Hotspot Shield VPN A VPN, or virtual private network, can be used to bolster online security as well as to access resources that might otherwise be off-limits. I’ve found it particularly useful when I’m in countries that block certain websites. When I was in Bulgaria, for instance, the ticket resale website StubHub is blocked, as is Southwest Airlines. Why, I have no idea, but I had a Southwest reservation that I needed to manage. Using the VPN, I could circumvent the block by connecting with a server in a country that doesn’t have those restrictions. It’s not 100 percent reliable, and there are ads; you’ll get better service and faster load times with a VPN that you pay for. (Hotspot Shield VPN does have an “Elite” option, with faster servers and no ads, that costs $29.99 per year.)
Memrise Are you going to become fluent in French before your trip to Paris? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean you can’t commit a few choice phrases to memory. Memrise, developed by the memory champ Ed Cooke and Greg Detre, a Princeton neuroscientist, makes learning languages fun and strangely addictive through its mix of flashcards and audiovisual games. Users of the free app can choose from among dozens of language courses, some of which are better thought-out than others. The romance languages, including French and Spanish, are all very good. There’s also an entertaining option called “The Partial Polyglot,” which teaches you a few choice words and phrases in multiple languages. (Memrise offers a “Pro” option, with more features, for $59.99 per year.)
Avast Photo Space Many of us have faced the predicament of running out of room on our phones and have been forced to choose pictures to delete. Avast Photo Space is a new app that aims to eliminate this quandary by connecting to Dropbox or a Google Drive account and uploading the original, high-res photos for safekeeping. You’re left with a smaller-sized, lower-resolution copy of the picture on your phone. While Avast worked well for me — I was able to upload 100 photos and free up almost 200MB of space on my phone — there are complaints that the app is slow and buggy. An update was introduced on June 25 that clears up some of these issues, but you may want to wait another release or two before investing your time (and photos) in the app.
Flight Stats Despite their popularity, you don’t ever need to pay for a flight status app. You can easily Google the information, and if you really need an app to do it for you, FlightStats is the only one you need. The last time I used it, it nailed the time of my flight’s departure, almost down to the minute. FlightStats allows you to search by flight number, airport and route, and provides basic on-the-ground information at your departure and destination cities.
Units Plus The interface is a little simplistic, but this is the best free currency and units converter that I’ve used. While the app is open, it downloads currency exchange rates every 15 minutes, keeping it remarkably up-to-date. It will also convert weight, volume, area, distance and nearly anything else you can think of. There is an ad-free version available for $2.99.
5 Every Day It’s a situation we all find ourselves in from time to time: You just want to be told where to go and what to do. Claire Evans and Jona Bechtolt of the indie band Yacht created an app that curates a list of five off-the-beaten path events, restaurants and activities in Los Angeles every day of the year. You’ll get suggestions for theatrical productions, hikes, a Chuck Klosterman reading or dive bars you didn’t know about. The app is simple and intuitive, and mines the city’s events calendar for interesting goings-on. 5 Every Day is free, but allows for the unlimited “fave-ing” of events (that is, saving them for later) for an additional $1.99. It’s Los Angeles-only for now, but hopefully will expand to other cities.
Mobile Passport This app from Customs and Border Protection does away with the annoyance of that long customs form you get before arriving in the United States — you keep your passport information and answer all the customs questions on this app. Once you land, you submit your e-form to customs — no more paper slips (you will have to do this every time you re-enter the United States, however). Best of all, you get to skip the line and use a dedicated mobile passport lane — at least at the airports where this is in place (about a dozen locations right now, including Kennedy, Newark Liberty and Chicago O’Hare, with plans for expansion).
Touchnote If you’re no good at remembering to send postcards when you’re traveling, this app will do nearly all the work for you. Select any picture from your camera roll, and Touchnote will turn it into a postcard and mail it to any location in the world with a working postal service. You can add a personalized message on the back, just as you would on an actual postcard. It’s not perfect — a matte finish option would be nice — but that’s a minor complaint. It’s not as exciting as getting a stamp from a foreign country, but if you don’t have time to find a post office, or want to send a customized postcard, this app will do the trick. $1.50 to $2.99 per card.
Packing Pro Do you like to get organized? Like, really organized? Then Packing Pro is the app for you. It breaks down your pre-trip routine in such a granular way it’s almost impossible to forget anything. Lists for clothes, accessories, medical needs and toiletries are all available, as well as the ability to set priorities, organize and even photograph clothing and other items you need to bring (or purchase before you leave). Lists can be reused, making it easy to get a solid travel organization regime down pat. $2.99.
Human Resource Machine If you’re anything like me, you occasionally need a puzzle game to get you through a particularly arduous flight or bus trip. Human Resource Machine is perfect for those who like logic puzzles — the game is essentially set up as a series of cartoony programming challenges, and you have to create progressively more complicated lines of “code” to complete them. This is not a spaced-out, Candy Crush-like game, mind you — it demands brainpower. $4.99 in the App store.