Wednesday 24 January 2018

Flightradar24 Fan? Here are five top tracking apps for your travels

Tracks & Trails

Flightradar24.com's view of Ireland and the UK at 10.53am on August 23, 2017. Screengrab: Flightradar24.com.
Flightradar24.com's view of Ireland and the UK at 10.53am on August 23, 2017. Screengrab: Flightradar24.com.
Source: App in the Air
MapMyWalk
Source: flightradar24.com
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Yes, they're geeky. No, they're not stalker-ish (well, mostly). Tracking apps have taken off, giving travellers a host of new toys for their trips.

Think of the feeling as you watch your Uber approach, review a stroll on MapMyWalk, or track your flight status on a live map.

FlightRadar24 is my own guilty pleasure, but the feeling is the same where ever tracking apps hit the sweet spot. The combination of irresistible eye candy, technological wizardry and the excitement of real time updates hooks not just aviation geeks, but regular punters who love the sense of journeys unfolding before their eyes.

Here are five of the best for your digital travel toolkit.

1. Flightradar24

flightradar.jpg
Source: flightradar24.com

Two million users worldwide swear by this brilliant tracker for aircraft. The little yellow planes budging around the planet are enthralling (not to mention educational), and you can click into each to discover flight numbers, aircraft types, destinations and more. Track your own flight's status, watch aircraft deliveries from Boeing or Airbus, see where unusual planes are flying, spot no-fly zones or simply watch your friend or family member's flight in progress. Where does the time go?

Details: Free (with in-app purchases); upgrades from €1.49 a month. Android & iOS.

More: Flightradar24 has conquered the skies – but how does it work?

2. Ship Finder

shiptracker.jpg
Source: Shipfinder.co

Think of it as FlightRadar24 for ships. Ship Finder works by picking up AIS ship feeds used by passenger vessels, ships over 300 tonnes and also ("increasingly," it says) small vessels like yachts. Users can watch live moving ships on maps - an endlessly fascinating sight - with the ability to search for individual ships, or tap individual vessels to see their name, photos, speed and dimensions. The Lite version is very, erm, 'lite' on functionality, with constant prompts to upgrade, so shipping geeks should go ahead and spend the €5.49. You can also check out life AIS map tracking on marinetraffic.com or shipais.com, incidentally.

Details: €5.49 (or trial the free 'lite') version. Android & iOS.

More: 20 essential travel apps

3. App in the Air

appintheair.jpg
Source: App in the Air

While FlightRadar24 is the gold standard for pure flight tracking, it's not really designed for planning and keeping tabs on personal itineraries. App in the Air is worth downloading to trial for its easy interface and tie-ins with Apple Watch, particularly (don't worry, there's an Android version too). Edit the widgets to exclude the annoying (e.g. an option to purchase flight delay insurance) and keep the useful (e.g. airport info, including security and passport control times), and off you go.

Once you're all signed and synced up, enter your flight details (manually, or by giving permission for the app to draw from your calendar and email) and proceed to track check-in, boarding and landing times. A map card shows the progress of your flight, and you can share details on social too. A premium version has added features like real-time text alerts, family subscription and auto check-in.

Details: Free (offers in-app purchases and ads). iOS & Android.

More: The holiday hacks to get you through the summer

4. Waze

waze.jpg
Screengrab: Waze

Road trip? Driving in a foreign city? Waze is where "people power meets the open road," it claims, plugging crowd-sourced traffic alerts (both active and passive) into live maps. The results are available worldwide, enabling you to avoid congestion, accidents, roadworks and "police traps" (not that we'd endorse that kind of thing) by providing automatic re-routings. That's useful in unfamiliar cities, but also here at home - zoom in on your location and play around with it (above), and you'll see what I mean.

Downsides? There are a lot of cartoonish pins and icons of fellow 'Wazers' to get used to, and there's no option for walking or public transport. However, you don't need to set up an account to get started, parking suggestions are smart, and you can sync with your calender - the app will send notifications when it's time to set off for appointments. It's owned by Google, so the maps are pretty reliable too.

Details: Free, Android & iOS.

5. MapMyWalk

mapmywalk.jpg
MapMyWalk

You've tracked planes, ships and trains. Now track yourself! While designed for exercise, MapMyWalk (and other variations like MapMyRun) can be used for travel too, marking your progress with those addictive red lines, logging distances and enabling you to share with friends (you can now upload photos, creating a sort of narrative around your journey too). Travellers can use the app to find popular walks in cities they visit, but also to review their moseying after the fact... grabbing the co-ordinates for that cute little café you forgot the name of, for example. Feel free to ignore the calorie counts and food logs, though.

Details: Free. Android & iOS.

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