One of the most frustrating parts of travel planning is figuring out the best way to get between and around unfamiliar destinations.
Sure, there are flights between major cities – but what about when you’re heading somewhere a little further afield? What happens when you arrive late at a remote airport or bus station and need to get into town? How much does the metro cost… and would you be better off taking the tram instead?
Fortunately, several companies are doing their best to take the guesswork out of the travel planning experience. Whether you’re heading across the continent or just across the suburb, these six sites and apps are all well worth a look.
Released only a few years ago, Rome2Rio has become the best place to start planning a cross-country or cross-continent trip. Plugged into an exhaustive list of airlines, train, bus and ferry companies, the site and apps quickly come up with a variety of transport options to suit your time and budget.
For a trip from Paris, France to Madrid, Spain, I was given price ranges and journey durations for flights from both Paris airports, buses, trains, driving (including fuel costs), and even ride-sharing.
The website and app are slick and easy to use, especially for more unusual destinations where transport information is often more difficult to come by. An on-screen map shows the route for each alternative, and clicking on any option gives more detail.
All costs are shown, even including public transport costs to get to airports or train stations. From there, booking screens are one more click away. You can also check out related travel options, like hotels and car rentals, along with city guides, schedules and more.
While the ability to plan trips with Google Maps is hardly a secret, most people use it either for driving directions, or to figure out how to navigate their way around a city on foot or by public transport. Those features are very useful for travelers, but there’s more to Google’s navigation app than that.
For that same trip from Paris to Madrid, the app defaults to a 12-hour driving route, but public transport choices are also available with a quick tap or click. Various combinations of buses and trains show up, with detailed information on layover times and the length of each leg. Cycling, ferry and walking routes are also available.
Information isn’t as detailed as with Rome2Rio, though. There’s no indication of prices, and you’ll need to click through to the operator’s website to make a booking. Some of the private bus operators also didn’t show up, and there was no mention of ride-sharing either.
Still, Google Maps remains the best way of getting transport information within or between nearby towns and cities, especially since you can save maps for offline use while overseas or out of cell range.
Google Maps is available on the web, iOS, and Android.
Most useful for getting directions within cities, Here WeGo (formerly Here Maps) also has support for traveling longer routes by walking, cycling, public transport, car-sharing and more.
In my testing, though, that Paris to Madrid route didn’t turn up any of the options shown by the competition.
If you’re just looking for navigation instructions within a town or city, though, Here is second-to-none for offline use. You can pick maps of regions or entire countries to download, and you’ll then have access to walking, public transport and driving instructions even if you haven’t had cell service or Wifi for days.
Navigation works perfectly while online, and reasonably well offline. If you’ve got the address of the place you’re looking for, you’ll have no problems, but searching by name (“Arc de Triomphe”) or type (“ATM”) doesn’t always turn up the desired results when you’re not connected.
With Google Maps taking strides in offline use in recent times, it’ll be interesting to see whether Here can retain its biggest point of difference.
For now, though, I always keep both apps installed whenever traveling overseas.
Rather than trying to cover everywhere in the world reasonably well, Citymapper takes an alternative approach: being the best transport planner for a smaller range of cities. The app covers around 40 medium to large cities, from Lisbon to London, São Paulo to Singapore.
Routes use a combination of official data from transport companies, and additions made by super-users of the app. All available transport modes are shown for a given city – Lisbon, for example, has trams and ferries as well as the usual buses and metro. Uber and other ride-sharing options are shown as well.
Depending on the types of transport available, you’ll often get exact prices for your journey. A trip from Earls Court to Buckingham Palace in London, for example, would apparently cost £2.40, and take 22 minutes on the District line tube.
Any transport delays are shown and taken into account, and public transit maps are available with a click from the home page.
Rather than just copying the website, the app adds several extra features. One of the best is the “Get Off” alert, using GPS to let you know when it’s time to jump off the bus. In unfamiliar cities, that can be a godsend. There’s also a “Telescope” option, that shows an image from Google StreetView of where to get on or off your transport.
Each part of the journey is shown and has its own features in the app – links to a timetable, upcoming departures and the like. If you’re traveling to a city covered by Citymapper, you should absolutely install it before you go.
Focusing entirely on countries within Europe, the GoEuro site and app asks for a start point, end point, travel date and number of travelers, then sorts the options by price, speed, and “smartest” journey. That’s a combination of cost, duration and departure time, so you don’t keep seeing that 5am Ryanair flight that nobody ever wants to take.
Despite boasting of having over 500 transport partners, though, you don’t get as many options as with (eg) Rome2Rio. There’s no sign of BlaBlaCar, the popular European long-distance ride-sharing service, and some of the private bus companies aren’t shown either.
Still, it’s straightforward to use and buy tickets, with booking handled either directly by the company, or forwarded to the transport provider. There’s also a car rental and city transfer search tool available, used in the same way as the transport planner.
If your next vacation will see you tripping around Europe, it’s worth checking out GoEuro.
If your travels are taking you a little closer to home, take a look at Wanderu instead. The company’s inter-city transport planner covers the North American continent. Coverage is best in the United States, with most of Canada and key destinations in Mexico also included.
As well as the major players like Amtrak and Greyhound, the app also covers discounted fares from the likes of Megabus, Bolt Bus, and many others. After inputting your start and end points and travel date, you get a list of options across both trains and buses.
For each, you can quickly scan the price, trip length, departure and arrival times, and a list of amenities. Extras like power, Wi-fi, and more legroom, are shown at a glance, and a quick click or tap shows all of the stops along the route.
Once you’ve picked the ticket that works for you, Wanderu sends you through to the bus or train company to book the ticket. It’s a straightforward process and means you’ll be dealing with the carrier directly if you have any changes or concerns.