A handful of smartphone applications can help intrepid international travelers stay current on the safety of countries they visit, make changes in hotel reservations, and stay in touch, cheaply, with the folks back home.
Smart Traveler, free for iPhone from the U.S. Department of State, describes countries, gives maps, and, most important, provides the latest travel advisories and warnings issued by the government.
For each nation, the app gives phone numbers, addresses, website links, and maps to find the U.S. embassy or consulates.
If you set up an account under the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and enter an itinerary, the service checks in electronically with local embassies. This could save some paperwork for travelers and expats needing help in emergencies, as consulates are a source of contact for finding local doctors and lawyers who speak your language.
You can check the app for two categories of State Department travel notices -- warnings and alerts. Warnings are about long-term conditions making a country dangerous or unstable. Topping the long list of warnings this week were notices on the Central African Republic, Kenya, and Afghanistan.
There were two alerts -- notices about temporary problems: one about Bahrain, scene of antigovernment demonstrations, and a second about hurricane and typhoon season being under way around the world, with advice to take precautions and keep an eye on the weather.
For the same information on an Android device, there is Travel Smart, free by Candomil. This app isn't provided by the government, but it links to the U.S. Department of State information through the Travel.State.Gov website.
And this app throws a wider net, with links to similar travel notice services from the governments of Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
Assuming all goes well at your destination, TripAdvisor Hotels Flights, free from TripAdvisor L.L.C. for Android and Apple, is one of the best ways to pick places to stay, eat, and visit.
Users have loaded TripAdvisor with tens of millions of reviews. Other users have come to swear by those reviews and you'll be encouraged to add your own, along with photos. A feature called Near Me Now identifies points of interest in the immediate vicinity.
And there is a "cheap flight" finder -- cheap being a relative term in what seems to be a season of rising ticket prices.
Kayak Mobile, by Kayak.com, is a comprehensive way to compare and book hotels, flights, and car rentals. It includes a flight tracker, directories of airline contact information, quick references to individual airlines' baggage fees, and itinerary tools.
Using your cellphone during international travel can wallop your wallet. But anywhere you get a WiFi connection, you can use Skype, by Skype Software, free to stay in touch through video call, voice call, or instant message with the folks back home.
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