Don't be a skinflint by gifting free apps. Splurge on these hot little numbers instead. Most are actually quite affordable, and they give value far beyond the holidays. Here are 10 great apps that help even the most fumbling traveler become a sleek adventurer.
The iTunes store makes gifting apps easy: In the drop-down menu next to the app's price, select "Gift This App." Android is a bit more difficult: The easiest solution is to purchase an Amazon-branded gift card good for Android app purchases. Your recipient can install the Amazon Appstore on his or her phone, then use the gift card accordingly -- you can accompany your gift with a note about how cool it would be to have a particular app.
For Folks Lost in Translation
Even if you've mastered snippets of the lingua franca, it's easy to forget how to ask or say what's needed in the rush of the moment. That's when TripLingo comes to the rescue. The app is free, but the language-pack add-ons, which teach thousands of useful phrases and sentences in 12 different languages, cost extra. Instead of having to learn the basics of grammar and seemingly never-ending vocabulary lists, you can use TripLingo's audio feature, which speaks the basics so you can copy and say them back with a smile. We love TripLingo's cultural courses, too -- they're antidotes to travelers' foot-in-mouth disease.
Available for free on Android and Apple; language add-ons cost from $9.99 to $49.99.
For Reading the Writing on the Wall
Know someone who loves to read menus but doesn't speak the language? With Word Lens, he or she can snap an iPhone pic, and the app will supply a translation. Word Lens currently works on printed Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese and is adding new languages often (it doesn't work with handwritten notes, by the way).
Available for $4.99 on Android and free on Apple; translation packs on Apple cost $4.99.
For Those Special Moments
Admit it. We all have those friends and family members who just can't resist dropping f-bombs here and there. Swearport lets them spread their special joy all over the world. This catalog of international expletives plays recordings (complete with appropriate accent) of more than 1,000 clips in more than 70 languages. There's even a star rating system to rank the swear's severity, so cursers don't get in too deep. Next time they want to call an Italian driver a maniac or stop a bazaar hawker dead in his tracks, they'll be prepared. We just suggest they wear fast running shoes.
Available for $1.00 on Android.
For the Flyer Who Worries
Road warriors can keep an eye on flight statuses, terminals, and gate numbers with the FlightTrack 5 app. Even before a plane leaves the terminal, the app can predict flight delays based on airport warnings. This app also includes maps of major terminals around the world as well as aircraft seat maps, which can illustrate whether 4B has the best legroom or if it's behind one of the rows that doesn't recline.
Available for $4.99 on Android and Apple.
For the Perpetually Late
Tired of waiting outside the airport with the smokers while your ride gets held up in traffic? Give the gift of Just Landed. Not only does the app let your driver know that your flight is arriving on time, it also estimates how long it will take him or her to reach the airport in local traffic conditions. An alarm even sounds when it's time to set off for the airport. Of course, Just Landed can say when to leave, but it can't actually make someone get in the car to pick you up -- so you'd better get in the habit of bringing back some good gifts.
Available for $1.99 on Apple.
For a Mom's Peace of Mind
No matter how old the child, a mom will worry when her kid leaves home -- especially when that child is traveling solo in countries where the language and phone systems are very different. Put Mom's worries to rest by giving her offspring Help Call. The app pulls up local, location-specific emergency service numbers for police, fire departments, and ambulances in 126 countries. As an added bonus, if the caller can't push the emergency button, all he or she has to do is shake the phone, and the app will dial the number.
Available for $2.99 on Apple.
For a Swiss-Army-Knife Approach to Travel
Please the handyman on your list with Travel App Box. It's like having a tool kit of all the different apps you may need for traveling abroad. Travel App Box includes a converter for more than 30 different currencies, international dialing codes, tip calculators for most countries, and even clothing-size conversions for when the user wants to bring you back a leather jacket or pair of Italian shoes. The app converts Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilometers to miles, and stones to pounds. The handy maps tool has transport networks for major world cities and lets the user save maps for offline use when 3G and Wi-Fi aren't available. Travel App Box even has a picture dictionary with 140 pictograms describing food, health, and accommodations for use when translations break down. That's simpler than a game of charades.
Available for $1.99 on Apple.
For the Old Salt of the Sea
This series of marine apps -- including Marine: Florida, Marine: Hawaii, and Marine: California -- provides richly detailed, downloadable charts for lakes, coastlines, and parks. With this handy resource, boaters can plot courses keeping in mind currents, tides, and depths while their handheld device notes their speed, distance, and bearing. It's detailed enough to make Robinson Crusoe wish he sailed in the 21st century.
Available for $5.99 on Apple.
For the Road Tripper
Know someone with a yen for cruising the interstates? Give them iExit. This handy-dandy app displays services at upcoming interstate exits; locates nearby toilet stops, pet-friendly hotels, and campgrounds; and even gives you the distance to your next Starbucks peppermint mocha. Unfortunately, it doesn't work on secondary roads or turnpikes.
Pair iExit with Chefs Feed for the traveling foodie on your gift list. This free app offers recommendations by local top chefs on their favorite places to eat in 23 cities -- from New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York to Montreal, London, and San Francisco. Now that's food worth driving for.
iExit is available for $0.99 on Android and Apple; Chefs Feed is available for free on Apple.
For Keeping an Eye on the Sky
One of the joys of traveling is taking the time to do something out of the ordinary. Give a friend the gift of the heavens with the Star Walk astronomy guide. The enchanting displays provide details on more than 200,000 celestial bodies. Just point your iPhone at a segment of the night sky, and it will share the lore and science of the constellations. The app also shows images of how specific constellations looked in the past and will appear in the future. The calendar section gives updates on meteor showers and phases of the moon. It's cool enough to create new amateur astronomers.
Available for $2.99 on Apple.