and maps to your phone so you can consult the app and find your way around while offline. A must for any trip to Europe!

Available on: iOS, Android, Windows

Price: Free

Finding hidden secrets: TouristEye

Finding that perfect little restaurant off the tourist trail or mixing in with the locals at a market can be the most rewarding part of a holiday. TouristEye lets you create a wishlist of things to do when you’re away. The app even sends you personalised ideas for trips based on your location and travel history. Another major selling point is that the app works offline so you won’t be restricted to using it only when you have WiFi access or risk racking up major roaming charges.

Available on: iOS, Android, Windows

Price: Free

Keeping organised:  Tripit

Standing at a hotel check-in desk frantically pulling everything out of our bags searching for that elusive reservation slip that we definitely had five minutes ago is not the most relaxing start to a holiday. Tripit manages to do away with all that. This clever app uses an algorithm to collate all your confirmation emails, strip out all the unnecessary info and create a slick itinerary for you. It even uses your itinerary to automatically provide local maps, weather reports and suggested activities. The app then syncs everything with your calendar and makes it easy to share with your friends – this last feature is particularly handy if you’re meeting friends on family on your travels. They’ll have no excuse when you’re left stranded at the airport.

Available on: iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry

Price: Free

Have you used any of these apps to plan a holiday? Let us know on our Twitter @O2.

For more on how tech can help you make the most of your travels, tune in to LBC Radio on Saturday at 8.30pm when our O2 Guru will be chatting about the gadgets you should be taking on holiday.

You can also find us on O2 Guru TV or visit an O2 Guru in store.