The smartphone seems to be a part of every traveler’s packing list. Its ubiquity is matched by the ubiquity of Wi-Fi availability in the furthest reaches of the planet. If it’s not, then there’s an international data plan available to add to your monthly bill that makes sure your iPhone or Android is always connected while traveling. Desirability of this constant connectedness aside, if you choose to bring your smartphone on a big trip, here is my list of recommended apps. Some work offline and some require a connection. These apps are my “must downloads” before I travel.
Before The Trip
Collect Trip Information with Evernote
I start collecting and curating my lists of where to go and what do on my trip months and years before going on the actual trip. Right now I’m collecting tidbits about trips I want to take in 2016. Evernote is how I collect and keep all the information in one place. On my laptop, I have the browser plug in so can “scrape” web pages for travel tips and then “tag” them with a destination, activities, and places to stay and eat. The plug in also works on my e-mails, so I can save all those lists that my friends have sent me right to Evernote and organize with the same tags. Then, on the Evernote app before or during my trip, I can find all the posts and pages I’ve marked for that destination and access it like my own personal guide book on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat.
Find Airfares with Kayak
The Kayak app is my go to flight booking app. It doesn’t include all airlines, but it does include most on the routes I use and allows me to search one ways, multi-stop, and complicated trips from my iPhone. I’ve found other airfare apps are downright clunky and hard to use. Kayak is a breeze. I don’t book directly through Kayak, but it finds the airfares for a route and then links to the airline’s booking sites. I prefer this direct method because I have found the customer service lacking on consolidator sites and prefer to deal directly with the airlines. Kayak makes the searching for those airfares and the connection to the airline very easy.
Store Your Docs in Dropbox
One of the worst pieces of travel prep advice I have ever heard is that one should scan their passports and credit cards and “e-mail them to yourself” so they are available on the road. This is terrible advice because e-mail is not secure. Plus, e-mails accounts are easily hacked. It’s a great idea to keep a copy of your passport, credit card, and all flight and trip information, but not where any hacker can access it. In additional to having a print copy, I upload all my documents to Dropbox prior to my trip and then I access them on the Dropbox app on my phone in country. The Dropbox app works without any connection, so if you “favorite” the document, you can access it off line.
On the Trip
The Google Duo: Maps and Translate
Google Maps is great for way finding in a foreign city, especially for this walker. I used it for my month in Paris and two weeks in Mexico and it even had correct directions for the Metro! For iPhone users, I recommend getting the actual app on your phone instead of relying on the terrible Apple maps.
Google Translate makes the impossible translation possible. You can type in a word, choose a language, and then get the translation in text and by voice. It’s a very helpful addition to translating practical phrases that are not in a guidebook and can’t be conveyed in hand motions. I’ve used it to offer an extra box to a Sardinian post office patron and find shoes to match my new bag in Paris all in Italian and French, respectively. I recommend an international data plan to use these apps as they are best on the go, where there may not be Wi-Fi. Translate has feature where you can take a picture of a sign in another language and it will translate it. I cannot wait to use that!
Get Your Hotel on the Road with Booking Now
I have been a fan of Booking.com app for a long time because it’s the only hotel booking app that I’ve found works well globally. I’ve booked hotels in Florence, Mexico City, and Seoul with it. In Seoul, I searched hotels by neighborhood and was able to find the best match in a less touristy area, but convenient to the sights of Seoul. The reviews are very helpful in deciphering what the places will be like. I also like how you don’t have to pay in advance with the booking. The confirmation e-mail even comes with address and directions in the local language so I could show the taxi driver where to take me. I have not been disappointed with this app – the hotels have all worked out and I felt I paid the right price.
I recently found out about Booking Now, an app that lets travelers book same day and next day reservations for stays of up to 30 days. I’ve used Hotel Tonight, but look forward to using Booking Now on on the road because it recommends hotels based on my previous bookings and what’s important to me like Wi-Fi and breakfast. I’m also excited about their city guides that show sights near my booked hotel, so I don’t have to look at another site or guidebook.
Skype for Actual In Country Phone Calls
I think travelers are pretty familiar with Skype for user-to-user calling. However they may not be familiar with a feature that is awesome for the international traveler. You can use the Skype app to make phone calls to any phone in the world. This means that you can call your parents’ home phone, a hotel in the next city or country, or your local friend’s mobile via the Skype app. All you need to do is download the app and load up some Skype credit before your trip. Then, wherever there is Wi-Fi you can make a local or international call via the app by dialing the number over the Skype keypad. Skype charges per minute, but the cost is minimal compared to making a call over a foreign cell network or dealing with a SIM card in country.
After the Trip
Publish Your Photos with Mosaic
I’m not completely digital with all my photos. After a trip, I still make souvenir books to look at later. In printing out a book of my favorite photos, I always have a piece of those blissful moments to look at in less blissful times. Plus, I don’t have to delete the photos later to make space on my phone or rely on Facebook to be the only record of my trip. Mosaic is an app that makes a photo book from my iPhone photos and delivers them in an elegant package. It’s a simple and slightly expensive book that displays one photo per page on high quality paper. My latest Mosaic book includes photos of all the food I loved in Paris.
Featured photo credit: On Flickr by Texturetime