To grandma’s house we go—with these holiday travel apps

‘Tis the season for braving airports, highways, and hotels on our way to visit family and friends. But the right Windows Phone apps can change the way we plan for these trips, and how we enjoy them. You’ll find more great handpicked options in the just-published Winter Travel Collection.

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Kayaking is the last way I’d want to get anywhere for the holidays, but Kayak (free) the app is pretty amazing for finding deals on flights, hotels and cars. It searches hundreds of travel sites simultaneously and delivers the results in a clear, easy-to-compare format right on your Windows Phone. It’s a great place to start.

For a place to stay—grandma’s downsized to a condo this year—check out Hotel Finder (free). It’s a fast, simple app that lets you search by price and star rating, read customer reviews and see how close a hotel is to downtown and the airport. Its database includes nearly a quarter of a million hotels, so even the pickiest travelers should find something to their liking.

Kayak for Windows PhoneHotel Finder for Windows Phone

Weather Flow ($1.99) is an app that keeps you up-to-date on temps and weather anywhere, and its Windows Phone interface is so beautiful, it makes even a day of sleet and rain look beautiful on your screen. The options for Live Tiles and lock screen are gorgeous, and you can follow weather in multiple locations at a glance.

Stuck in an airport wondering when your connecting flight is going to arrive? Waiting in the cell phone lot for loved ones to land? Don’t leave home without FlightAware (free), an impressive app that brings live flight tracking to your Windows Phone. With the flight number, aircraft registration, city pair, route or airport code, you can have the real-time status of any commercial flights worldwide, and any private flights in the US and Canada.

Weather Flow for Windows PhoneFlightAware for Windows Phone

For a rental car at your destination, free apps from two of the leading agencies make renting a car and managing your reservation easy. The updated Avis app has an improved login process, and making, modifying or canceling reservations is as simple as ever. Hertz lets you make and manage reservations as well, and you can also find the nearest gas station and record your car’s location—a nice feature, since it isn’t the car you usually drive.

Once you’re behind the wheel, Navigon USA ($29.99)  is a very handy app that gives your Windows Phone 8 a state-of-the-art mobile navigation system—without charges for data transfer or roaming when you’re calculating routes or looking at maps. With 2-D and 3-D map views, and features including Traffic Live, Speed Assistant, Weather Live, emergency help and text-to-speech capabilities, it’s a great co-pilot. And the one-click Take Me Home function is something you’ll probably be grateful for in less-familiar surroundings.

Navigon USA for Windows PhoneOfficial Hertz app for Windows Phone

GasBuddy (free) helps keep your travel bill down with its comprehensive, real-time gas prices for stations anywhere in the US and Canada. Pin a station near you, and a Live Tile on your Start screen will keep updating prices regularly throughout the day. Another nice touch — it’s been redesigned for Windows Phone with a clear, fresh interface.

Finally, this year you don’t have to rely on grandma to recommend things to do while you’re visiting. TripAdvisor (free) gives the lowdown on the best places to stay, eat or have fun around the world, based on more than 75 million traveler reviews. You can see location photos taken by fellow travelers and use the Near Me Now feature to find things near where you are, or where you’re going.

GasBuddy for Windows PhoneTripAdvisor for Windows Phone

Finally, getting to grandma’s house is only half the battle. When the “I’m bored!” chorus kicks in, the right games come in handy. Check out my post this week on road-tested indie games—and some of the game-related Collections for download ideas.

Safe travels!