Snapchat is for selfies, Amazon’s for shopping, and Slack is for pinging your boss to set up a meeting. Right? Well, sort of.
Many of the apps you use on a daily basis are actually much more versatile than you’d think. And while there’s no shortage of travel sites to help you plan your next trip, some of the best travel resources are the non-travel apps you use for other things. Here’s a guide to using your favorite everyday products, from Instagram to Amazon, to plan your next getaway.
Instagram has always been a strong tool for travelers looking to see and share beautiful places around the world. Now, recent updates to the app have made it a more powerful trip planner than ever.
Get an on-the-ground glimpse of places you’re going: The app recently redesigned its Explore tab to make it easier to search and browse collections of travel pics. Rather than just searching hashtags, you can now search for a place, like “Kauai” or “Louvre Pyramid.” By browsing the live stream of user photos from your chosen destination, you’ll get a sense of what’s popular, what things look like at different times of day, and more. As always, you can also use hashtags and the map for more exploring.
Ask for travel tips: One of the most valuable parts of Instagram is its 300-million-member community. And thanks to the app’s simple commenting functionality, it’s easy to reach out for more info if a place catches your eye. Found an enticing hiking photo from the Adirondacks, but not sure if you’ll have time to do the trek? Just comment on the pic to ask how much time the photographer spent there.
Join a real-life meet-up: Some people love Instagram so much they’ve taken the community out of the phone and into the real world. InstaMeets are a growing trend around the globe, where ‘grammers convene to shoot photos and explore different parts of their city. If you’re new to a destination or are looking to connect with locals, check out the map of upcoming meets.
Okay, so Google’s probably already part of your trip planning process. But the site’s tools can do far more than find articles on a place, map hotels, and browse photos of places to go.
Research and book flights: Google never broadcast its flights tool too loudly. But ever since the company bought flight-search ITA Software in 2010 it’s been introducing quick and easy flight planning features that go beyond a point-A-to-point-B search. You can search for an area, like Europe or South America, and see various city options by price. You can search cheap fares by calendar date, get tips like “save $130 if you depart one day earlier,” and play a spin-the-world type game with the “I’m Feeling Lucky” search.
Reserve hotel rooms: Again, without much fanfare, Google has entered the hotel booking world. The site recently introduced the ability to book a hotel directly from Google search or Google Maps. You can read reviews, see amenities, and book the room directly from Google’s sites rather than going to Expedia or another booking site.
Take virtual trips: Google Maps’ Street View function can be useful for checking out what type of road your hotel is on, or how close your condo is to the beach. But the Street View team has upped its game with in-depth virtual tours of some of the world’s most epic destinations. Follow along on Hawaiian hiking trails, a Great Barrier Reef dive, and a trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp. You can take a peek at what’s involved on these journeys and whether it’s something you’d want to try in person.
You already use Evernote to write work notes or to-do lists, right? Well, these same functions are perfect for keeping your trip planning process organized and accessible.
Access your travel planner anywhere: Researching restaurants on your work computer? Toss links into a note. Chatting at a bar with someone who’s just been where you’re going? Jot their recommendations on your phone app. Evernote will sync notes from all your devices into one place, so you can access the info anywhere.
Clip pieces of websites into your own travel guide: While Pinterest allows you to pin images, Evernote’s web clipper actually pulls text and parts of sites. Install it in your browser and start building notes using bits and pieces from the articles, TripAdvisor reviews, and travel guides you find about your destination. It’s an easy way to compile itineraries, packing lists, alternate plans, language translation guides, and more.
Share itineraries with friends: If you’re traveling with friends or family, or want to tell someone where you’ll be on given days, use Evernote’s sharing feature. You can add other people to view your notes, and if one of you has a premium Evernote account, you can open the notes up for everyone to edit.
First of all, if your work team isn’t already using Slack for office communication, it should be. The rapidly growing chat app is becoming the office messenger of choice, but its interface and easy chat features makes it a great choice for group trip planning.
Use channels to keep organized: If you’re planning a trip with multiple people, keeping things organized can be a nightmare. Slack’s channels are a great way to divide different aspects of your plans into clearly searchable categories. You can make a #want-to-do channel where people share their activity preferences, and a #who-arrives-when page to keep track of everyone’s travel schedules.
Set up feeds to find travel deals: Slack works with RSS feeds to automatically post updates from your chosen site. So if you’re looking for airfare deals, hotel specials, or vacation sales, set up a channel with an RSS feed from Travelzoo, Airfarewatchdog, or whatever your favorite deal site is. Everyone can then browse the posts at their leisure and your inbox won’t be flooded with fare alert emails.
Ditch the group text: We’ve all been there. You’re traveling with a group and someone gets separated. Or a few people want to do something else. Then when it’s time to meet again, the onslaught of “where are you” group texts begins. Rather than blowing up everyone’s phone, take these convos to Slack instead. You can check in when you want, and if someone needs to reach everyone urgently, they can always @everyone to make sure their message gets noticed. Plus, giphys make airport delays much more fun.
Wait, the app for duck-face selfies and self-destructing videos? A travel planner? The travel features on Snapchat are still in their infancy, but the hugely popular social network has the potential to be a very powerful travel tool.
Get a taste of local life: Snapchat’s curated live stream feature is becoming a great way to get a glimpse of the personality of cities around the world. So far most of the streams have focused on destinations, from Tel Aviv to the Caribbean to Washington D.C., and festivals, like Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival.
See stories from travel brands: While the official Discover stories are limited to 12 publishers (National Geographic, Buzzfeed, and the like), you can follow other travel companies and bloggers to get more stories and inspiration. Lonely Planet has been posting snapshots from a road trip around the USA, and Marriott partnered with travel influencers to share stories from the road.
Using Twitter for travel isn’t a novel idea, but the network remains a valuable travel tool—especially when things go wrong.
Get the first word on deals: Most of the best flight deals sell out so quickly you’d never stand a chance without a little heads up. That’s where Twitter comes in. Sites like The Flight Deal tweet out new sales or fare drops—if you set up notifications on your phone you’ll be one of the first to know when the good deals come in.
Don’t sit on hold with the airline: Flight delayed? Luggage not showing up at your final destination? If you need to contact the airline, your fastest option is often not the phone—it’s Twitter. The larger air carriers have dedicated customer service teams on Twitter, and can help answer your questions, without that awful “hold” music.
How nice would it be to buy your plane ticket, noise cancelling headphones, movie download for the flight, and new swimsuit all at the same time? Okay, you can’t do that…yet. But Amazon has quietly been making waves in the travel world, with the introduction and expansion of its hotel and travel guide site, Amazon Destinations. It’s new, and currently separate from the main site and search, but expect more travel to come from the online uber-retailer.
Find a local escape: Amazon’s hotel offerings currently focus on quick getaway ideas from a selection of cities (Seattle, New York, Boston, and more). Rather than flood thousands of properties into its inventory, Amazon’s travel team is carefully selecting each hotel after visiting them in person. Even if you live farther away, it’s a good source of curated hotel suggestions.
Buy with your Amazon account: No need to get up and find your wallet for that credit card number. Hotel bookings can be done with all the info in your Amazon account, just like any other checkout at the site.
Photo credit: Shutterstock