Whether you prefer to have the details of your holiday planned before you arrive in that dream destination, or are more of a ‘play it by ear’ traveller, there are elements of any holiday that can only be organised while you are away. Whether it be finding your way to the restaurant for dinner or working out how much souvenirs will cost you in your own currency, travelling abroad entails multitasking. If you are unprepared, these seemingly simple tasks can distract you from the true task at hand: enjoying an unforgettable escape. Luckily, with developments in mobile technology, there are now thousands of travel apps available to help make the less exciting elements of your holiday much easier.
We reached out to some of the most experienced travel bloggers, who between them have visited hundreds of countries, to see which apps they recommend for effortless travels. These are the travel apps that they promise will make any getaway a breeze.
Imagine you’ve spent hours ‘liking’ and ‘pinning’ the top locations you want to visit during your big holiday, only to arrive in your destination with no idea of how exactly to find that trendy bar or secluded waterfall. This is a scenario that it is only too easy to find yourself in – after all, who wants to research the menial details of their itinerary during their lunch break? Luckily, forward-planning journeys to attractions is no longer necessary thanks to the wealth of navigation apps available to travellers.
There are various navigation apps available for specific forms of transport and locations, but undeniably the most popular of all of them is Google Maps. Travel bloggers rave about the functionality and value of this app in everything from the biggest of cities to the most rural of spots.
As Dariece from Goats on the Road comments:
“Whether we’re just walking around a city trying to find our hotel, or are on a road trip and need to know where to turn! We mark down restaurants we’ve enjoyed and landmarks we’ve seen. The app even shows the public transport system. Just plug in where you are and where you want to go and then search by ‘transport’ or by ‘walking’. It’s so easy.”
However, there is more to the navigation giant from Google than pure practicality. Vicky from Vicky Flip Flop Travels notes that knowing where you are going can improve the entire experience of travel. She says:
“There’s no way I’d have the confidence to travel as much as I have done without [Google Maps]. I use it to search for food nearby, for the best sites, for recommendations of cool places to drink and for interesting things nearby. Most importantly, I will load in where I’m going before I get in a taxi and then watch the taxi driver take the correct route. It makes me feel so much safer as a solo female traveller.”
Whilst most holiday resorts do have mobile data access, a handy bonus of Google Maps is its offline availability. Adrienn from City of the Week comments, “In case there’s a road trip planned, I choose to navigate with the help of Offline Maps, an awesome app which helps you find your way without the need of any Internet connection.” Charles from The Barefoot Nomad agrees on the value of offline mapping, noting how it means that “even if you don’t have data you can still find your way and get basic reviews on nearby restaurants and attractions.”
If you’re planning a holiday to Dubai or an area with a similarly complex infrastructure, Transit is an app well worth downloading. Using real-time data, the app’s A to B trip planning function is a failsafe way of navigating cities, even allowing you to compare options to tailor routes to your preferred time, distance and mode of transport.
However, what really sets Transit apart is the ability to analyse live departures on public transport. Using the app, you can watch trains, buses and more en route, as well as perusing schedules, receiving departure alarms and even push notifications for service disruptions. For the eco-conscious traveller, Transit also locates bike share stations and determines the number of bikes available, or books Uber services with just two taps. Transit is so popular, in fact, that one iTunes reviewer commented, “These guys should be in charge of actual public transportation itself.”
Of course, navigating your way around a new location is about more than simply getting from ‘A to B’. Monica from The Travel Hack recommends GPSmyCity for inquisitive travellers, which she describes as a “cool app providing self-guided walking tours.” If you’re looking for an interactive way to really appreciate your surroundings, but don’t want the commitment of a group tour, this is a brilliant alternative. Monica explains that the app means “you’ll never get lost and you’ll always know if there’s something interesting to see nearby. You can also choose a tour based on lots of different interests so there’s always something for everyone.” With this powerful app, uncover the wonders that await everywhere from Thailand to New York at your own pace. The app’s tagline, “lose yourself without getting lost” perfectly sums up the fusion of exploration and reliability that GPSmyCity offers.
Once you’ve worked out your route to that famous landmark or delicious food truck, you may decide that the best option is to take public transport. But don’t simply rock up to the nearest train station and hope for the best. These days, there are countless services that will help you reach your destination whilst hardly lifting a finger.
Charles from The Barefoot Nomad notes that “The Uber app is quickly becoming a favourite for travellers everywhere.” With fast service and an ordering system that is entirely online, this is not surprising. “Just make sure you sign up for it before leaving your home so that you’re good to go when you get there. All it takes is a Wi-Fi signal and you can order a vehicle in dozens of countries in minutes and not worry about being swindled by passing taxi drivers”, Charles advises.
No-one wants to run out of money half way through their dream holiday, but when you’re using a foreign currency it can be surprisingly easy to over-spend. Travel apps enabling users to convert currencies and track their outgoings are becoming increasingly popular with both budget and luxury travellers alike, who are all looking to get the best deal.
A tried-and-tested currency conversion tool, XE currency has been the go-to for desktop users for many years. Now, however, the service has its own app, which allows holiday makers to track their money on the move. Charles from The Barefoot Nomad says:
“XE Currency is a must-have app when travelling around another country. Whether you’re haggling for souvenirs or booking a hotel on the go, knowing how much everything costs in your home currency can make decision-making so much easier. With economies fluctuating so quickly these days, the only way to know if you’re getting your money’s worth is knowing the value of your own dollar.” This is where XE Currency’s simple yet effective capabilities become invaluable.
