The Travel Darling Newsletter
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When I did my first backpacking trip in 2006, I used a guide book and had a hot pink Motorola Razr flip phone. I cringe at the thought these days. Technology, specifically fast wi-fi and smart phones, has made travel easier and more accessible. Today my arsenal is only an iPhone loaded with useful travel apps. You can book accommodation and flights with the touch of a button, figure out where in the world you are, and find an awesome place to eat within seconds.
Here’s a list of the travel apps that I use:
I use Evernote to log important documents. Instead of carrying a paper copies like the travel days of yore, scan a picture of your picture of your passport, vaccinations list, and travel insurance information, and keep it in your smartphone. It also syncs with a web version, so in the unfortunate event you lose your phone, you still have access to the documents on your account. I also keep copies of credit card information in case I need to make a call to my bank about fraudulent overseas charges.
Google Translate saved me in Japan! It is one of the most useful travel apps available. While in Tokyo, I was sick and had to go to the doctor. Although highly educated, peoplerarely speak English, and unfortunately my Japanese is nonexistent. We communicated with broken English, sign language, and Google Translate. I typed out my symptoms on the app, and it quickly translated them into Japanese characters. I then went to the pharmacy to pick up my medication, where even less English was spoken. All of the prescription instructions were in Japanese characters, none of which I understood, so I scanned the text using the app’s scanner, and a few moments later, the text was translated into English — a life saver! Note: It’s also extremely helpful for ordering delicious sushi at Tsukiji Market in Toyko.
First of all, I recommend downloading your preferred airline’s mobile app. It’s the next best solution for searching for flights if you’re unable to sit down with a laptop.
TripIt is so handy! I don’t know what took me so long to download it. The app searches your email for flight itineraries and automatically adds them to your calendar. It notifies you if your flight is delayed, if your gate changes, and from which terminal your flight leaves. There have been many instances on the road where I’m in a taxi heading to the airport and the driver asks me which terminal, and I find that I have no idea. TripIt has come to the rescue several times.
I never book a flight without checking Momondo first. I find that it’s useful for finding obscure airlines that you’ve never heard of. I typically find the cheapest flights using this website.
Uber is a useful way to get around in major world cities. I’ve used it in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Cape Town. In a place like Johannesburg, Uber is the only way to get around safely and affordably.
Google Maps is the best map and navigation app out there; Apple Maps doesn’t cut it. I’ve used Google Maps turn-by-turn directions while driving across Iceland, navigating the labyrinthine subway lines of Tokyo, and trying to figure out where the hell I am in the narrow alleys of Prague. Just plug in where you want to go, and it will give different route options, list train timetables, and include the price of each option and total travel time.
Airbnb is the website of choice for booking accommodation. I prefer the autonomy of having an apartment in the heart of the city with a stacked kitchen than being catered to by a hotel. Airbnb makes comfortable accommodation in major world cities more affordable.
Booking.com is an app for booking hotels and hostels. You can store your credit card information and book places instantly.
Hostel World is useful for booking hostels. I’ve mostly outgrown staying in a hostel dormitory, but sometimes that’s the only available option. The app is useful to have in these instances.
I never take out money from an overseas ATM before double checking exchange rates with Oanda. No one wants to do the math incorrectly. This app is also useful for converting multiple currencies at once. Don’t know the conversion rate for Mozambican meticais to South African rand off the top of your head? Oanda will sort you out.
Splitwise is useful for traveling with multiple people. I used the app for the first time on this trip. Not every restaurant is quick to split checks like they do in the United States. This way one person can pay and the app figures out who owes what.
I typically use Foursquare for restaurants and bars. If I haven’t done extensive research (which is never) or am just aimlessly wandering the streets and want to pop into a cafe, I open the app and find a place that looks good nearby. You can check out reviews, pictures, and directions. Some countries have their own version of this app. For example, we used Zomato while in South Africa, which turned out to be more useful than Foursquare. Ask around and see what the locals use.
I’m still experimenting with a few other travel apps. I can’t completely vouch for these yet as most of the information is Europe-centric, and I’ve been in Asia Pacific for the past few months.
That said, one that I’m interested in is Cities Talking, an on-demand audio tour of cities around the world. I love free walking tours around city centers when I travel. This app uses Google Maps to design an interesting walking tour and offers a way to learn about the city you’re exploring — for a small fee.
Like a Local is another one that offers tips from actual locals. I think it’s a great idea in concept, but I’m a bit a skeptical at the moment, because it appears that the app is really pushing tour packages. I’ll withhold judgment until I actually use it when I get to Europe in 2016.