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Travel Resources Series: Part 5 – Activity Planning & Exploring Apps & Websites

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James Larounis
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James Larounis

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Countries Visited: 30U.S. States Visited: 35

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...
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Kellie Jez

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Hello friends! If this is your first time perusing an Upgraded Points travel resource post, we’re sure glad you’re here. If you’re a loyal reader on the edge of your seat awaiting the next installment in our series, welcome back! Either way, you’re in for a real treat with this one!

In our fifth post of this series, we’re reviewing some great resources for activity planning and exploring. After all, it IS the main reason we travel to begin with! These resources are generally geared toward experiences, events, sightseeing, tours, day-trips, etc., so use them to get out into that big ol’ world and do something that excites you!

Disclaimer: We know a lot of people consider eating and drinking a very large part of their “things to do” (we are those people too!). Please don’t be distraught when the resources below dabble only slightly in those areas. You can rest easy knowing we’re dedicating the next post (in its entirety) to dining and drinks.


Airbnb “Places” and “Experiences”

FREE; “Experiences” at variable cost upon booking

activity planning and exploring

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

Airbnb launched 2 new platforms in 2016 and let’s be honest – they’re great.

“Places” invites you to join the insider crowd, and revolves around trusted insider information based on host recommendations for the best spots in town. Just think: wouldn’t you love a screenwriter’s recommendation on spots to write in LA, a food writer’s recommendation for brunches locals love in Nairobi or a museum curator’s guide to modern art in Havana? Users can even filter their results by categories for more tailored itinerary additions.

Users can even filter their results by categories for more tailored itinerary additions.

Hot Tip: Airbnb has also partnered with Detour to produce Airbnb Audio Walks. YAY! If you haven’t heard of Detour yet, don’t miss our blurb below – they’re fantastic.

Get ready to love AirBNB even more! “Experiences” allows users to book an activity with “the most interesting people out there.”

Hosts may be master chefs, professional athletes, award-winning vocalists, non-profit founders, etc. Some hosts are also extremely knowledgeable locals who jump at the chance to share their city with a fellow enthusiast. Maybe you’d like to capture your trip to Miami with a film crew, live London like a royal with an award-winning TV producer, or get an expert take on Cape Town’s past and present with a local stand-up comedian and photographer.

You can search all experiences or narrow them down by categories including art, entertainment, food, nature, social impact, and sports. Prices on experiences vary, but Airbnb makes sure they are well worth your time and money.

Word to the Wise: While cities may be slightly limited, this network will only continue to grow with the addition of more hosts/experts. Interested in hosting an experience or recommending great spots in your neighborhood? You can learn more about becoming a host here.

Couchsurfing “Hangouts” and “Events”


personal hangouts and event participation

Platforms: iOS, Android

If you read our travel resource series post on accommodations, you might be familiar with Couchsurfing. In addition to providing lodging, Couchsurfing supports over 100,000 events a year and has been a part of events in over 200,000 cities around the world.

If you’re a part of the CS community, you have the option to search Hangouts and Events within the app. Hangouts is pretty self-explanatory: it’s a platform where users can see nearby hosts/surfers that want to hang out. For example, in Austin, 80 people have utilized Hangouts this week.

Events provide another avenue for surfers to meet up with fellow users and enjoy each other’s company during an activity. For example, you could meet folks to go hike Eagle Mountain in BC, attend conferences at SXSW, or enjoy a group dinner on Friday night in Guadalajara.

You do have to sign up through Couchsurfing in order to have access to the details of these events and RSVP.

This app is no longer available.


FREE app; tour costs vary (some are free)

Geo-located audio walking tours

Detour is a super cool app providing geo-located walking audio tours based on fascinating themes you won’t find elsewhere. You download the app, plug in your headphones, and set out on your guided tour.

Each tour is told in the form of a “story” based on the specific neighborhood where you’re exploring, each with a different narrator whose style applies to each theme. The tours may take you in and out of various buildings (museums, libraries, hotels, etc.) and allow you to interact with persons of significance along the way.

