Don’t Leave Home Without: Essential Travel Apps
You know it’s true.
As much as pulling out the old map and compass harkens back to your childhood Boy Scout adventures, those resources are being used more for household Pinterest projects than actual backpacker’s gear. Technology is here and the modern vagabond rejoices.
[Cue Monty Python] Yay.
Whatever reservations you may have, set them aside and book them online instead. There are some pretty sweet apps out there to make your traveling a smoother, richer, more meaningful experience. I’ll go ahead and save you the suspense now. These essential travel apps are FREE.
WHEN? – For getting you there
TripIt – We can all use a bit more organization in our lives, no? Especially when you’ve got plane tickets strewn about, dance classes tomorrow, and a 4:30am ferry on Tuesday three weeks from now. Anything with a confirmation number can be forwarded to a special email and TripIt will build an itinerary for you, keeping all your details and plans in one space. Hotels, rental cars, concerts, and even restaurant reservations are all synced to your calendar and can easily be shared with concerned/jealous friends and family.
Skyscanner – Finding a cheap flight is almost as difficult as finding an app made for finding cheap flights. Seriously, there are so many out there you better be a Zen Master or have training in the covert ops in order to navigate your way to your best flight option. After much ado at the airport and many hours of research, I keep coming back to Skyscanner for my bookings. They do what Kayak and Booking Buddy do – provide comparisons with thousands of airlines to match your criteria – but cut out the middle man so you book directly with the airline or travel agent. I don’t know their secret; I just know I find the cheapest flights here. They are also in the business of hotels and car hires.
TripAdvisor – Anywhere you want to go in any city in the world, hear what others are saying about it first. Keen to find a quiet park? Want to go for an ice cream? Curious if the museum is any good? TripAdvisor connects you with maps, forums, reviews, and guides to help maximize efficient time utilization. You can even search and book your transport and accommodation through them. Nifty.
WHAT? – For acting like you know more than you do
XE Currency – Just because you’re not a math genius doesn’t mean you should be blind to where your money is going. Convert any of the world’s currencies and see how those new shoes are affecting your pocket book in a number you can understand. You don’t need to be connected to the internet to use this one so don’t hesitate to do a quick calculation before you buy that falafel. Then, buy it anyway. You only live once, am I right?
Weather Channel – Know what you’re getting into before you get out of bed in the morning. When the foreign sky is unpredictable, it’s good to be prepared with proper clothes, footwear, and indoor/outdoor plans. It’s going to be a bright and sunshiny day. If it’s not, at least you’ll know about it.
Google Translate – Don’t skip the language lessons, but don’t let the lack of Portuguese mastery stop you from seeing the Palacio Nacional da Pena is all its glory either. With an integrated microphone and handwriting feature, this app is more accessible than ever in coming to terms with whatever terms present difficulty. Hear your foreign text properly spoken even as you see it written in your own language. That’s the last time you eat goat intestine without you knowing it.
WHERE? – For practically being a local
Google Maps – “I know exactly where I’m going” can forever more be a true statement with comprehensive maps of whatever city you happen to be in. Plot directions and get turn-by-turn instructions in getting to the beach or the record store or the cinema. Not going to have signal while you’re out? Plan ahead and save the map and your directions for offline use. Save the fight for something else besides getting there.
Urbanspoon – Not sure where to eat? Give your phone a shake and let Urbanspoon make a recommendation for you based on budget, cuisine, or neighborhood. Though not available for all countries, if you’re in range, Urbanspoon is a fantastic way to catch reviews, plan a spontaneous date, and make reservations for your arrival. Once you’ve taken in your local eatery, write your own recommendation and help a guy out.
Yelp – Everything you need to know about where to go, what to do, and what others think about the cardiologist around the corner to the tattoo artist above the Chinese Take Aways you shouldn’t be considering. Yelp is like asking the locals where they hang out on a Friday night and then meeting them there so you can buy them a drink. Hey, it’s the least you can do.
WHO? – For sharing your adventures with those you love
Skype – If you can’t give a hug, seeing and talking to those you love for free is a massive step forward in connecting the world. Forget international phone cards with their endless numbers and outrageous rates. Skype puts you face to face with those you left behind, but not forgotten. Traveling is the recognition that the world brims with possible friendships. Skype just fosters those friendships to a greater potential. All you need is a camera and a microphone.
WhatsApp – This cross-platform messaging service means you needn’t pay for text or multimedia messages, even if you’re sending said messages overseas. WhatsApp uses internet data, not mobile, to send unlimited audio, video, images, and text messages to those you care about. “How’s your day?” doesn’t have to be a long-lost sentiment. However, you might want to check the time difference before you begin a conversation. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.
Postagram – Wish you could bottle this feeling, capture this moment, and send it back home? Postagram gets you one step closer. Take a picture (or upload one from Facebook or Instagram), type your text, address it, then send a real postcard nearly anywhere in the world. All without the fuel costs and waiting in lines inherent in a visit to the Post Office. While the app is free, your custom postcards cost $0.99 to send, which beats the pants off any overseas mail expenses. This is the app we should have known about a long time ago. #amiright?
WHY? – For you to discover and share
There’s a story for that. But not even Steve Jobs can help you write it. As you make the most of these tools, who’s to say where they will take you? Aside from my recommendations, my advice is balance. Use them as tools, but learn to get your head out of your smart phone and get amongst local life.
It’s like my granddad always told me: