Let’s face it; we’re obsessed with our smartphones. They’re extremely convenient, easy to travel with, and contain just about everything you need to function on a daily basis. If they start producing oxygen, we’re ruined. But as bad as our phone dependencies can be, smartphones can be very useful travel companions, especially if you’re just starting out on the travel solo circuit and need a bit of assistance.
I travel with a smart phone now and it helps me out tremendously. But I still hold in-person communication above technology, and will ask locals or other travelers for recommendations or help before I turn to my phone. These travel apps have helped me get through some sticky situations, documented my travels, and have also made traveling so much easier.
Here’s my free must-have apps:
This is my favorite app in general. I love posting photos of my travels on here and with certain filters and adjustments, I look like I take professional photos. It’s also nice to have a photo gallery of your trips in one place. Although the app is a photo sharing platform, I’ve actually connected with other travelers through it. I’ve met up with a few around the world and am planning on creating future meet-ups with my Instagram community.
2. Snap Chat
Snap Chat is all the rage with the younger generations, but it’s a fantastic way to document your travels and show those back home what you get up to. I followed a few of my friends this past summer on their trip to Europe and I felt like I was right there with them. You can also follow other people and get a behind-the-scenes look into their everyday life. I was skeptical at first, but after using it on my travels, I really enjoyed showing others the cool places I was at in real-time. You can also private message, add words and emojis to your pictures and videos to make them one-of-a-kind. (If you want to check us out our Snap Chat name is ttandw)
These are two different apps but they both serve a very similar purpose. What’s App allows you to send texts, photos, voice calls and videos through a Wi-Fi connection to anyone around the world. It only works if you have a valid phone number, but with that said, since it works on a Wi-Fi connection, it doesn’t use your data when you’re overseas or out of range on your phone’s network. I use it to keep in touch with friends around the world and it’s completely free.
Skype is the grandfather of all apps. It’s been around for ages and has been keeping millions of people in communication for years. Skype is a video-messaging service that allows you to video conference anyone who has a Skype name. I use it all the time when I travel to keep in touch with friends and family at home. It’s nice to see a face more than a voice sometimes and it’s a big reason why I never get homesick anymore. They’re only a Skype away! ‘Skyping’ is free, although they offer another draw to their service-cheap international calling. I’ve used Skype to call many destinations as their rates are extremely cheap. I’ve also used Skype for interviews in other countries, conference calls and business meetings.
4. Xe Currency
Xe Currency is the quickest and easiest app to use if you need to figure out the different rates of multiple currencies. I use this app daily, checking how much an US dollar is compared to the rest of the world’s money. It helps me plan my trips, so I know what to budget according to the strength of my money. You can check the past day, week, and months of the currency too, so if it’s a great rate, you can go to your bank and exchange US dollars (or whatever your currency is) to the currency of the country you’re traveling to. I bought Euros in advance before my trip to Europe last May and I got it a great rate…Thanks to this app.
I will start off by saying, I do not use Yelp reviews to decide where I’m going to eat, drink or play. I use it merely to see what’s around me. It’s the most reliable app I have found out of all the food & beverage apps out there, and easy to use. I type in my destination and it pops up with places all around me. I check them out based on what I’m in the mood for, click on the map and away I go. It’s as easy as that. Side note: I only use Yelp if I’m in a hurry or haven’t asked a local or hostel/hotel front desk for the best recommendations.
The mecca of all hostel apps, Hostelworld provides a user-friendly app to book and pay for hostels anywhere in the world. They have the largest amount of hostels listed which include photos, reviews, directions and special deals. It’s great for last-minute bookings too.
I used this quite a bit on my travels, domestic and international. Booking.com rounds out the best deals in the area and provides an easy-to-use app to book them. While in New Zealand last year, I’d use the site and app to book very last-minute accommodations that were killer deals. But the icing on the cake is that you don’t have to pay a booking fee or down payment, you just get a confirmation and pay later at your hotel.
Air Bnb has revolutionized the way we stay. The app is beautiful and is extremely easy to navigate. If you’re someone like me who doesn’t necessarily want to spend the money on a hotel for one person but doesn’t want to stay in a bunk bed at a hostel either, Air Bnb is the best alternative. Hosts create profiles that highlight their place whether it be a room, entire house, studio, etc. They add amenities, photos, pricing and a calendar so you know when their place is available. You can also get a feel of the host by reading their bio. I’ve met some incredible people around the world using this site. OH! And if you’re new to the site, have someone you know who’s already signed up send you a code for $25 credit towards your first stay. (Hint, hint me!)
Granted, if you don’t have an iPhone this one is obsolete. But if you do, you should have this on your phone stat. If you ever lose your phone or get it stolen, you can track down where it is and where its been. The only problem is that your phone needs to be turned on and connected to Wi-Fi or data plan to be found. You can log on to your iCloud account online or use a friend’s iPhone and log in to the app from there find it. Your computer then uses it’s GPS connection to locate your phone and if has been stolen, you can lock your device so they can’t use it.