The people at Detour do a great job with these walks, allowing users to be immersed in the story without completely removing users from the world around them. They even recommend the best times to tour based on hours of operation at the places you’ll visit.

Another great thing about this app is the syncing capability – users can share their purchase with friends by syncing up and walking the tour together. Detour claims it’s “like walking around in a movie,” and they’re not wrong.

While Detour eventually hopes to provide audio tours worldwide, these guides are currently available in 4 major cities: San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, with a few others, sprinkled around Austin, London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, and Marrakech.


Foursquare and Swarm


location based social-networking

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

This app has been around for a while, and most folks have probably heard the name. Foursquare is a social-media based city guide that allows users to explore places to eat, drink, and shop anywhere in the world.

Users can search based on various categories such as breakfast, dinner, coffee, nightlife, or fun, and are presented with the resulting options. Each option includes information like overall Foursquare score (out of 10), user reviews including photos and comments, location/maps, and even trending spots related to the number of check-ins on Foursquare. You can keep track of where you’ve been and keep a running list of places you love or you want to visit. As with most social media apps, you can also follow friends or brands.

With Swarm, Foursquare encourages users to “make a game of life.” Users can earn points, discounts, and street cred by checking in at various locations. You can note who you’re with and even try to oust other locals as “The Mayor” of your favorite spot by topping the check-in list at that specific location.


Google Trips


activity planning and exploring

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

If you caught our series post on organizing your trip, you may remember we mentioned this app but didn’t outline all the features entirely. So here we are, coming back around.

Google Trips aims to help you organize all of your travel plans in one place, but it’s also so much more. It provides opportunities for travel inspiration, traveler reviews, dining/drink options, and an encyclopedia’s worth of information on hundreds of the world’s top cities and thousands of attractions.

Remember, when you download your trip, everything is available offline in case you’re stuck without wifi or data.

How It Works

Google Trips seamlessly integrates reservations (flights, hotels, rental cars, etc.) from your Gmail and creates a specific “trip” in the app. These trips are like folders of information including some basic categories like: Reservations, Things to Do, Saved Places, Day Plans, Food and Drink, Getting Around, and Need to Know.

Things to Do allows users to peruse a selection of places, activities, and events with thorough descriptions of each. Also included are directions, phone numbers, websites, and hours of operation…just as if you were to find the search result in Google. You can also sort through by filters like Top Spots, Indoors, Outdoors, etc. If you like an option, simply tap the star and it’s added to your Saved Places.

With Day Plans, Google Trips offers full-day itineraries for the top 200 cities in the world and counting. These include a number of local spots, popular attractions, and great sights, all of which have been positively reviewed by other travelers. These itineraries include estimates on how long people usually stay at each attraction, estimates of how long it will take to travel between sites, maps to help you get from place to place, and more. What happens if you like part of the itinerary but not all? Choose an attraction you’re interested in, tap the magic wand, and you’re presented with a map view of all the additional popular attractions in the area.

Food and Drink not only shows top restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, and bars, but in select cities also gives an “overview” of that location’s food culture with popular traditions, well-known dishes, and current trends. In bigger cities, users can also sort options based on categories like Cafes, Bars and Pubs, Family-Friendly, or Celebrity Chefs.

Of course, a few glitches have been reported, including difficulty with the precise integration of e-mail and reservations, and an inability to link 2 separate accounts (think work and personal). However, manual changes can easily be made to the itinerary at any time. All in all, this Google Trips app is pretty much the bee’s knees.

Hot Tip: Google Trip’s categories on Reservations and Things to Know are discussed here, and Getting Around will be discussed in our future transportation post.



authentic travel recommendations by locals
Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

Localeur offers local city guides/information from actual, hand-picked locals including artists, foodies, and entrepreneurs.

In over 25 major cities nationwide (and growing), Localeur counts on sturdy recommendations from the folks who actually live in the city you’re exploring. With hundreds of inauthentic reviews on apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor, Localeur aims to give their users reliable information on the best experiences in town.


