The holidays are a smorgasbord of sensory overload. The traveling. The cooking. The shopping. Even the “quality” family time. It’s all packaged into two nightmarish rollercoasters scheduled at the blunt ends of November and December.
Luckily, however, if you’ve got a smartphone or tablet, you can get by with a little help from your app-based friends.
We’ve rounded up 16 apps to help you sail through the holidays problem-free. So, whether you’re traveling, cooking, entertaining the kiddies, or doing some serious credit card damage in the malls or online, here are some suggestions that should make this, well, “festive” time of the year just a bit more palatable.
Many of these apps are available on multiple platforms, so whether your poison is iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, or even webOS (yes, in some cases!), you’ll be covered.
Taking the stress out of holiday travel
Having to deal with the TSA is bad enough. The rest of your travel experience doesn’t need to be “stranger-groping-your-private-parts” bad, so check out these three apps for a bit of relief.
The free Hipmunk app lets you quickly compare flight options based on either “agony level” (which takes into account total travel time and the number of stops), or by cost, departure time, and length of travel time. After choosing your departure and destination locations, the dates you’d like to travel, and how many people will be flying, the app lays out search results in an easy-to-read timeline.
Herein lies Hipmunk’s advantage over competitors: Suddenly, it’s easy to see exactly how long you’ll be in the air, what times you’ll take off and land, and, of course, the price of travel. All this, and the app directly compares options from numerous other airlines.
Other travel apps, such as Kayak, offer a more all-in-one approach to travel planning and organization, but I think Hipmunk’s straightforward layout makes it a superior option for flight searches. It should be noted, though, that Hipmunk is strictly for finding flights — you can’t make purchases from within the app. And some airlines, like Southwest, don’t allow their flights to be booked through third-party sites, so you won’t see them on Hipmunk or other travel-related apps.
Hipmunk is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
(It’s also worth noting that Alexis Ohanian — co-founder of Wired.com’s sister site, Reddit — is employed by Hipmunk.)
Once you’ve made your travel arrangements, you can use TripIt to keep your flight, rental car, and hotel reservation information in one convenient place.
After signing up and syncing your e-mail account(s), you can use the TripIt website to set up automatic travel plan importing, so the TripIt app is always up to date with confirmations heading to your inbox. Alternatively, you can manually send flight info to your TripIt account via e-mail.
This free app is primarily a portal for accessing your trip information in a single place, but you can also check into your flight, check your flight status, and download airport information, such as terminal maps. The TripIt layout is straightforward, so you can easily double-check flight, gate and terminal info at a glance.
TripIt does require a lot of integration with its website, but because you’ll likely be making reservations on a computer rather than in-app, it’s not too big of an inconvenience. You can edit confirmation details in-app, but to add people to your network, manage profile preferences, or adjust e-mail settings, you’ll have to visit the TripIt website.
You can get TripIt on iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry.
Have you decided to road-trip rather than plane-trip? Use GasBuddy to find the cheapest and/or closest gas stations during your trek down the interstate.
If you’re the type to meticulously plan out a trip beforehand, you can plan your pit stops by searching gas stations by city, state, or zip code. This exercise also gives you inside knowledge of the cheapest gas spots along your trip. But no worries if you’re more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-fuel-tank kind of guy. When your fuel gauge is teetering near empty, just launch the app and hit the big “Find Gas Near Me” button to see where the nearest stations are.
You can order stations by distance or price. You can also see them in list format, or laid out on a map.
As a bonus, the free GasBuddy app awards points for reporting gas station prices, and if you earn enough points, you’ll be entered into a weekly drawing for free gas. And, who knows, if you’ve got kids in the back seat, maybe you can turn this into a game: While you’re at the wheel, let them scour the roadsides and submit prices through the app. Hey, it’s worth a shot, right?
GasBuddy is available through the App Store, Android Market, Windows Phone Marketplace, and BlackBerry AppWorld.
Making sure the turkey’s perfectly delicious
If you’re not the type to call in Chinese food for Christmas, then you’ve likely got around a dozen dishes to prepare and keep track of. Use these apps to maintain your sanity when the heat starts rising.
In the spirit of the holiday hubbub, when you open the free Epicurious app, its home screen is dedicated to holiday-related topics like Turkey and Gravy, Thanksgiving Sides, and Fall Desserts.
When you open up a specific recipe — care for some Sweet Potato Pudding with Pecan and Gingersnap Topping? — you get the recipe itself, details on servings and prep time, a photo of the finished product, and reviews from people who’ve made the dish themselves.
To make sure you don’t forget anything when you hit up grocery store, the app lets you add recipes to your shopping list, itemizing the ingredients by grocery department (e.g., fresh produce or dairy), and giving you the option to check items from the list once you’ve picked them up.
The number of recipes you have to choose from may be a bit daunting, but recipes are well organized, and a search for a few key ingredients will lead you to a narrowed list of related options.
Epicurious offers apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Phone. The content is the same on all four platforms, but the UIs change significantly.
This free Android app takes the guesswork — and the calculator-work — out of adjusting a recipe for a different number of people.
The straightforward app provides unit and serving conversions for volume, weight and temperature, and also offers a list of “substitutes” — for example, how to make allspice using cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, or what you can use for your meringue if you don’t have cream of tartar on hand (lemon juice or vinegar will do the trick). If you click your Android phone’s search button, you can also search for a specific item you’re looking to substitute (rather than browse the list alphabetically).
Easy, super clear, and free. What more do you want out of a unit conversion app? Available from the Android Market.
You’ve got the recipe, and you know the exact proportions you need to adjust the recipe for — but now it’s time to start sending saucepans to the stovetop, and roasting pans to the oven. This is where things can get hairy, especially if you’re a noob to holiday cooking mayhem.
Luckily, the 99-cent KitchenPad Timer iOS app can help with your multitasking needs. The app has two main screens: a four-burner stovetop and an oven. You can label each “heating element” with text (e.g., “14-pound turkey”), as well as assign temperatures and set timers for what’s sizzling. You can even select different alert sounds, so when you hear “Bubbles,” for example, you’ll know the cranberries are done, and when you hear “Cow Moo,” you’ll rush to the oven to remove the roast beast.
You can get KitchenPad Timer from the Apple App Store.