Your smartphone can be your best travel guide, says Karthik Subramanian, who samples some of the more useful Apps around. He also draws upon his experience during a recent trip to South East Asian countries

No matter how much you plan beforehand, vacations always throw up surprises along the way. Nothing quite unfolds the way you imagined, and that is partly the charm of travelling to a new place. However, if you have a good smartphone and the right applications (Apps) loaded, it could considerably reduce stress.

The article primarily focussed on travel Apps in the Android marketplace, though an effort has been made to find out if the Apps are listed on other platforms. You will need to have a data plan for some of these Apps to work. Also, in places such as Hong Kong and Bangkok, there are enough coffee shops and the likes where one can tap into wi-fi hotspots for free.

In fact, travellers to Hong Kong get a one-hour free wifi connection at subway metro stations. The Hong Kong Tourism Board offers its free App for tourists to make reservations and find out the events of the season.

Wikitude: Augmented reality is a cool application to have on your smartphone, and though there are plenty of Apps around, Wikitude is highly recommended. All you have to do is point your camera at a location, and based on location-analysis using GPS or Wi-Fi, the augmented reality browser will throw up interesting locations within your region.

This freeware developed by Austrian company Wikitude Gmbh is one of the most downloaded Apps in the travel category across platforms, and is available currently for the Android, iOS, Bada and Blackberry platforms. Content in the Wikitude browser is mostly user-generated. So you can look for anything from highly-recommended restaurants in the place to local attractions. Log on to www.wikitude.com to learn more.

Xe: If you are travelling abroad, and visiting one or more countries is on your itinerary, it always pays to know the latest currency exchange rates. One of the most visited websites that provides the service, www.xe.com, now has mobile Apps to do the job on the go. XEMobile currency App is available as a free download for the iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry and Windows 7 mobile platforms. Log on to www.xe.com/mobile to learn more. Also try: Thomas Cook What Rate App, which is also free.

TimeOut/ Lonely Planet: It is a tough call to take on which is the best destination guide App on the smartphone. So the tie between two of the most reputed content Apps. TimeOut offers its ‘essential city guides' for some destinations free of cost at http://www.timeout.com/london/feature/393/time-out-travel-apps-for-iphone. Lonely Planet also offers free mobile apps, what's more it allows for the mobile-desktop sync. So you can start from planning your travel on the desktop to carrying it around in your pocket when you travel. Apart from the destination guides, another recommendation would be to search for the local train maps. Also try: some Indian travel planning sites such as Yatra Online have a mobile travel buddy. There are also quite a few Apps that offer an Indian Railways ticket availability service. You cannot buy the tickets though.

Google Skymap: Enough with utilitarian Apps. This one is pure fun. An absolute must-have App, the Google Skymap details the constellations and planets in the night sky based on the smartphone's GPS settings. Do bear in mind that you need to set up the exact location to get accurate results. It is loads of fun and could actually pave the way for some romance if you are creative enough. To learn more, log on to http://www.google.com/mobile/skymap/.