Do you travel a lot? Or even a little? In either case, you are in luck because the tools available via mobile applications are making travel easier and easier. To that end, this past weekend, I had an opportunity to stay in San Francisco with my wife for our 17th wedding anniversary.

Because we booked the trip at the last minute based on some last minute business travel, we did a minimal amount of planning ahead of time. While leaving planning to the last minute can create some drama, my wife and I found that by using some of the right mobile tools, we were able to create a number of serendipitous moments that we will remember for a lifetime.

In the spirit of sharing, I’ve spelled out the five ways mobile apps enhanced our travel below. And because this is a business blog, I have also included recommendations on how businesses can benefit from these learnings:

  • Planning/tracking – Chances are, you have looked at a travel aggregator like Kayak or Travelocity on your desktop. If you’re on the go, the mobile apps for these sites give you a slimmed down interface with the ability to find the right flights, hotels, car rentals, etc. Once you’ve booked your flights, keep all your information in one place with Tripit (just e-mail your online itineraries to and voila, your trip is aggregated and organized in the same place).
    Business Opportunity – The biggest opportunity here is to get access to the data collected by these sites. Obviously Kayak and Tripit don’t just give this information away for free. But finding a travel site/aggregator that will partner or will sell you this information can provide insights into your customers… even if you don’t work in the travel industry.
  • Airline checkin/car rental – For anyone that travels more than a couple of times a year, downloading your airlines’ free mobile application is a no-brainer. Not only are they environmentally friendly (no paper for those that allow you to generate a mobile boarding pass) but they also save you time at the airport. Most of the major airlines (American, United, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest) also allow you to track your frequent flyer points, status and on the day you are traveling, your flight and gate information. If you are a frequent renter of cars, Hertz’s Gold app allows you to rent a car or track which space your car is located in via text or application-level alert.
    Business OpportunityParter with airlines/car rentals to provide local offers, education and services. The caveat here is that nobody wants to be spammed (and the airlines know this) so focus more on the value add versus the hard sell.  
  • Taxi/car service – A couple of years ago, a new service called Uber launched to much fanfare. At first, it was thought that the service was going to change the way people used cabs and car services. Unfortunately, cab companies were slower to adopt the service so it has evolved primarily into a way to order sedan service. Over the last several months, however a number of cab companies have developed their own apps. In San Francisco, the one I’ve used a few times now is the Yellow Cab Cooperative. Once you’ve downloaded the app and filled in your profile, you can immediately summon a cab with your app (no need to know your address since it uses your phone’s location). You can also track the progress of your cab as you wait for those of you on a tight timeline. In New York City, NBC and Vodaphone have partnered with Yellow Cab to offer up a service called Way2Ride. The cool thing about this app is that not only can you summon a cab but you can also pay with your phone as well (and then e-mail yourself the receipt).
    Business opportunity For any urban-based businesses, let your customers know about these car/cab services. If you want to surprise and delight your customers, consider offering free vouchers to be used with services like Uber or Yellow Cab Cooperative. 
  • Restaurant/business discovery – Given the fact that I wrote a book on location-based marketing, you won’t be surprised that I am still a fan of one of the original LBS services, foursquare. Lately, I’ve been using foursquare less to “check in” and more to discover local businesses and restaurants. The thing that is special about foursquare is it’s ability to filter results for local restaurants, cafes, wineries and other businesses by price, distance or the fact that you or a friend has checked in before. During our stay, my wife and I found all of the restaurants we ate at using foursquare. Note, cross-checking your foursquare selections with Yelp reviews can truly give you confidence that restaurant/business you select is the right one for you. Once you’ve found your ideal location, don’t forget to look at the “tips” on foursquare as you can often find hidden gems or off menu items. You can now also use your mobile Yelp app to write reviews on the spot!
    Business opportunity I’ve been harping on this one for a while but having your business set up/claimed on services like foursquare and Yelp is more important than ever. At a minimum, it will help with your search efforts. But more importantly, for those out looking to “discover” the most relevant business, why would you not want to be more visible?
  • Exercise – MapMyRun is just one example of mobile applications that make running/walking/biking in another city that much easier. I like MapMyRun because it helps me keep pace and lets me know when I’ve hit certain distances. However, the real win is that it will chart my run and let me know things like elevation, split times, etc. And if I come back to that city, I can see how I’m doing against previous times along that route.
    Business Opportunity: There are lots of sports/athletic companies that are already taking advantage of the opportunity to partner/advertise with services like MapMyRun. One clever move that I witnessed this pas weekend is that as I posted my workout from MapMyRun to Twitter, Dick’s Sporting Goods saw my tweet and engaged me… not to sell me put to pat me on the back and to ask if I was training for something. I already like Dick’s but now I am that much more inclined to shop there due to that brand connection.

There are obviously tons of other mobile apps out there that make travel easier. What’s your favorite?