Whether you are heading off on a gap year, packing light for a couple of weeks summer break or getting stuck into the culture of a country for the foreseeable, there is one thing we all have in common: the smartphone.
Here’s what you won’t find my phone without and some of my favourite travel apps, covering everything from flights to money exchange and even stargazing.
Best travel apps for languages
Learning the local lingo in some places is a godsend, and in others just polite. Here are some great apps to help you communicate with new friends abroad.
I have been hooked on this app for a long time, and no surprises it won the ‘Apple iPhone App of the Year’.
Why so good? I like the fact it is more like a course in the palm of your hand than a list of jumbled words. It uses repetition and reviewing to make sure you have grasped it and mixes audio learning with visuals prompts. As someone with Dyslexia and a Visual Sequencing problem, I find all these mixed learning methods really useful.
You aren’t going to become fluent here, but you will have more than enough to get by. They also have a relatively wide range of languages.
I seem to go through phases with different language apps, dropping in and out when travelling, but now, having moved to Portugal, I’m using language apps not just for a short trip, but to support myself learning a brand new language, Portuguese.
Drops is a relatively new language app, and my favourite thing about it is the different mediums it supports learning words with. You get both written and audio words, but also visual graphics to help support the learning, which is ideal if like me you are more of a visual learner. You also have complete control over the words that you go through this process with, so if you are already confident with certain words, you can tick them off and they won’t show up in the lesson format.
I have been using the premium paid version of Drops, as I’m quite committed to learning Portuguese obviously, and so far it seems worth the investment. I certainly am learning full sentences rather than just words, which is awesome, and hopefully it will have laid down enough of the basics when I start my in person language classes, I can come in at a higher level. Lessons can be digested in as little as five minutes, and another thing I love about Drops is their commitment to lesser known languages, and preserving traditional and regional dialects, as they expand.
HiNative is only available as an App through Apple however Android and desktop users can access it online (UPDATE: As of Feb 2016 an Android version is now live!). It is very different from your usual Read, Listen and Learn approach however I do love the interactive aspect of it as you are conversing with native language speakers a lot of the time.
The bonus to me of this app is I am awful at pronunciation, as well as asking how to say certain things you can record your voice to get feedback as to if what you are saying sounds like the real deal. Hello no more embarrassing moments in shops of talking complete gibberish, you can keep your blushing behind the phone screen!
I also love that you can interact with natives about their culture or in fact anything to get direct answers before you arrive.
It does have a subscription fee for premium access, and the downside of it is that only those who have paid for it can listen to your voice recordings, so, you are reliant that someone has!
Another winner of Apples Apps and offering courses in a whole multitude of languages Babbel is pretty simple to get started with. There is however an auto-renew subscription for the language courses which, if you want to really study the language is great, but just for grabbing the basics for a quick weekend getaway it might not be worth the investment.
I like the fact it does cross over from phone to web, so you can start and finish the modules on either. It is well structured, and the lessons are pretty thorough however given the monthly cost once you have picked up the basics from another app it might be better investing that money in Skype lessons with a local.
Ok, so it might not be teaching you directly, but it is undoubtedly my personal go to. If I see words, I don’t understand but want to learn it as simple as pointing the camera at the text and getting a translation.
Not sure what’s on the menu, type it in. Need to get a sentence out to a local that you really don’t know. Let it speak it out for you. Literally, the best thing since sliced bread!
Best travel apps for bookings
iPhone and Android
My love affair with Skyscanner is no secret, and they have just relaunched their app with not only flights but car and hotel searches too. Working in the same way as the flight search it will scan all the big players and help you find the best value for your dates.
The new ‘Top Deals’ tab is also super handy for spontaneous trips away letting you see what is cheap when. Of course, the ‘search everywhere’ feature is still a winner for finding those bargain flights when you are up for exploring anywhere. The app also now features ‘Price Alerts’ so you can track fares going up and down and 3rd party reviews, so you know exactly what the companies you are booking your flight through are like.
Check out my post on how to get the best deals on Skyscanner.
There is a lot to be said of Airbnb, both good and bad, and I’ve seen it played out right in front of my eyes in my home country capital of Lisbon.
