There are so many travel apps available today that it is hard to know which ones to download. Which apps will make your travels easier, safer or even cheaper? I’ve done all the hard work for you to give you a quick round up of some of the best travel apps on the market!
This article was originally written in 2014 and has been updated first in 2018 and now for January 2022 to reflect changes in the market, apps that disappeared and new and evolving apps.
Despite being a bit of a geek at heart I was a late convert to the smartphone and the ‘app explosion’. In fact for a long time I never even travelled with a mobile phone at all. Hey, I had an excuse back then, mobiles were the old Nokia bricks when I started travelling over 20 years ago and were pretty much useless. Things are hugely different now.
Many people who know me may be a little surprised to hear I actually have favourite apps. I have very happily stashed my phone in a waterproof bag down at the bottom of my pack and have purposely gone off grid and stayed out of touch with civilisation for days or even weeks in various islands, jungles and deserts around the world. I often espouse on here the many virtues of turning off your devices and even leaving them at home and have ranted more than once at the sea of tablets that greet you at many hostels now instead of actual human faces. But all of that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the use or convenience of technology, and there are so many apps now that can make travel so much easier.
From helping you to plan and arrange your gap year or backpacking trip, to providing entertainment on the long overnight sleeper bus journeys or useful tools when you are actually on the road, apps are here to stay, and some of them are actually pretty damn useful! In no particular order, these are some of the ones I have found useful enough to keep on my phone. And they are all free!
XE Currency Converter.
I’m usually pretty good at roughly rounding up the conversion rates when I’m on the road, but for those first couple of days in a new country, when you are tired and can’t quite think straight or you just want to double check that dodgy looking money changer isn’t trying to pull a fast one on you, this app is really useful. It requires an internet connection to update, but even if you don’t have one you can remind yourself of the most recent rates offline, and can even compare up to 5 currencies at once.
Skyscanner has been one of the go to sites for cheap flight searches for a long time, and it’s app is just a common standard for when you want to search for a last minute internal flight while you are travelling or just want to get some inspiration and prices for your next trip. The app has some decent filters which make it very easy to navigate and use, and it is also useful for getting an idea for accomodation prices when you arrive in a new place to give you a baseline for negotiation.
Hostelworld And Tripadvisor.
I have lumped these two together because despite the fact they are separate sites they pretty much perform the same role for me.
I use these sites a lot as a research tool before I even arrive in any given place. You can pre book accommodation through both of the apps and the sites, but to be honest I have never found it necessary to use this function and keep them as simple research tools, kind of like the old accomodation section in the Lonely Planet books. You don’t even have to stay in the accommodation listed and reviewed on these sites, just use them for getting a good idea of what is out there and what the prices are.
Ever arrived in a new place and wanted to know where the best bars, restaurants or street food stalls are from a locals point of view? Then this app is for you! It works completely offline which is useful, and lets you browse destination guides, tips and tricks from locals, as well as handy maps while you’re out and about. At the time of writing this was only available on the iPhone.
Similar to LikeALocal but available on Android too, Withlocals connects travellers with trusted locals to help find the very best things to do and places to eat. Recommendations can hook you up with some unique local tours and experiences and there are plenty of tips, destination guides and videos too.
Skype, Whatsapp and Zoom.
Keeping in touch with family and friends back home, and whilst Skype was the OG that made internet cafes and IDD phones redundant, Whatsapp is now ubiquitous and Zoom has exploded in popularity during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020, so I have lumped them all together. The best thing is they are all free! Providing you have a wifi connection of course. Just don’t be that annoying person in the dorm who wakes everyone up by deciding to chat to everyone back home at 2AM! Any subsequent violence is wholly your own fault if you do.
For those like me who are awful at languages but always try and make an effort, Google translate is a lifesaver! One of the most useful features is the instant camera translation, just point your camera at a sign or menu and the app will translate it for you in 38 different languages.
This app is perhaps one of the strongest stalwarts of the ‘how did we ever live without it’ category of software and technology.
The days of searching through your battered Lonely Planet or Rough Guide and looking perplexed as the straight road they show leading to the hostel has suddenly morphed into a winding road with a dozen streets has long gone. This app has been invaluable on many occasions when I’ve needed to find a bus or train station, or a particular hostel. It is also pretty good at giving you a rough idea of where your destination is in relation to where you are now, to stop the conmen taxi drivers from driving you half way around the city for a place that is only a few minutes away.
I admit I still much, much prefer the tactile feel, weight and even smell of a good old paperback, and I still carry one with me wherever I go, but as an avid reader, eReaders in general have been an absolute godsend to me despite my initial reluctance to use them and the app makes it possible for me to carry even less. So if like me you devour books on the road, then this app is invaluable. Load your kindle up with plenty of eBooks like this before you go. Instant library without all the weight!
I used to recommend leaving your phone at home when you travel, and I generally travelled without one myself for a long time (there are people now who just don’t believe that! Bloody kids!) However, whilst my smartphone is still far from being a lifeline for me – and I can still happily keep it packed away for days on end – the evolution of the technology and the abundance of useful apps has ensured that it has at least had a promotion to important kit that stays in my carry on!
Did you enjoy this article? What are your favourite apps when travelling? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.