Lonely Planet


trip & city guides

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

Lonely Planet is another one of those common names most travelers know. Lonely Planet is the largest publisher of travel guides in the world.

You can utilize LP online, in handy app form (Guides), or via their published guidebooks, maps, and phrasebooks. They also have a great section of books for kids if you have a young traveler in your midst!

Their Guides by Lonely Planet app currently covers over 50 cities and provides standard guides, travel tips, offline maps, a currency converter, phrasebooks, and more. Their online and in-print presence is much larger at 195 countries.

If you’re into browsing through glorious photos in a magazine-like format for destination inspiration, they have another app called Lonely Planet Traveler Magazine, which publishes new issues monthly.


Marsbot (by Foursquare)


restaurant & nightlife recommendations

Platforms: iOS, Android

Created by the people at Foursquare, Marsbot is an app that was built to learn users’ preferences and provide better recommendations on restaurants and nightlife. Here’s the gist*: Marsbot runs in the background on your phone and learns your habits by tracking places you frequent. Marsbot then sends text recommendations before you even realize what places you should be searching for!

The people at Foursquare give us this picture: “We think of Marsbot as that best friend who knows what you love, where you hang out— and also happens to know all the best places in your city. Like my bestie, Marsbot learns that I’m into pistachio gelato and I spend most of my time in The Mission. Like my bestie, Marsbot texts me when it discovers a new chai spot opening around the corner from my office. And like my bestie, Marsbot isn’t perfect, but is always full of good intentions.”

Word to the Wise: These are the early days for Marsbot. The app is only functioning in New York City and San Francisco and is compatible with US phone numbers on iOS. 



“city discovery tool”/social media publishing platform

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

Townske invites you to discover new cities through the eyes of a local and emphasizes finding travel inspiration through beautiful imagery. Townske utilizes thousands of community members to create individually-curated city guides, allowing users to explore various cities like a local.

Within the app, you can scroll through your “feed” and view guides from around the world, your city, and any additional cities you choose to add. You can also save guides in a list to peruse at a later time.

They currently claim over 6,000+ city guides, with over 500 cities represented and over 25,000 places.

Once you’re a user, you can also choose to submit your own city guide to enlighten travelers who may be looking for information about your city! (previously Gogobot)


activity planning and exploring

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

Trip wants users to “discover the best places to play, eat, and stay.” As part trip planning/inspiration, part review site, and part social network,Trip really intertwines a number of interactive options for your future travels.

After launching the app with location services on, users are presented with information for their location based on local weather, time of day, and other variables. This is helpful when you need meal options, somewhere to grab a quick cup of coffee or even insight into an event or attraction you may want to explore. The app also has the ability to track your activities and learn from your likes to recommend similar options in the future.

With over 60,000 destinations available, users can preemptively explore cities, read reviews, and book hotels, restaurant reservations, and more.

Within Trip, users also have the option to find inspiration based on “Tribes,” which allow you to search by travel style: Adventure Travelers, Budget Travelers, Green Travelers, Trendsetters, etc.

You can also create photo postcards of your travels, plan meetups with friends, view destinations trending with other users, or stamp your virtual passport… the list goes on! It’s a pretty in-depth and interactive option for adventurers who are looking for that sort of thing.


TripAdvisor (+ Wikitude and offline city guides)


reviews of all things travel (hotels, restaurants, activities, etc.)

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know TripAdvisor. This is basically the Consumer Reports of the travel world.

Check out how TripAdvisor has integrated with Wikitude in our explanation below.

TripAdvisor also has a number of “Destination Guides” for popular cities with reviews and maps. To get offline access to these guides, you need to search for the city while connected and then download the guide. (This used to be a separate app, but it’s now integrated into the TripAdvisor app itself.)



“Your Smart Travel Guide”

Platforms: iOS, Android

Boasting 3 million points of interest across 50,000 destinations worldwide, Triposo’s unique algorithms crawl data from certain open content sources (Wikipedia, TouristEye, etc.) to provide the best travel recommendations, from popular attractions to hidden gems.

