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Just pack your bags and go.
When the travel bug bites, you know it.
Maybe it’ll happen on a random rainy Tuesday in November when you trudge into work soaking wet because you forgot your umbrella. Your immaculately dry coworkers glare as you pass their offices, the “squish” of your galoshes betraying your late arrival. You make a beeline to the kitchen only to discover the new coffee machine is broken. As you dejectedly head to your bland cubicle to face another pile of spreadsheets, soggy and un-caffeinated, you wonder what is wrong with you. Is it seasonal affective disorder? Existential ennui? Both? Suddenly, a revelation occurs to you. I need a vacation.
Yes, you do.
An impulsive jaunt to somewhere sunny might cure you of that restless funk that is known to creep in on every white-collar worker. But how you get the hell out of Dodge without spending a fortune on a last-minute trip?
Luckily, there’s a whole horde of money-saving travel apps that will help you book cheaper flights, lodging, food, and the whole-shebang. We’ve gone through and picked the apps we think are essential for cutting costs on any excursion, whether you’re going to Columbus, Ohio, to visit your parents for Thanksgiving or to Kenya for Colobus Day.
Is it cheaper to fly to Barcelona in May or in June? How much money can you save if you leave Nashville on a Monday, instead of Sunday? Planning cheap travel is often a question of timing, and no app makes this apparent better than Skyscanner. See how traveling on a different time of day, day, month, or even for a number of days can mean the difference in hundreds of dollars lost or saved.
Just type in your “Departing from” and “Flying to” cities and Skyscanner will show you how airfare fluctuates on different days of the month.
Have a specific destination in mind but not picky about the time of year? Skyscanner will also display the average airfare by month. This information can occasionally nudge you towards taking a cheaper, last-minute trip rather than booking in the advance. One-way airfare to Atlanta from Washington, D.C., for example, costs $77 on average for the month of December. If you waited until March, ticket prices would crop up to $127. Waiting to go to Atlanta for spring break rather than the winter holidays would almost double your airfare, to $155.
Skyscanner is also useful if you’re not sure where you want to go, you just know you need to get away sometime in the near future. The app allows you to set “Everywhere” as a destination and “Anytime-Anytime” as a time range, making Skyscanner perfect for both impulsive jet-setters and wishy-washy travelers.
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2) Hotel Tonight
On a road trip and not feeling up to driving another 400 miles overnight? Or want to plan a weekend jaunt to Chicago, and it’s already Thursday night? With Hotel Tonight, you can get last-minute discounts on rooms that are available that very night or up to a week in advance. Hotels with empty rooms available that night list the rooms on the app. While it’s nowhere near as cheap as Airbnb or a hostel, the app is a good resource to help you find cheap lodging at the absolute last minute.
Car rental companies no longer have a monopoly on travelers needing their own set of keys. RelayRide allows you to rent cars from actual people, which is often cheaper than companies like Hertz and Alamo. Your rental gets delivered to the airport or whatever location you prefer.
The best part of making car rental a part of the sharing economy is the abundance of options, ranging from low-end to upscale. Shell out $189 to cruise down Rodeo Drive in a Maserati Ghibli, or rent a Jeep Wrangler for $69 for your camping adventure in Yellowstone.
Have 24 hours in Berlin, a budget of $40 dollars U.S., and no idea what to do? Triposo is perfect for the cash-strapped, itinerary-challenged traveler. The app includes individual city guides and maps to act as a guide to even the most the most clueless traveler. You’ll save money that you would otherwise spend on an expensive tour bus.
Triposo lets you choose between a variety of GPS-enabled “City Walks” that guide you through your city’s landmarks and major attractions. Even if you’re the navigationally challenged type, this app will have you acclimated to your new locale in no time.
Triposo is also helpful for planning a night out in your new city. The app allows you to find nearby bars, restaurants, and attractions. Descriptions of each place include reviews and prices, making it easier to narrow down a quick pick for dinner with buddies or a special evening away with your significant other.
When you’re on a road trip, the cost of gas can add up. With GasBuddy, you can find the cheapest places to pump during any point on your road trip. The app allows you to look at a gas price heat map so you can compare prices at different parts of the country.
GasBuddy even has a trip calculator, so you can calculate the exact cost of your next trip. The app relies on user-submitted data, and as an incentive includes opportunities to win free gas every time you report. GasBuddy includes coupons for snacks, so you save money on road trip eats as well.
Photo via Got Credit/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Amrita Khalid is a technology and politics reporter who specializes in breaking down complex issues into practical, useful terms. A former contributor to CQ, a Congressional news and analysis site, she's currently a master's candidate in international relations at the University of Leeds.