By Darren Tobia
January 12, 2011

No matter how miserable your shoveling chores were this morning, I bet you wouldn't trade places with a stranded traveler in a snowstorm. Flight delays typically mean another day or five stuck in a strange city without an itinerary.

—That is, unless John Boris can help it.

Over the past year, when severe weather or natural disaster has trapped tourists at the airports, Lonely Planet Americas’s executive vice president and managing director has been making his popular city-guide apps (iPhone, iPod; iPad) completely FREE for download at iTunes for 72 hours. (Normally, they sell for as much as $5.99!)

To Boris, it’s as much an act of goodwill as an endorsement of the digital age of travel. His book publishing company—popular among backpackers for its budget-mindedness and far-flung coverage—has more than 600 titles available across platforms.

“You can do things on the fly now without having to go to a bookstore,” Boris says of technological perks.

The idea for the free apps came last April, when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano erupted, causing global gridlock rippling out from Europe.

“I saw so many stranded travelers just wandering around London,” Boris says, who was visiting Lonely Planet’s England office at the time. “I thought, ‘We should be giving away city guides.’”

Later that day, stranded travelers—and anyone else privy to the freebies—began downloading apps in droves. More than two million of Lonely Planet’s European city-guides, including London, Amsterdam and Rome, were snatched up in two days.

“We actually made money, because people went on to buy more mobile apps,” Boris says.

Darren Tobia is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.