For larger cities, users can download city guides that are accessible offline – helpful if you don’t have data while abroad! Downloading early can also allow users to save their favorites places, restaurants, hotels, or attractions for later. Users can also utilize the currency converter and access tools like weather forecasts and public transportation maps. If you’re perusing the See and Do section, Triposo will even tell you which activities you may want to book in advance.

When you use the app while traveling, active suggestions provide options for what to do next based on weather, time of day, and local business hours.

Hot Tip: Users can also book all of their hotels, tours, activities, and transportation directly within the app, which saves time and hassle!




social trip planner, itinerary management

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

TripSee claims to be “the easiest way to plan your next adventure,” and it may sound familiar if you read our previous post on organizing your trip.

TripSee made its debut on that list because it adds an awesome itinerary management aspect to your planning. It’s great for you to have a list of things to do, but it’s even better to have that list laid out in a nice functional timeline.

TripSee’s predictive planning is what saves users tons of time. Instead of perusing a bunch of blogs, forums, or review sites, users enter their destination and are provided with recommendations for popular attractions, events, and restaurants in a map view. If you like the activity you’re reading about, click “Add To Trip” and watch your plans appear in a nice little timeline right before your eyes.

Users can view their itinerary in a list format or (even better!) on the map. With enumerated pins corresponding to the time order in which your activities will take place, users get a “connects-the-dots” view. You can easily swap activities to different days to cluster locales for maximum efficiency.

The social aspect comes into play with the ability to add more than one planner to a trip, essentially allowing a family or group of friends to plan a trip together and see all the itinerary pieces in one place. Itineraries can be posted to social media as well. Users can also check out popular trips compiled by other TripSee travelers.



FREE app; trip itinerary 5€/day

a local guide to plan your trip itinerary

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

With this app, users input their travel destination, applicable dates, and what type of activities they like to do. TripUniq matches the user with a “local hero” who then customizes a daily plan. These plans are also available to download and utilize offline, which is helpful if you can’t connect to wifi while you’re off exploring.

The itineraries often include local spots you aren’t likely to find on your own, where you’ll avoid tourist traps and often get a better value for your money. Users have the availability to message their local hero with questions, which are reportedly responded to within 30 minutes.

Some local experts offer a “welcome coffee,” where you can get together with the hero who planned your trip. This can help you delve deeper into the recommendations and get some face-to-face time with the person who planned your day.

Pro Tip:  If you’re a “passionate local,” you can apply to become a TripUniq local hero yourself! If selected, you have the awesome opportunity to help plan trips for adventurers vacationing in your city, and you get compensated for the personalized itineraries you provide. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us!


This app is currently unavailable. 



“The Backpacker’s Real-Time Guide”

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

With a tagline like “Take a walk on the WIRED side,” this app really piqued our interest. Within the app, users can interact by sharing travel paths, plugging into the community, or discovering the unknown.

When users open the app, the home screen resembles an Instagram-like feed, showing travel-based photos with commentary/tips from friends. From here, you can also click the “path” tab where users can map their travels (past and future) by inputting destinations, dates, and pictures that Tripwire then throws onto a tidy little world map. You can see friends’ paths as well, and Tripwire notifies you when any of your paths may cross.

With the “nearby” tab, users can explore great restaurants, lodgings, bars, and attractions in their current location – all handpicked by the Tripwire team.

This app is currently unavailable – we’re hoping this is just a short hiatus with more to come in the future because this app had a great start!



travel inspiration/planning

This app feels luxurious, simple, and sleek. Voyagic provides both travel inspiration and single-day Itineraries. It’s still very new and starting out with some of the most popular cities in the world, but new cities being added regularly.

Users can choose a city and area, and then pick from a category of things they want to do including “unmissables,” culture, outdoors, food, nightlife, and shopping. You can also filter by several variables for each category, including budget!

