As we all know, there are apps for everything these days, but what about for making life easier while travelling abroad? As you might have guessed, there are many apps for this and within this article I will mention several that I have found very useful while travelling.
We will be continuously adding to this article as we go, so please feel free to leave a comment with any apps that you yourself have found useful along your travels.
Disclaimer: We received no compensation for recommending these apps. These recommendations are made based strictly on our own personal experience.
We are now part way through our eight month trip through South America and South-East Asia and I would like to say that I came prepared for this trip, but unfortunately this would not be the case. The minute I stepped off the plane in Lima, Peru, I knew I was in trouble. As we walked out of the terminal, we were almost immediately bombarded with taxi drivers shouting at us in Spanish. I felt helpless as I tried to converse with the drivers in English, but thankfully I had my girlfriend to bail me out with her Spanish. That evening, I went right to the App Store to see what I could do about my situation, which brings me to my first two app recommendations.
Google Translate (Free)
There are numerous apps that provide translational services, but I found Google Translate to serve my purposes perfectly. A couple useful features apart from basic text translations include voice and picture translations. I have yet to use the voice translation feature but I have used the picture translation feature on restaurant menus as well as grocery items. The picture translation feature is not perfect, but it gives you the general idea. Another feature that I have found useful is the ability to download select languages to your device so that you can use the app offline (which is key since wifi is not always available).
Babbel (Free Trial, Subscription for Full Access)
Babbel is an app that attempts to teach you a language through lessons using various interactive techniques. These lessons typically involve repeating words, and completing sentences and conversations. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but I was surprised how easily I was drawn into this app. These lessons can also be downloaded offline, so that you can learn on the go, for instance, on those long bus rides we all love. Obviously, it would be ideal to learn the language of where you are travelling before you leave. But since that is easier said than done, it is better to start late than never with Babbel.
Okay, so moving onto logistics. I am sure the value of these apps will vary depending on where you are travelling, but here are few that we have found useful in South America.
I am sure most of us are familiar with Uber. The app is very user friendly and makes getting from one point to another so very simple. It is just a matter of jumping in the car and everything else is taken care of. You simply type in your destination, your Uber comes and picks you up, the driver follows directions provided by the app on their phone, and payment is collected by the app upon arrival using your registered credit card.
We have found that Uber has been less expensive than taking local taxis. Perhaps it is because we are not the greatest with bartering, but in general our Ubers have been less expensive. The only downside to Uber is that it is not available everywhere, so be sure to check on your map in the app; also, sometimes you have to wait a few minutes before your Uber arrives, which is not the case for taxis (in Peru at least), where a taxi drives past you every 30 seconds.
Hopper is an app that essentially monitors the flights you are looking to take in the future and notifies you when the flight is expected to be at its cheapest. Similarly, you can also look at the calendar provided in the app to plan your trip around when your flights are expected to be their cheapest. In addition, you can use Hopper to book your flights directly. But how does it work? Well, Hopper relies on a large amount of data to make its predictions and claims to have 95% accuracy within six months. All we know is that this app has saved us some big money in the past, and every dollar counts when you are backpacking!
Booking bus tickets through the BusBud App could not be easier. Buses are often a huge part of any backpackers travels and are often required to reach more remote locations, especially if you are operating on a tight budget. The beauty of BusBud is that it provides prices and schedules of hundreds of bus companies registered with them. That way you don’t need to waste time comparing prices between different bus companies, rather, everything is right in front of you. We have used BusBud for booking all of our buses and have had no issues. After booking your tickets, BusBud will send you an email with your itinerary, electronic tickets, and payment information.
Alright, now let’s talk about apps for accomodations.
We have used the Airbnb App for booking almost all of our accommodations. Why? Because it is the best app for booking accomodations? Maybe. Actually, we have noticed that when travelling as a couple, it has been less expensive for us to stay in bnbs rather than hostels. As an added bonus, you are usually in a private room with a private bathroom for what you would normally pay for a dorm bed in a hostel (if you’re travelling as a couple, bnbs are definitely the way to go).
