For many of us, our smartphones have become valuable tools for getting our jobs done. And what’s true at home can be even more so when our work takes us on the road. Your phone, empowered with the right apps and online services, can help you stay efficient even when you’re away from your computer, your desk, and the city you know. All apps mentioned are free unless otherwise noted.
Trip Planning Apps
When ironing your phone into your business travel partner, a good place to start is with apps that can help you nail down some of the details of a trip, such as where to stay, what restaurants are nearby, and other points of interest.
TripAdvisor (iOS | Android) provides user reviews for hotels, restaurants, and points of interest to help you make those travel decisions. You can also use it when you arrive at your destination, for information on places nearby.
Getting to where you need to be, whether it’s a city or a street address, becomes all the more important if you have a business reason driving your travel. These apps can take some of the stress out of moving from point A to point B.
Most business travelers are going to be getting to their destination by air, and most major airlines have apps that let you book a flight, check in, track whether flights are on time, and a variety of other services. Two I use are Southwest Airlines (iOS | Android) and Alaska Airlines (iOS | Android), but everyone has their own preferred airlines and any major scheduled carrier should have an app to get you the information and services you need.
SeatGuru (iOS | Android) will help you choose the best place to sit on the plane with information such as seat width, location of exit rows, power port availability, and whether a given seat reclines or not.
Once you’re on the ground, your phone can help you get around in your destination city, too. Taxi Magic (iOS | Android) lets you book a cab online, track the cab’s progress to your location on a map, pay through your phone and get an e-receipt for your expense reporting.
Keeping up with business communications gets even more important when you’re on the road. Email and text messaging are standby methods for making a connection, but additional apps can extend your reach and capabilities, often for free.
GroupMe (iOS | Android) is a favorite communications app for the Geek Beat staff when a group of us travel to an event like CES. It works like group texting, through your phone’s Internet connection, with the option of all messages appearing on your lock screen. This can be great for coordinating a group of people spread around different locations, but it can eat into your battery life if there are a lot of messages flying back and forth.
If you haven’t started using Skype (iOS | Android), you should give it a try just to see what everyone else already knows. The Skype app on your phone can give you international voice calling over your Internet connection, as well as video calling and some extensive one-to-one and group chat functionality. If you use it when you travel, you’ll likely find that it has a place in your day-to-day activities at your office as well.
Getting Down to Work
Once you’ve gotten where you need to be, and have the communications setup that will keep the information flowing, it’s time to get down to business. One of the first concerns is that you have all the data and files available to you that you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than getting to a remote city and realizing you’re missing a couple of files that are vital to the work you need to do. Fortunately, there are several cloud-based services that will make sure that doesn’t happen.
Evernote is a free service with paid options that lets you keep track of all sorts of information like text, images, files, and even web clips of interesting things you want to keep for later. It’s all available via the web or mobile apps (iOS | Android), and you can share information with other team members. The paid version ($5 per month, or $45 per year) gives you a greater upload allowance, searches within document files, collaboration tools, and more.
A long-time favorite for cloud-based file storage and sharing, Dropbox has a free version that starts you off with 2GB of storage space, along with paid and business versions available as well. It’s extremely easy to set up and integrate for use with desktop and mobile systems (iOS | Android).
For dependable cloud-based storage of documents, plus tools to create and edit those documents, check out Google Drive (iOS | Android). This is another workplace staple here at Geek Beat, where we create and manage all our shared documents from scripts to travel plans and event schedules. You get 5GB of free space, and can purchase 25GB more for $25 per year.
If you need your online composition tools to be of the Microsoft Office variety, look to Microsoft SkyDrive (iOS | Android) and its 7GB of free space. SkyDrive lets you create and edit your files with online versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for easy compatibility.
Sometimes you’re better off with a solid Wi-Fi connection than with your phone’s cell-provided data connection. Sometimes you need to use an app that will only perform on Wi-Fi. And at those times, you need to know where you can find a signal. Wi-Fi Finder (iOS | Android) lets you know where you can go for Wi-Fi, both free and paid, mapping out hotspots so you can decide which is best for you.
Tracking Time and Expenses
After your trip, you want to make sure you get fully paid for your time and reimbursed for the expenses you incurred. These apps can take the hassle out of tracking the hours, minutes, dollars, and cents.
Expensify (iOS | Android) uses your phone’s camera to capture receipts, then reads details like date and amount from the image to fill the correct fields in its expense reporting form. It will also help you out with mileage by tracking distances you covered with your phone’s GPS. And if you need to track your hours worked, Expensify will do that as well.
Time Tracker Pro
If you prefer to track your hours worked in an app dedicated just to that, check out Time Tracker Pro (iOS), for clear reports and graphs you can send as emails from the app.
On Android, Timesheet will track your hours, export reports to Excel, and it gives you the ability to automatically track hours on a location by recognizing a given site’s Wi-Fi network.
Make Your Working Life Easier
There’s always going to be a certain amount of hassle involved in business travel, but with your phone loaded up with the apps and online services that address your work needs, things can go quite a bit more smoothly. Do you have favorite business apps for the phone that help it substitute for time at a desk? Let us know in the comments.