We all rely on mobile apps every day. Maybe you use an app to navigate local traffic, get directions, as a calculator, for banking, or a camera. They've become part of our daily life and a reliable convenience.
But what happens when you’re traveling - either at home or abroad? Can you use the same apps you rely on in daily life or do you need different apps? Apps designed to help while you're on a journey?
The answer is you need travel-specific apps built to help you while you're on the road. So here's a list of travel apps for you with descriptions of what they do and why you need them!
First let me explain that the apps you might need, or use the most while you’re traveling, will depend on your specific trip. Details like where you’re going, for how long, solo or group and type of travel will all play a part in determining the apps you need.
That's why you'll find this list is categorized so you can decide if it's an app you need for YOUR trip. I’ll also let you know if they come for iOS and/or Android. Get ready to find some great tools to use on your next trip.
All the Map Apps
Many smartphone apps give you more than just a map, including Google Maps. Taking time to get the details right on this part of your trip planning will have a major impact- so get it right (for you) before you go! Check out these options and make your choice!
Pocket Earth: This one is only available for iOS, but it would be a great app-of-all-trades to take with you on your trip. Whether you’re a Culture or Adventure traveler, the App allows you to use offline maps and gives you access to travel guides, hotels, restaurants, public transportation and Wikivoyage links, which you can read about here. If you’re an adventurer, the App gives you offline hiking, cycling, and street maps.
Citymapper - iOS + Android. Your relationship to traveling and maps is going to be close and confusing and comforting and crazy. My advice is to dive in, pick your map app, and learn the hell out of it. This one is a gold mine of public transportation info, and it started in London. As for using Google Maps or Apple Maps - you’ll have ‘above ground’ info available, but with Citymapper - you’ll have detailed info on the London Tube. If you plan to use public transportation - and if you’re traveling to Europe or even New York City, you probably will - this might be a gold nugget to have on your smartphone. I haven’t tested its capabilities yet, but here are instructions straight from their website for how to access the maps offline.
When you’re boots-on-the-ground, and your trip is happening - there’s a chance you’ll suddenly feel a bit disconnected. You did a rock-solid job of planning and mapping everything out, but you need to connect to the internet to get that one last - whatever it is you need. But you’re not at the hotel and won’t be back there for hours. Now what?
Check it out!
Facebook for WiFi - you can access the Facebook app for both iOS and Android. This is a crazy little secret trick, which is pretty much the norm for my relationship with Facebook. I don’t know half of what it can do for me - to me - etc. But using it to find WiFi - it’s actually cool. Here’s how you do it. Open the App, and then find the three lines (for my iphone, they’re on the bottom right of the screen.) Click on them, and scroll down slowly (so you don’t miss it) till you find “Find WiFi” and click. Then enable it to find the WiFi spots nearby.
WifiMap - iOS + Android. Another great option for finding free WiFi while you’re traveling. It gives you access to offline maps. Make sure you get this set up ahead of time.
And best advice for accessing public WiFi is to pay for and use a VPN (virtual private network.) There are several options, and many travelers feel like this step is overkill. It all depends on how much you’ll be online while you’re traveling. If you will be accessing the internet whenever you possibly can - pay for a VPN. Here’s a recent article by PC Magazine that gives great options for 2019.
It's ok to be a bit paranoid about cybersecurity while you're traveling. In fact - please be a bit paranoid. The latest hacking and identity theft scams happen to travelers - often. If you are logging onto a free public Wifi in an airport or at a local business, ask someone who works there to verify the name of the network before you connect. Hackers routinely set up 'fake' free Wifi networks and unsuspecting travelers log on virtually opening the door to all their private data.
Also, charge your phone with your own portable power source to avoid another clever identity theft opportunity for hackers. The ones putting a device used to hack into your phone on a public charging station to access your personal information unbeknownst to you. By doing these two things - you'll avoid an experience that might destroy your dream vacation.
Travel App for Your Money
Whether you’re on a tight daily budget, you’re naturally budget conscious, or you have steady fiscal habits of tracking your spending - here are some mobile apps options for you. There’s even one that helps track who paid for what when you travel with others, and everyone is whipping out their wallet!