8. Google Maps
Google Maps has saved me a time or two when I was turned around in the wrong direction. I use it daily and not just for lengthy trips. It’s the easiest (in my opinion) app to use to find somewhere, get directions and approximate times to your destinations. The app now includes warnings for heavy traffic, accidents, road work and other distractions that could mess up your driving route. If I don’t have a Wi-Fi connection while I’m walking somewhere, I screen shot the map so I can continue to use it without internet.
9. Airline apps
There are several airline apps that allow you to check-in, grab your boarding pass and even get notifications when your bag was loaded onto the plane. Delta is a great example of this. You can sign on and check-in, get a barcode for your boarding pass and check that your bag(s) are ok. Another popular app is Southwest which does relatively the same thing, they just don’t notify you about your luggage. They do alert you if there’s a gate change or your flight is delayed though. I use Air New Zealand’s app to keep on top of my flights and make sure they are on time and which terminal I need to be at. I can also log in with my airports member ID to order coffee in advance before I get to their lounge! Like I said earlier, there are many airline mobile apps available and I recommend downloading the apps of the airlines you use.
Kayak is an all-in-one travel app that you can book hotel, car, and flights. Kayak searches the internet for the best deals and produces results within seconds. I use this app to check flight prices between a few sights to see who’s better-than-who. You can click on the best price and be taken to the airline/car rental/hotel’s website to make your booking.
Uber is the best! Seriously, I don’t know how many times I used this app while I was in San Francisco for a month. Not only is it convenient (there was an Uber car around every corner), but much cheaper than a taxi! When you sign up for the service, you’re first ride is on Uber. I scored a free trip over $20 just by signing up. There’s also a code you can send to your friends and if they sign up and use it, you get a $20 credit!
12. Y Plan
While it’s only limited to New York, San Francisco, London and Bristol at the moment, the Y Plan app allows you to discover events in the city and book them directly through the app. It was great to look up events the day of and see what was going on in the city. I could book tickets right away then post it on Facebook to invite other friends in the city to come with! If you ever have the question “what should I do tonight?” this app is your answer. It will be much better once they roll out new cities so everyone traveling can use it!
13. Gas Buddy
Road trippers listen up! This app will literally save you money. Gas Buddy lists the cheapest gas stations around your location with directions. It’s that simple. I use it on road trips and can plan out my stops if I need to. It has found me significantly cheaper gas stations in areas that are inundated with overpriced gas. I used it up and down the coast on my recent road trip to San Fran from Portland. You can even recommend places if you find cheaper and Gas Buddy will highlight it.
14. Google Translate
The name says it all. If you’re traveling to a country in which you do not speak their mother tongue, Google Translate will help tremendously. You can plug in words and Google will translate to your language. You can even have someone speak into your phone and the app will translate it as they speak. I use it for restaurant menus that have not been already translated and in bus stations. I was in rural Croatia and had no idea what anything said and used Google Translate to sort out my booking and which platform I was supposed to be on. Winning!
15. Trip It
One of the most comprehensive and smart apps, Trip It takes your travel plans and organizes them for you. You can either forward your itineraries to them or have them automatically picked out of your email and sorted for you. It’s like having a personal travel assistant. The best part is that you can view your travel plans online and offline.
16. Lounge Buddy
Frequent airline lounges or just want to freshen up on a long layover? This app has your back. Not just for the frequent fliers, Lounge Buddy allows you to view lounges available in each airport you’re going to. You can browse the lounges, amenities, and purchase access if you’re not a member of the affiliated airlines club. Members can rate the lounges and share insider tips.
For those who mix business with pleasure, Expensify makes it easy to keep records of your spending while traveling. You can take photos of your receipts and upload them to the app for safe keeping. You can be reimbursed online through your company as well as synch with Quickbooks or Xero. It’s easily navigable, and divides expenses into categories for you. All you need to do is enter the information or take a photo of your receipt!
18. Pack Point
Having problems with packing for your trip? Download the Pack Point travel app to help you. Input some basic info like where you’re going, duration and what you’ll be doing and out pops an extensive packing list for you. You can even upload the list to a text message, photo, or e-mail yourself it so you have it in more than one spot. If you’re an Evernote user, you can sync it to that too.
19. Wi-Fi Map
Yes, we all need to know where the free Wi-Fi is. I need it to work while I’m traveling, as I don’t want to buy a SIM card for my phone in every country I go to. I should just switch to an International data plan, but that’s for later. This mobile app allows you to find the closest places that offer the free service. I used this in many cities so I could plan my day out and where I could combine tasks like getting coffee+lunch+work in one go. The app also provides passwords for their Wi-Fi so you don’t need to ask!
20. Gate Guru
For those who need to know everything about their flight and what’s around the gate their waiting at, Gate Guru is for you. You can check out amenities like food, beverage, shopping, etc. It also includes up-to-date security line waits, flight delays and gate changes. You can also rent a car through the app with a discount at participating rental stores. It’s a handy app for everybody, regardless of how many times you travel throughout the year.
What are your favorite mobile apps to use while traveling?
About the author:
Jen Heuett is the creator of Travel + Trust & Wanderlust, an online community to educate, empower and inspire women to travel solo. Her words can also be found on Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, and Travel Hooligan, her first travel company that inspires young adults to utilize the Working Holiday Visa in Australia and New Zealand. When she’s not traveling the world, she’s enjoying the Pacific Northwest and her mom’s tacos.