Planning a spur-of-the-moment trip doesn't have to be a hassle. Whether you want to plot a weekend getaway at the last minute or you need to book same-day travel to attend a business meeting, the proper tools can make the task quick and stress-free. In fact, when you have the freedom to take off at a moment's notice, you may even be able to score some killer deals.
To take advantage of these benefits, you need nothing more than a capable mobile device and some apps to do the heavy lifting. Here are 10 travel apps that will help you with everything from booking all-inclusive vacation packages to finding great deals on same-night hotel stays to obtaining local-activity recommendations.
FlightBoard (Android, iOS; $4)
FlightBoard, a stylish app modeled after the board maintained at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris, turns your device display into an arrivals and departures board for airplane flights. It includes information drawn from more than 3000 airports and shows updated information every 5 minutes, letting you view the real-time status of any flight. The app is particularly handy for last-minute travelers who are rushing to catch a plane and for people who are looking for the next available flights out of nearby airports.
Hotel Tonight (Android, iOS; free)
Unlike Next Flight (see below), which helps you get to a same-day destination, Hotel Tonight's goal is to find a place where you can rest your head once you've arrived. The aptly named Hotel Tonight scouts for great prices at nearby hotels available on the night of your search (up until 2 a.m). You can book a room for one or more nights directly from the app. It tracks accommodations in more than 80 cities across a dozen countries, but it limits its listings to hotels that the creators have personally vetted--which means higher-quality selections, lower prices, and less slogging through an overwhelming number of choices.
Jetsetter (iOS; free)
This slick-looking app lets you do anything from reserving same-night hotel stays to booking complete vacation packages. The Jetsetter Now feature offers discounts of up to 60 percent off last-minute bookings for members--and membership is free. In a section of curated tips, editors offer suggestions for weekend trips, luxury maxi-breaks, and holidays geared for specific travelers such as Snow Seekers or City Slickers. The app also includes a nifty credit-card scanning feature, which auto-fills your details in online forms for fast, hassle-free booking. The downside: It's available only for iPhone and iPad.
Last Minute Travel (Android, iOS; free)
With a name befitting its function, Last Minute Travel (aka LMT) offers spur-of-the-moment bookings for flights, hotels, and touring activities. The sheer quantity of choices would be overwhelming if not for a set of useful sorting tools that the mobile app provides. You can view flights by price, stops, length of journey, or preferred airline; map out hotels by location; and filter hotels by star rating or recommendations). Booking is a simple three-step process--an important feature when you're severely pressed for time. You'll also find an exclusive deals section that can save you a few bucks.
mTrip (Android, iOS; $4)
Travelers embarking on a trip without a lot of advance planning may not have time to pick up a suitable travel book. Plus, who wants to carry around a bulky tome these days? For people who like to travel light and last-minute, mTrip offers in-depth digital travel guides for dozens of popular destinations. Besides covering such standard guidebook fare as accommodations, attractions, restaurants, and shops, the app lets you create personalized itineraries, as well as add photos and notes while on your trip, and send digital postcards to family and friends. The folks behind mTrip also maintain augmented-reality maps--accessible offline--that provide directions to local destinations on foot and by public transit.
Next Flight (Android, iOS, Windows Phone; $3)
Next Flight is a useful app for just about any frequent flier, but its up-to-the-minute flight information is ideal if you find yourself needing to hop on a plane right away. You plug in your origin, destination, and departure date; and the app responds by generating a list of all available flights to that locale, along with their departure and arrival times. The app also supplies terminal and gate information--data that can be crucial to have on hand if you're in a rush. Regrettably, the app itself doesn't include booking functionality, but that's mainly because it's so oriented to last-possible-minute travel that a call to the airline is required.
Travelzoo (Android, iOS; free)
Travelzoo is useful for finding everything from full-blown, all-inclusive vacations to deeply discounted tickets to local events. For travelers who find themselves looking for a local's experience in a new city, there's a handy mapping feature that shows deals near you for activities ranging from baseball games to ballet. The app delivers these Local Deals vouchers directly to your phone, so you won't have to go hunting for a printer during your travels. The Travelzoo Top 20, a list of the best deals of the week, arrives as an information update inside the app each Wednesday--it's particularly well suited for last-minute bargains, since the offers tend to sell out quickly.
TripIt (Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone; free)
Making sure that all of your trip details are coherently organized will help ensure that your last-minute travel unfolds smoothly and with as little stress as possible. The TripIt app lets you access all of your travel details in one place. You simply forward your airline and hotel reservations to a TripIt email address, and TripIt then saves the data to organized itineraries that you can access on your phone. You can also add plans directly to the app; sync itineraries with your calendar; share itineraries with friends and family; and receive weather information, travel directions, and maps for your travel destinations. A pro version (priced at $49 per year) provides additional features such as flight alerts and rewards tracking.
Twitter (Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone; free)
Travel may not immediately come to mind when you think about Twitter, but you can find plenty of useful tips and deals on the microblogging service if you know who to follow. For JetBlue faithful, @JetBlueCheeps tweets last-minute airfares every Tuesday. Airfare Watchdog (@airfarewatchdog) covers all airlines and tweets daily with deals based on specified location and destination. If only luxury will do, check out @GetATravelDeal. It's also prudent to follow location-specific accounts--for example, @gohawaii and @HawaiianFares--if you have a particular destination in mind. Don't want to put in the legwork? Try TripTwit, which finds the best Twitter travel deals and reports them in a daily email message.
Where (Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone; free)
Once you've reserved your last-minute flight and found a top-notch hotel for your stay, fire up Where to help you find the best local spots for dining, entertainment, and shopping. The app uses your device's built-in GPS to map out nearby restaurants, bars, and shops. It also includes a social feature that lets you save and share your favorite places and get recommendations from friends on where to go. As a nifty bonus, a built-in weather tracker helps you plan your activities with an eye on the elements. And an offers section populates deals based on your location, enabling you to find food and fun even more easily.