However, if you are on an extended holiday or are travelling to multiple destinations, you may be concerned with more than simply knowing the local exchange rate. To keep on top of your budget without the need for complicated spreadsheets or hours away from the beach, Trail Wallet is the perfect tool.
Nora Dunn, founder The Professional Hobo, sold everything she owned in 2006 including a busy financial planning practice, to embrace her dreams of long-term immersive world travel. She has been on the road ever since, travelling through over 50 countries, and recommends Trail Wallet above all other apps. She says:
“My absolute favourite app is called Trail Wallet, which helps you track your expenses and stay on budget while on the road, since it’s difficult to know exactly how much money you need to travel from day to day.”
This user-friendly interface is aimed at allowing those with active lifestyles to maintain their finances without distracting from the immersive joys of travel. Dariece is also a fan of the app, explaining that, when travelling with her partner:
“We add in our monthly budget and each day that we purchase something, it goes into the ‘wallet’. At the end of the month, we can see where our money went. It even breaks it down into categories – food, transport, and so on.”
Immersing yourself in a new culture is surely one of the most rewarding elements of any holiday, but often the local language can prove something of a barrier to this experience. While it’s wise to learn as many key phrases as possible for your chosen location before travelling, a translation app will save you time and confusion when trying to decipher some of the more specific terms on menus and street signs.
Another failsafe app from the Internet giant, Google Translate is a versatile tool for unpicking any foreign phrase. Charles from The Barefoot Nomad comments, “One of our favourite features is its ability to translate signs and menus via your smartphone’s camera in real time, even offline. This is great for eating in those off-the-beaten-track, no-English-spoken locations around the world or for using whilst navigating foreign roads.” Simply hover your phone over the words you want to translate and the app will work out their equivalent in mere seconds. This is perfect for those situations when you’re in need of a quick translation and don’t have the time to type out long phrases.
If you’re intent on really nurturing your knowledge of a language, a language-learning app is a great alternative. Charles also recommends Duolingo, which he claims is “a great way to teach yourself another language.” He says that, in his constantly-travelling family, “All four of us are using it right now as we travel Mexico and South America to learn Spanish. In fact, it’s the first thing we all do every morning – my eight-year-old daughter is picking up Spanish faster than all of us!”
Smart deals apps
Everyone loves a good deal, and now you can take your bargain-hunting attitude with you as you travel through foreign cities and holiday resorts with the help of smart deals apps. Charles recommends that a good app for saving money on your travels is Groupon, as “you can often find great discounts on local attractions with the Groupon app.” Simply enter a quick search of the site you would like to visit and check for any discounts or package deals that could make that museum entrance fee or cocktail evening a little easier on the bank balance.
Of course, one of the most important elements of any holiday is getting those perfect travel photos to remember your experience by. Gone are the days of disposable cameras and grainy snapshots; travellers now have a wealth of options at their disposal for capturing every moment.
With the rise of apps like Instagram, many of us are turning to our smartphones for our photography needs. Johnny from One Step 4ward agrees, saying, “As a full-time traveller and blogger, I only use my iPhone so it’s all about the apps for me! Snapseed and VSCO do the trick, and maybe Rhonna if I need text – it’s like having PhotoShop on your phone with all those bad boys!” With the help of the right apps, your phone snaps will become high quality images ready to share.
If you’re looking for a photo editing app that is subtle yet effective, many travel bloggers recommend VSCO. Sabina from Girl vs. Globe explains that this app is useful in that it “lets you control things like exposure, white balance, ISO and shutter speed” – all for free. Those looking to achieve that element of understated edge should turn to VSCO for its precise adjusters and seemingly endless library of stylish features that enhance every shot without compromising image quality.
A Color Story
Sabina also highly recommends a lesser-known app called A Color Story. She says, “Its filters are inexpensive and absolutely beautiful – it’s what I use to get that cohesive look on my Instagram. There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to smartphone photography but all the information you need is available online and you don’t need any fancy new equipment!” A Color Story certainly helps to create professional-looking images, enhancing the natural colour and light of each photo you take. When you find a look you like, you can also save your settings to create an aesthetic unique to you.
Back to basics travel apps
Whilst there is a travel app for just about anything available today, it of course goes without saying that many of the best apps for travel are the simplest ones. Jeremy from TravelFREAK says:
“It seems like there are new travel apps released every other day, but the one I still find to be the most useful is the original Google app. It tells me all kinds of useful information about my new location, like points of interest, the best restaurants to eat at, and the upcoming weather forecast. Any time I arrive in a new destination, I always check Google!”
Other considerations whilst travelling and using the Internet may be security. If this is a concern for you, Nora recommends “a good VPN when surfing on insecure networks”. Communicating with friends and family from far away can also be a challenge, so Nora advises using the Skype app for having video chats with family and friends back home. If you’re intending to plan your itinerary around the weather, Adrienn also suggests turning on Accuweather every now and then to check the forecast.
Some of us will always be like Maria from Travelling Buzz, and prefer “the ‘old-school’ map, pen and paper”, as she calls it. But, if you’re spending your holiday Instagramming the sights, you might as well make life easier for yourself while you’re at it with these helpful travel apps.
Image credits: bbernard (Shutterstock) / Michael Jung (Shutterstock) / Silatip (Shutterstock) / Rawpixel.com (Shutterstock) / Money Business Images (Shutterstock) / Maridav (Shutterstock) / Syda productions (Shutterstock)