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North Hills Monthly

‘Tis the Season for Sanity-saving Holiday Hack Apps

Nov 29, 2019 12:05PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Stop, Breathe & Think app

While it may be the most wonderful time of the year, surviving the holidays with one’s sanity intact sometimes requires a little assistance. A variety of apps can help hack the holidays and make the festivities a bit more manageable.

One perennial holiday hassle is shopping for presents. Figuring out the perfect gift for a teen, a grandparent or a child’s teacher can spark anxiety as early as October. Keeping a year-round list of gift ideas as they occur is among the best ways to prevent angst in December, and Wunderlist is among the best free apps around for keeping track of that information. Among its key features: sharing lists with your spouse—or whoever you wish—and a satisfying “ding” noise when the user checks an item off the list. The downside is that Microsoft (which now owns Wunderlist) eventually plans to eliminate the app. While Wunderlist is still a great option, chances are it will fade into the sunset over the next few years. As an alternative, Microsoft OneNote can be used in a similar way to keep track of gift lists, to do lists and the like. OneNote allows users to easily add images and links to list items, a helpful feature when scouting the best prices or color options. Both Wunderlist and OneNote are free and available for iOS and Android. 

Another frequent culprit contributing to holiday stress is travel. While a host of travel search apps and websites provide some excellent options, Google Flights is worth a download. Google Flights rises to the top because it provides lightning-fast results and is the most intuitive to use. One click allows users to see cheaper flight alternatives based on adjusting dates or nearby airports. A price grid enables users to view the least expensive days to fly, also with a single click. Google Flights offers the best access to the most information with the least hassle. That’s about as good as it gets for a holiday travel search. (Free; available for iOS and Android) 

Holidays are a time when people who may not ordinarily attend church are looking for a place to worship. Whether looking for a church nearby or spending Christmas at a ski resort or other vacation area, Church Finder (free in the app store) and Church Finder Worldwide (free on Google Play) allow users to sort by denomination and find the closest church. While no equivalent synagogue-finder app is currently available—take note of that business opportunity, aspiring app developers!—Google Maps and Yelp can be utilized to locate nearby houses of worship for people of all faith traditions.

One potential stressor is choosing the right wine to accompany holiday meals. Two fantastic apps can help hosts and hostesses take on the daunting challenge of picking affordable, tasty wines. Pocket Wine Pairing (free; iOS only) and Delectable (free; available for iOS and Android) receive high ratings, are user-friendly and can help people channel their inner sommelier. Pocket Wine Pairing has a detailed index of hundreds of types of meals and shows the best match for different wine styles and varieties of grapes. Its “Do’s and Don’ts” and “Quick Guide to Food Types” sections are helpful as well and receive kudos from users. Delectable is perfect for on-the-go decisions in the wine store. The app allows users to take a photo of the wine label and immediately see ratings and descriptions for that wine. An in-app personal wine journal lets users store information about their own favorites, avoiding the ubiquitous issue of forgetting the name of that wine you loved at a restaurant last month.

If holiday-related stress becomes too intense, taking a few minutes to step away with a mediation app can help. Stop, Breathe & Think helps users understand why meditation works and has a basic “Learn to Meditate” section for anyone new to the practice. The app offers 34 free guided sessions and has lessons dedicated to teaching various breathing techniques and even just listening to soothing sounds. Most sessions are 15 minutes or less and well worth the investment of time. (Free; available for iOS and Android) 

Finally, as the excitement builds toward the big day, one essential app can both keep the magic alive and distract children while parents find a minute to enjoy a glass of their perfectly chosen wine or practice some deep, intentional breathing. Among the various Santa trackers, the one created by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is the coolest—but alas, there is no app for that—just a really official-looking website: 

As an alternative, the Santa Tracker Christmas app is an excellent tool which features a Santa countdown and blog by the jolly old elf himself, where kids can find out how he is preparing for the big night. (Free; available for iOS and Android) 

Amid the whirlwind of holiday activities, it is easy to let the joy of the season get lost. This year, try a few apps that could free up some time and energy to enjoy the holidays and start the new year off hAPPily.