Below are my top 10 travel apps that I always have open while on the road. Each serves a distinct purpose and are free of charge. If you do not have a smartphone, the majority of these can be accessed on the web as well.
I use this phenomenal app (primarily in its website form) every day at work as a travel agent. As quickly as you can type in two cities, the app returns all of your options for travel between them. Trains, buses, airplanes, etc. are all listed along with the associated travel times and estimated costs. The costs are only available on the website. Even if the costs are not exact, it makes for an extremely useful estimate when clients ask me “about how much does the train cost?” How can I possibly remember how long the train is from every possible city combination on earth? I don’t have to, and neither do you because this app will inform you of your best route between two places world-wide!
You arrive in a city you have never been to before (or heard of). If you haven’t had a chance to meet any of the locals, how can you know where you should stay, how to get around, what you should do etc.? This app, after you ignore the name, is an offline Wikitravel reader and after downloading the content from the website onto the app, you will have a vast amount of vital information about thousands of cities worldwide. I use this app/website before I visit any city and after I arrive anywhere, as there is also information about how to arrive and depart and what to do. It is especially useful if you are traveling to somewhere such as the Shetland Islands where you can only fly directly from a few cities. You simply enter a city and Turdus will use the information gathered from Wikitravel to give you a breakdown of key information every traveler will want to know. For mega cities it is usually not as important because so much information exists about them online, but you wouldn’t want to find yourself in say Orange Walk Town, Belize and miss out on the best nightclub in town.
You have likely heard of Couchsurfing before, but do you know that the site has more to offer than just staying with a stranger? Couchsurfing is a fantastic way to meet friends in a city where you don’t know anyone or where you want to meet more people. Users of the site are always interested in grabbing coffee or a drink with travelers or transplants, and if you don’t want to message individual people, there are constantly meetups in cities all over the planet. There are gatherings, events, parties, language exchanges, game nights, bar crawls, dancing lessons etc. and they are all posted on this amazing site. You don’t have to have an elaborate profile to attend the meetups and events-that’s more important if you want to message a specific person to meet or stay with. When you enter a city on the site it will show you nearby events that have been created as well as people that will be willing to host you. And as far as staying with strangers, it is the best thing that I have ever done. I could go on forever about the amazing people I have met through the site. I think about the friends I have made, the kindness of the people who hosted me and the fun I have had with people I’ve hosted-I’ve even been able to visit a few after hosting them. Although it is an added bonus, it’s not about the free place to stay; you can always stay for cheap in a hostel. It’s about experiencing a city through a local’s eyes and involving yourself in their life for a short while so you get the best impression of a city possible!
Viber is an alternative to WhatsApp. Make sure you install this app before you leave for your trip because you will have to receive and enter a code texted to your phone in order to get started. The texting capabilities are essentially the same as WhatsApp only you can also make free calls to any Viber user and I personally like their emoticons better. With the increasing prevalence of wifi worldwide, you can make even more free calls than you might even think. Overall a very useful app with an agreeable price tag.
Airbnb is for those who don’t want to stay on the couch at a stranger’s house, have a budget allowing for more than a hostel, but also want to have a more fulfilling experience in a foreign place than perhaps a hotel will allow. With Airbnb, there are over 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities where real people privately rent out lodging, including private rooms, apartments, castles, boats, tree houses etc. Using the slick and simple app or website, you enter a city and the app immediately returns individuals, families, etc. that have accommodations available for you and other guests to rent. You must set up a profile to request your stay, but once you do, you can view the renter’s information, see photos of their lodging, read reviews from people who have stayed there and book your stay. There are anywhere from extremely affordable places to entire homes available to rent, start browsing to plan your stay!
Hopstop is the essential app for navigating local public transportation routes within metropolitan cities on and offline. The app Hopstop provides door-to-door subway and bus directions, with maps included for over 140 cities around the world.
In April 2014 it also became the first app to utilize crowdsourced transit updates at a large scale through what it calls HopStop Live. HopStop Live is a crowdsourced platform able to automatically report and see when trains, subways, and buses are delayed.
7. Google Translate
An invaluable app to have if you are traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language, Google Translate is one of the most powerful and easy to use translators out there and best of all, it’s free. You can translate via speaking or even writing out characters and there are more languages available than one person will ever need in their life.
The biggest drawback of course is that you cannot translate without data or wifi which is especially difficult if you are out and about in a foreign place and don’t have internet and can’t speak to anyone . For this I suggest downloading individual free dictionaries for the specific language(s) of the country you are traveling to. Some are better than others so it’s a good idea to download a few and test them out before you settle on one. Then you can actually tell what kind of food you are ordering and ask someone where the bathroom is.
This free app is a cinch to use and utilizes the most current and live conversion rates for your convenience. Fortunately, as you are out shopping and spending money on your trip, the app will automatically store the last updated rates so you can use it offline. Just type in the amount in your selected currency and the app will show you not only one but dozens of other conversions for currencies of your choosing.
Not all airportshave nice and accessible maps describing details about the different gates. And even if they do, this app allows you not to have to seek them out. Inevitably you will have a long connection at some point and you will want this in your pocket. As you wander around the airport you can use this app to find the best cuisine or trinkets available. The nicest perk is that it provides you with an excuse to get up and haul your bag around for something to do.
You cannot see flights or maps of the airport in offline mode which is a downfall, but you are still able to view all the airport amenities and existing tips if there are some left by other users.
10. 1 Second Everyday
For over a year I have been taking a video of my life each day. This app shows you a calendar where you can select a video you have taken for every day. You may then choose a clip from that video that is one second long. Later, you compile your 1 second clips into one “movie” and watch your life flash before your eyes. You can set the time-span for your compilations if you would like to just show clips from a vacation. Now that I have joined the workforce, more than often I wake up, go to work, eat dinner and go to sleep. It has been a challenge to find something worthy of making my daily video but it encourages me to observe more around me. Sometimes days get skipped, but when I am traveling it is the best way to organize a video journal of my trip. You can turn on daily reminders so you don’t forget to take a video because once the day is over, it is too late to have a video for that day and you cannot go back. The downfall is that the company is slow to release updates and the app does tend to crash when uploading videos but fortunately the app is free.
Honorable Mention: Hotel Tonight
This app is the last-minute-traveler’s dream aka when you make it on a standby flight and end up somewhere where you never knew you’d be. It makes booking a hotel when you arrive at your destination seamless. Starting at 9:00 a.m. each day, Hotel Tonight releases a listing of rooms that are available at participating hotels world-wide. The app is appealing in design and ease of use, provides a map of the hotel locations and details about each booking including wifi access and parking. The app however only receives an honorable mention because you can only book one night at a time and the hotels are primarily higher-end. It is definitely worth looking at multiple sites and not just with this app. The same can be said for booking anything travel related.
An important note:
Having access to the Internet while traveling is life changing, especially when I compare my travels to before and after I had a smartphone. However, you should not undervalue the importance of a pen and paper. Depending on where you are, it’s not always a good idea to whip out your phone at all times in the street. Use actual paper to take notes for taxi drivers, bus drivers and people on the street to show them the address, name of locations that you can’t pronounce, etc. This way people can hold on to the paper, examine it more closely and pass it around to other people as they try to figure out where on earth you are trying to go.