When you find what you like, just hit the checkmark to receive an itinerary and map for every part of your day, plus reviews, photographs, and details of your stops. This is usually planned for a single area of the city, so your itinerary is based on walking.

Voyagic is a great option for people who don’t particularly love to make decisions!


Walter (by Triposo)


smart travel compass

Platforms: iOS

While Walter’s reviews leave a bit to be desired, we’ve included the app here because we have high hopes for future updates, and we do enjoy a sleek design when we see one.

Walter is a VERY simple app that when opened, acts as a compass for 4 categories: Eat, Drink, See, and Shop, all within a 5-, 10-, and 20-minute radius of your current location. Self-admittedly, the minds behind Walter state this is an app for people who enjoy simply wandering around with a general idea of where things are and what they’d like to do.

At this time users can’t access any additional information – it is simply a compass. Oh, and it works offline. We could see this being a pretty fun addition to the arsenal of Apple Watch apps.




peer-to-peer marketplace for activities and food experiences

Platforms: iOS, Android, Web

Withlocals has a pretty good general concept to partner travelers with locals who want to share their culture, talents, and time through food and other unique experiences. Withlocals claims these activities are 100% with locals, 100% private, and provide a 100% authentic taste of the city.  They generally offer two types of experiences: Food & Things to Do.

Withlocals currently operates in 27 countries across Europe, SE Asia, the Middle East, plus Marrakesh including 50+ cities – not a bad reach!

While the app has only a small number of reviews across the iTunes Store and Google Play, the company is reviewed well overall and guests have an overall 99.7% satisfaction rate with their hosts.  That’s hard to beat.

If you’re traveling in these areas of the world and looking to support a smaller local community – this could be the resource for you!


This app is no longer available in its previous travel-related capacity.



augmented reality (exploring) interface

You guys… this is pretty neat technology right here!

As you’re walking around, use this app to click the Wikipedia or TripAdvisor data layers. Then simply hold up your phone and take a look: you’re presented with tags in real time allowing you to access information on points of interest, hotels, etc., plus route options to get you there if an attraction is slightly further away.

The info isn’t listed in the prettiest of ways, but you’ll get the gist of it. If we’re lucky they’ll tighten up the design a bit with future updates.


Wildsam Field Guides

published field guides

Platforms: in print booklet

This one’s really more for the book lovers or hipsters of the travel world. Wildsam publishes small paperback guidebooks with a simplistic and modern design. Currently, there are 11 city/state field guides and 2 guides on road trips. That doesn’t seem very comprehensive, but we have a serious fondness for companies with beautiful ideals.

“We shed light on the lesser known, the complex, the real things, through our series of American field guides. Through the guides, we document a place through its stories. Both the city series and road trip series explore via prose and personalities, mixing together historical anecdotes, local interviews, literary memoir and hand-drawn maps, all in service of a deep understanding of place. The guides also offer a highly curated list of recommendations, the kind of smart list a close friend might offer.”

Doesn’t that sound wonderful??

Hot Tip: We absolutely love the story and beliefs behind Wildsam! To read more, check out these pages on their site here.




outdoor activity planning and exploring, social media components

Platforms: iOS, Android

A social network-y app for outdoorsy types, Yonder aims to “inspire and enable a love for the outdoors.”

Users can utilize this community in 2 ways:

(1) With an Instagram-like feel, users can post a geotagged photo or video, add a description, and even select from 25 different activity categories such as kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking, etc. You can follow feeds from other accounts, and “like” or post comments. Yonder makes it extremely easy to “meet new Yonderers” in order to find feeds you like to follow.

(2) You can also search a database of over 20,000 locations in order to plan your next adventure! Search the map by city/state or destination, with results all geotagged. Results will list top nearby Yonder users, nearby destinations, and trending experiences in the area.

Looking for more resources for your upcoming trip? Upgraded Points has an entire series on resources – you can find it right here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best websites for trip planning and experiences?

For tips when planning your trip experiences, try out websites like Airbnb “Places” and “Experiences”, Couchsurfer, or Lonely Planet.

James Larounis's image

About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.


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