That said, it’s the full house rentals that have caused the problem, and I’m a big advocate for renting someone’s spare room approach. You’ll get a great insight into the destination, get to stay locally, and if your host is free, you’ll surely have a fantastic time getting to know them as well.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before you can use my code, so we both win and get £25 off your first booking over £55 – click this link to get the discount.
Go Euro is an excellent app for planning your travels around Europe allowing you to book a variety of different transport and accommodation options in the interface directly and manage those bookings.
I used to be a big hotels.com fan, but their app sucks. It’s slow to load, you need great wifi, and I’ve realised that the reward nights for booking ten and then getting an allowance for a free night means the costs are more than rivals.
As such, I’ve switched to booking.com, and after you have booked a certain amount of nights, you’ll get access to booking genius benefits such as discounts, late checkouts, and in-hotel benefits. I’ve spent about 1000 nights in hotels in the last four years, and I still think this is the best booking site out there.
If you are going to make a reservation through booking.com, you can get a £15 discount off your reservation by using my booking code and link here.
I love this app and used it all the time when I lived in the UK to book trains in advance and get huge discounts.
The app now covers more of the world, especially Europe, and although their booking fees are annoying it is handy to search timetables and if you can get an advanced booking discount to make a saving.
Best travel apps for organisation
TripIt is a super handy piece of kit which will even auto scan your emails and compile all your travel plans into one place. If you are a frequent traveller or travel a lot for business, this can become a super handy PA in your pocket. The free version is excellent for most average people planning a trip, but if you are often on the road, the business upgrade will make things much more comfortable, compiling all of your plans into one place.
Best travel apps for planning, inspiration and getting around
I didn’t think getting a reliable bus timetable in Sri Lanka was possible until I fired up my trusty Rome2Rio app. Type an A, put in a B and get a whole list of overland/water/air routes for that journey. It will quote prices, distances, times, mileage as well as route numbers. No matter where you are in the world, Rome 2 Rio is likely to find the transport option to suit you.
Lonely Planet can now be in your pocket. With a range of city guides, offline maps and favourite tips from their guidebooks you don’t need to worry about piling your suitcase with heaps of burdensome paperwork for a more extended trip. Get great impartial travel tips and keep an eye out as it expands to include even more destinations.
While Google Maps still has its place on my phone, I was shocked at how much more helpful Maps.Me can be in unusual destinations while touring through Oman last week it came out trumps.
The maps are downloadable (as are Googles), so you can be offline and still use them anywhere but the killer thing is it is powered by OneStreetMap which is open source meaning everyone can update the details and add in new openings and finds which you might not find buried in the more traditional way that Google Maps displays local businesses.
This is a unique map which gives a three-word name to every spot in the world. If you are travelling to more remote places where street names aren’t a thing, or streets don’t exist, this will help you to get there. It’s a relatively new app that I learn of through Lonely Planet, and I’m excited to see how it evolves. I found it quite useful during my road trip through Oman.
I’m mainly throwing this app in due to the Atlas Obscura connection. For those who don’t know Atlas Obscura, it is a fantastic website which details more random, fascinating and unique attractions in destinations as that is their key focus. If you love discovering the less ordinary, the site is a great place to start!
Best travel apps for tech solutions
17. Express VPN
iPhone and Android
A VPN is handy for security, but in some places, like my tour through China, it is essential to keep you connected to all your favourite apps that may be blocked in other destinations.
I would love to recommend an underdog here, but Express VPN is the best and most consistent I have used, so they are the winner.
I feel like everyone should know and use WhatsApp, but I’ve discovered chiefly in the USA it still isn’t that big of a thing.
This end to end encrypted communication app is now owned by Facebook, but it provides all the benefits of iPhone devices such as calls, video chat and messaging over data but is open to Android users as well. The other huge advantage is in many countries this app is the best way to communicate, I’ve booked many a homestay and tour in Asia through this app.
Best travel apps for money
Money, money, money…
XE is a great app to keep track of various currency in your pocket in real time; it also works offline so as long as you have updated your rates before visiting a country you do not need to connect to wifi to check out if a good deal is a good deal. They have also introduced a new premium feature which will alert you when a rate hits the target you have set which if you are changing a lot of dosh is well worthwhile.