Anyways, the Airbnb App like many of the other aforementioned apps is very user friendly. When booking a bnb the app clearly communicates what is included and what is not at the property. The transaction is simply made with your registered credit card in the currency of your choosing. Depending on how soon your reservation is, there might be the option to pay only a portion of the principal amount and the remaining amount upon arrival. In addition, if you or the host changes the reservation, a notification is sent to the host or yourself in which you or the host can either accept or decline the change. The app also provides a messaging feature between you and the host as well as less painful reviewing process for you to review the host and vice versa.
Hostelworld is another very common app essential in any backpackers app artillery. Although we have not used the Hostelworld app as frequently as Airbnb, it is just as user friendly. Simply search where you want to stay and the number of guests you are travelling with and just like that you have numerous hostels at your disposal and their corresponding prices. In addition, we particularly like that the hostel rating is one of the first things you see when browsing through your options, this makes it quick and easy to filter out the duds. Again, once selecting a hostel, the app clearly communicates what is included and what is not at the property. Oftentimes there is a selection of accommodations (ie: a dorm or a private room) and a corresponding change in price. Again, the transaction is simply made using your registered credit card in the currency of your choosing. And depending on how soon your reservation is you may have the option of only paying a portion of the principal amount and the remaining amount upon arrival. The app also features a less painful reviewing process for you to review the host.
Okay, onto a few more apps that I have found useful for more general tasks.
Google Drive (Free for 15 GB of Storage, Subscription for >15 GB of Storage)
To be honest, I am a big supporter of all Google Apps. I find them all to be very useful, user friendly, and it is also nice how many of the apps sync together. Your Google Drive can be accessed on you computer by logging into your Google Account or on your other devices by using the app of course.
There are many perks to using Google Drive. Firstly, if by some horrible stroke of luck all your devices are suddenly destroyed or stolen, you simply have to log into your Google Account or your Google Drive App on another device and voila! You still have all your documents. Secondly, all of your documents are available on all of your devices (as long as you have downloaded the Google Drive App). Thirdly, you can even make your documents available offline (without wifi) for editing, which essentially means that Google Drive downloads a temporary copy of the document to your device while you are offline and automatically uploads the altered document when you are back online! Lastly, Google Drive is wonderful for sharing documents, which allows others to edit or contribute to your documents.
We have kept all of our travel documents in our Google Drive, that way we never have to worry about losing them and we know where to find them if needed. We have a budget tracking spreadsheet that we update everyday and by keeping it on our Google Drive I have the option of updating the spreadsheet from my computer, tablet, or phone, online or offline!
Google Photos (Free)
The Google Photos App is similar to the Google Drive App, except that it is specifically designed for – you guessed it, photos! Again, you can access Google Photos online through your Google Account or directly through the app of course. And, again you can access your photos on all your devices, and share your photos and albums with your friends and family through a link that is generated by the app. The app also includes an activity log for each album, which records which photos were added to the album and when, as well as any comments made by friends and family on the photos that you’ve shared.
One of the biggest advantages of the Google Photos App is that you get unlimited storage for photos. You read that right, unlimited storage, and it’s free! There is one catch, in order to have access to unlimited storage your photos will be limited to 16 MP resolution and your videos to 1080P. You can store higher resolution photos and videos, but unfortunately this will count towards your Google Drive storage quota. On the bright side, the majority of phone cameras are less than 16 MP, but of course, photos taken on DSLR cameras will likely be greater than 16 MP, in which case, your photos may lose some quality, depending on the size and detail of the photos.
Another advantage of the Google Photos App is that you can free up storage on your phone by only making your photos available online (with wifi). This might not be ideal for everyone, but it has been a huge space saver for me, that way I can download more tunes for those long bus rides.
xCurrency is just one of many apps that provides real time prices for other currencies (if you have wifi). The app also works without wifi but the exchange rates might not be up to date. There is nothing particularly magical about this app and like I mentioned previously there many other apps that are similar, but we have found having an app to quickly see the prices of items in other currencies is a key tool for travellers.
The end! Thanks for tagging along this far, I hope you enjoyed the read. Just a friendly reminder to please leave a comment with any apps that you yourself have found useful along your travels. Safe travels friends!