Trail Wallet - iOS only App. Brought to you by the couple behind Never Ending Voyage, this App helps you easily track all of your expenses while you travel. The App lets you organize your expenses by trip or month, and then set a daily budget. It’s easy to add expenses, and you can organize them by customizable categories. Auto backups to the cloud! I love the camera feature so I can take a pic of my receipt that gets uploaded.
Two options for Android are TravelSpend and TripWallet Smart Spending. TripWallet is also available for iOS, but I’ve not tried either of these apps. They look like there’s similar functioning as TrailWallet and the apps are free.
Splittr - iOS + Android. Traveling with a friend(s)? Who paid for the drinks last night? Were you the one that set up and paid for that food walking tour? Who owes what to whom? I’ve lived through the loss of friendship over poorly tracking who paid for what and what that exchange rate was at the time. Seriously (and pretty shallow too.) When you set out with an app like this one, and everything goes into it, you can track without hard feelings. At the end of the trip - you settle up. According to the Splittr website, all currencies are supported, it works offline, and you can share with friends. I know it worked like a charm for me on a trip to Poland with one other travel companion! With all travelers using/sharing the App when someone pays, they can enter the expense and app tracks it all - spitting costs appropriately.
Miscellaneous - But Essential Apps
These apps well cover money stuff that comes up on travel:
XE Currency Converter - iOS + Android. Wait - how much did that driver say the cab fare would be in euros? What is that in US dollars? Download this mobile App and get instant currency exchange rates right on your phone! Make sure you determine the exchange value that the establishment or cab is using for the day, but with the App, you can input the amount, and it will do the math for you. (Where was this in Algebra?)
Globetips - iOS and try GratitudeTipping for Android. The United States has its own thing going on as far as hospitality tipping goes. And other countries and areas of the world have their own thing. How are you supposed to adjust and do the right thing, no matter where you travel? Memorize it? Was that no tipping in Bulgaria but always in Bruges or vice versa?!? Too much - download the right App and use it! They’re free.
Travel Apps for Talking, Sleeping + Riding
Here are a few more Apps that are no fluff for your travel.
Google Translate - iOS + Android. When you download this app, according to Google, you’ll be able to translate text, handwriting, photos, and speech in 100+ languages. We are incredibly fortunate that so much of the world speaks English - but when they don’t, and even when they do - this App is going to help you be a more responsible traveler.
Hotel Tonight - iOS + Android. This little gem has been on my smartphone for a couple of years, and I’ve had some fun trying it out. When the app first came out, it was a place to find last-minute hotel rooms that were left unfilled. And by last minute I mean the morning you were staying. You opened the App, looked up your location, and started seeing hotel prices for that night - way below market rates! One spontaneous weekend in San Francisco we were luxuriating at the boutique Hotel Vitale right on the waterfront in San Francisco for half the regular rate. Another last-minute night, we slept in the elegant St. Francis. At some point, Hotel Tonight stretched things out and allowed users to search ahead - longer than the day of arrival. So if you’re on the road and something happens to your regularly scheduled accommodations, but you have this App on your phone - no problemo!
BlaBlaCar - iOS + Android. This is a long-distance carpooling app that connects drivers and travelers going to the same place to share the cost. Now they’ve added a Coach service (think Bus) and a commuter carpooling service. Their coverage appears to be in Europe, Central/East Europe, and Mexico. For a budget option that also gives you access to travel with a local - what a cool find!
Mytaxi - iOS + Android. For a select number of countries in Europe, this App is the best way to get a pre-paid ride. Like the US versions of Uber and Lyft, you set up payment methods ahead of time on the App. Then, when you need a taxi - you open the App and put in pickup and destination and get a car. Just like Uber and Lyft. While in Berlin, this was my go-to, rainy day, my feet hurt, I ran out of time way to get to my next stop. Great App to have on your phone, check ahead of time if you’ll be in a country they operate within and then use! (Also available is the Gett app in certain European countries, and Via in Chicago, Washington DC, or New York City.)
Technology for the Win
You can use technology to organize the rest of your trip, too. Start with the planning by reading this post and this one too. Once you have it all planned out, keep those details organized while you’re on the road - details on how-to in this post!
Since technology changes in the blink of a nano-second, make sure you send me your tech tips and travel App recommendations. Or if you want to stay in the loop about what I find on the interwebs from the techy travel world - sign up for my Later Letter over on the sidebar. I’ll keep you posted I promise.
In the meantime