20. Transfer Wise
iPhone and Android
A complete game-changer in sending money abroad, the Transfer Wise app works uniquely. Rather than physically send your cash overseas, they have bank accounts in multiple countries so say you want to send money from Germany to the UK, you add the money into their German account, and someone else’s money which is being held in the UK account goes to yours.
This not only reduces fees but makes transfers quite quickly. They have recently started a travel card service as well so you can withdraw funds, or spend on the road with low fees.
Best travel apps for documenting your trip
While we all know and love Instagram and the like for sharing our best moments, here are some great travel apps in 2019 you can use to document your trips.
21. Trips by Lonely Planet
iPhone and Android
I love this beautiful app and was so proud to be one of the launching contributors to it.
We all know and love Lonely Planet, and this beautifully designed app allows you to share your travel stories and photos in a stunning way, similar to the lonely planet website. You can then let other travellers view your trips or send web link to friends and family at home to know what you are up to. It’s great, as people don’t need the app for you to share updates.
22. WordPress Blogging Platform
iPhone and Android
When I first started this blog with its 100 readers a month, I was on the free WordPress platform. Five years later and at a million page views a year I’ve upgraded to self-hosted WordPress, but it just goes to show, sharing your travels and having your own blog really can lead to a dream lifestyle that I never knew I could have!
Best Travel Apps: Miscellaneous
These awesome travel apps are ideal for anyone tech minded or looking for a digital solution during their travels.
While most smartphones come with basic weather apps these days, Weather Bug takes it to a whole other level. Whether you suffer hayfever and want to know the pollen count or need to keep track of lighting and storm warnings, it does it all.
With a whole host of different map options, 18-day forecasting and some nifty additional features, you should supercharge your phone with this weather app and then you will be prepared for anything.
I started digging this app when I got into night photography, but it’s a staple for anyone who has an obsession with nature. Simply point it at the sky, and it will tell you what stars and constellations are in the viewfinder. If you want to start photographing the milky way, this is a great one to get on your phone. This was so handy when I did my G Adventures hike through Peru to Machu Picchu as the stars were incredible when camping!
Trying to make this list as broad as possible, my dear friend Vicky at VickyFlipFlip.com suggested this app; it’s especially useful for long term travellers.
In her words ‘It monitors when your period is and send you alerts so you can plan it with travel. It’s SO useful when you’re on the go and don’t know what day it is’.
Best travel apps for meeting travel buddies
Flying solo? No problem. These awesome travel apps in 2019 will help you connect with other globetrotters and make friends on the road in no time!
Travello has made some significant inroads in the travel world over the past year and has been named as one of the top apps by the Apple store. Think Tinder but for travellers, this awesome app lets you find other travellers with similar interest near you, search the noticeboard for your upcoming plans and arrange shares/swaps in advance and also has a nifty wifi finder.
If you want a new way to connect with other people on the road get this onto your smartphone.
Helpful travel apps for accessibility information
While this isn’t an area I’m an expert on, here are a few apps that friends have informed me have helped them plan travels when needed.
27. Be my eyes
iPhone and Android
I love the idea behind this app and have recently downloaded it to be involved.
It connects low-vision people with volunteers who are sighted so they can offer visual assistance on a video call. This, I imagine, would be especially useful when travelling as signs may also be in a different language, and you can reach out to the international database sign up to the app. a
28. Wheel App
iPhone and Android
A simple app which also relies on user-generated content to provide information on wheelchair accessibility to points around the world.
Based on a 4 level ranking system, it details accessibility information to points of interest and is continually growing thanks to its user-generated focus. If local websites tragically still can’t provide the information needed, hopefully, someone has logged it on here
Billing itself as ‘a targeted and personalised TripAdvisor for people with specific, situational needs when travelling locally, nearby or abroad’ this app I have heard from one friend was really helpful when they travelled the world.
The advice caters to families, wheelchair users and even dog owners, so although it isn’t solely accessibility-focused, it provides a range of information for those who may be needing a more profound insight than many travel websites, or apps offer.
I’d also highly recommend the Lonely Planet accessibility e-book which is free to download and curated by Martin Heng, the LP accessibility manager. It contains an ever-growing list of resources and links to accessible travel information. Get a free copy here.
What about you, what are your favourite apps for travel? Have something you think should be on this list then add it to the comments below or drop me an email to me (at) danflyingsolo.com!