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When is a web browser not a web browser? When it’s anything else you want it to be.
Google Chrome has been the most popular desktop browser for several years, and part of the reason is the wide range of extensions available for almost any purpose. Travelers haven’t been left out, with all kinds of tools that make the browser even more useful for those of us on the move.
Whether it’s learning a new language, managing hotel bookings, improving your online security or just reducing the boredom of another overnight airport layover, here are 11 of the best Chrome extensions out there for travelers. They’re all free to download and use, although some of the services have a premium version as well.
Ask anyone who’s learned a language what the best approach is, and chances are they’ll say “immersion”. Even in my limited experience, being forced to use a new language all the time gets me conversational far quicker than studying grammar rules or vocabulary lists, plus it’s a lot more fun.
Google’s Language Immersion extension lets you choose from one of over fifty languages, and five different immersion levels, to automatically translate part of every web page you visit. If you’re just starting out, keep the slider to the left and only a few words will change. Move it all the way to the right, and almost the entire page is translated into your chosen language.
If you don’t know what a translated word or phrase means, just click it to switch back to the original. The translation is machine-based, of course, so it’s not perfect — but it’s not bad, and is a great way of expanding your vocabulary before or while visiting a new country. We wrote a full review of the extension a while back, and found it very useful.
Save to Pocket
There’s a lot of action-packed excitement when you’re traveling, but there’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait as well. Lengthy queues, bus rides, flights and layovers all leave you searching for entertainment after a while — there’s only so much people-watching you can do.
Pocket lets you save the contents of any web page in a simplified, easy-to-read form that works across devices. Installing the Chrome extension adds a small button to the toolbar, and clicking it dumps the current page into a queue that automatically syncs with the Pocket app on your phone or tablet.
You can read the articles offline in the app, or on the Pocket website, meaning you’re never short of a way to pass the time no matter which device you’ve got with you.
LastPass Password Manager
Getting online while you’re traveling is riskier than at home. Open Wi-fi points, hotel networks that half the world knows the password to, shared computers with all kinds of viruses and key loggers — your accounts and personal data are more exposed than usual.
Using secure versions of sites (see below) and a VPN helps a lot, but only if you’re using strong, unique passwords to access anything online.
Given how hard it is to create and remember dozens of strong passwords, most people don’t do it. For years I didn’t either, until I installed Lastpass. This extension creates, stores and fills in random, strong passwords for each site you use, so you only need to remember one password — the one for LastPass itself.
The extension encrypts its password store in such a way that the company itself can’t access it without your master password, never mind anybody else. It also has a mobile version for a dollar a month, which syncs with the ‘vault’ in your browser.
I now don’t even know my password for most of the sites I use, and I don’t need to. LastPass deals with it all.
That little green padlock in the corner of Chrome’s address bar means you’re accessing a secure version of a website, and communication between you and it are safe from prying eyes.
That’s great, but it doesn’t help you if you forget to type https at the start of the address. If the site doesn’t redirect you by itself, you’ll be browsing insecurely on that wide-open airport network you’ve just connected to.
Rather than trying to work out which sites support secure browsing and then putting the right version of the address in, let the HTTPS Anywhere extension do it for you. It maintains a list of thousands of popular sites, and sends you to the secure version automatically.
Whether you’re visiting from a link, bookmark or typing the address in yourself, you’ll end up using HTTPS (almost) everywhere, without thinking about it. Handy.
Chrome has Google’s translation function built right into the browser, but you’re limited to translating either the entire page or nothing at all. If you only need to know what a few words or sentences mean, install the partner extension, select the text you’re interested in and click the translation icon that appears above it.
It will usually guess which language the text is in, and offer both the original and translated versions in a pop-up box. If the guess is wrong, other languages are available in a drop-down, and many translations also include an audio version that you can hear by clicking the speaker icon.
The Points Guy
If you’re a hardcore points hacker, always trying to maximise your miles for that next business class upgrade, you’ll likely already know about Brian Kelly’s The Points Guy site. It’s become one of the go-to resources for making the most of credit card bonuses, frequent flyer programs and everything else that puts more miles into your account for as little money as possible.
The Chrome extension works just like the company’s app, using your profile on the site to advise which credit card you should use when making online purchases. Just click the icon before buying to see what rewards or cash-back bonuses are available on that site, and use whichever card looks best. Quick and easy.
Evernote Web Clipper
I’ve referred to Evernote as a ‘Swiss Army knife’ kind of app, with a bunch of functions that become handier the more you use the app. Something I’ve used it for many times is saving part or all of web pages — a photo, a map, a paragraph of directions or description of a guesthouse — via the Web Clipper extension.
Create an account, install the clipper and you’ll be presented with several options when you click the icon. You can annotate a clip, copy email threads, take a screenshot and more, with it all synched to the mobile app for offline use. It’s the equivalent of a trip binder, without an inch-thick stack of dog-earred paper.
Hotel Wifi Test
If having a decent Internet connection matters to you when you travel, you’ll want to install the Hotel Wifi Test extension. It takes the results of speed tests run by previous hotel guests and integrates them directly into listings on sites like Expedia and Trip Advisor, showing both maximum and average connection speeds for each accommodation.
It looks like it’s meant to be part of the site, and helps avoid frustration before you’ve even entered your credit card details.
If you’re sick of seeing Facebook ads for hotels you were just looking at on Expedia, or watching flight prices go up slightly every time you check them, it’s time to start using the anti-tracking extension Disconnect. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now, to stop sites from tracking me as I browse around the Internet.
It takes care of Facebook, Twitter and Google’s cookies, plus advertising, social and analytics from 2000+ other sites. In doing so, it also reduces the size of each web page and speeds up your browsing, especially on the kind of slow connections we so often find on the road.
You can partially or completely unblock certain sites if you need to, but by default, your browsing is much more private. That’s definitely not a bad thing.
If you’re a fan of the hotel booking site Booking.com, it’s worth installing the company’s Chrome extension. It lets you search for accommodation right from the icon, and opens up access to so-called ‘hidden’ deals and other discounts when you do.
Once you’ve made a booking, you can manage it, get alerted to last-minute upgrade offers and more.
If you want to stay secure online, or appear as if you’re browsing from a different location, we always recommend using a proper VPN like Tunnelbear or Witopia rather than a browser extension (here’s why).
That said, not everybody wants to take our advice — and if you only need to change your apparent location for web browsing now and then, something like Zenmate isn’t a terrible option. It doesn’t affect anything you do outside of Chrome, but can help bypass censorship or view geographically-limited content like Hulu in your browser.
Just install the extension, click the new shield icon in your browser and switch the ‘Off’ toggle to ‘On’. You can change your apparent location from the same screen if needed — the free version has a limited set of locations, with more available in the paid product.
Do you have any other favourite Chrome extensions for travel? Let us know about them in the comments!
All screenshots via respective extension developers.