Everybody has their own idea of what counts as an essential app when travelling, I’m not talking about general apps, like Whatsapp, Gmail, online banking, or your favourite weather application here, I’m talking about apps that are dedicated to the traveller. The one exception is probably Google Maps, I use this almost daily, but as a travel companion it’s unbeatable, and is most likely at the top of most travelling folk’s list of must haves. These are the apps that I find the most useful, your list is probably different, and I’ve very likely left out some, this is purely my subjective list.
Hit me with your own favourites in the comments at the end, I’m always learning and always looking for useful new products. Without further ado then, my list of 12 travel apps that I never hit the road without.
1. Google Maps
If I was only permitted to have one app on my phone when travelling, this would be it. You can download Google Maps to your mobile device which allows you to navigate offline, without requiring data, so no roaming fees are incurred, which is a huge saving when it comes to international bandwidth costs. It also means that navigation is available even when there is no internet connection. I usually download maps of the areas that I’ll be visiting before leaving home, but it can also be done on the road, in your hotel for example.
Airbnb has changed the way that we travel, and it’s never been easier than it is now to live the local lifestyle while on the road. The app has massively reduced the cost of accommodation while travelling, and with over 150 million people using it, and more than 4 million accommodation listings, you are sure to find the ideal place to start, wherever your travels may take you. The app now offers a feature called Trips, which are curated experiences that you can book with local guides. I predict that eventually Airbnb will become an all in one travel resource, where you can book not only accommodation and trips, but flights and car rental as well.
Booking.com is one of those booking engines that you either love or hate, and it gets it’s share of bad reviews, as any Google search will reveal. For me though it’s an app that I use pretty much every time I travel. With a reported, over 5 million listings worldwide, you are certain to find a place to lay your head down when on the go. In the past couple of years the app has added self catering properties to their armoury, I guess in response to Airbnb, it’s also possible to rent a car, book flights, restaurants and rail travel. Their “Genius” loyalty program really does work, with some great perks and discounts available to regular users. It’s a must have app, for me a plus is that once you have finished your booking, you will receive instant confirmation.
Part of the same stable as Booking.com, Rentalcars.com is my goto resource for car hire, whether it’s when travelling for work or leisure. Comparing prices from 900 car hire companies, at over 53,000 locations worldwide at last count, I always find a great deal, and they cover all the top brands. One thing I don’t recommend is accepting all the “add ons” that they throw at you when booking, the insurance waiver options especially are way more expensive than your will get at the car hire company when collecting your vehicle. It’s very irritating, but I guess they have to make their money as well, and the generally excellent prices outweigh the annoying pop-ups urging you to take this “unbeatable product”.
5. Native Airline Apps
Yes, I know that there are some great apps that can do most of your flight bookings and itinerary management, but for me the native airline apps have advantages. My own travel style is to make the most loyalty programs, with a view to getting upgraded and using air-miles to get reduced prices, so I mostly keep my long distance flights at least, to a handful of airlines that I use the most often. Online check-in, notifications and last minute bookings are just that much easier on the airline’s own app. This might not be everybody’s preference but it does work for us.
TripAdvisor is a must have app when it comes to travel, not only when getting real feedback from past guests, but also when trying to decide on a place to have dinner in the next suburb. There are millions of reviews, opinions, videos, and photos on just about every possible type of business — bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines, airports for example. TripAdvisor has a “Near Me” function, will helps find places close by, great when looking for a place to eat in a strange city, but perhaps the best aspect is that it’s pretty much everywhere, making it a really handy guide for every traveller.
Uber is the original ride sharing app, which can be particularly useful for travellers. In over 800 cities, in 84 countries worldwide at last count, you can quickly request a car, after checking the availability of different vehicles, rates and fares nearby. You can connect with the driver, track the car’s location as it approaches you, and securely pay your fare using your credit card. Rather than trying to find a taxi and dealing with unscrupulous operators, just bring your ride straight to you. Uber drivers are carefully vetted and pricing is set by the company, not by drivers, so there is no room for scamming unsuspecting travellers.
8. Google Translate
If you haven’t used Google Translate before, prepare to be amazed. There are a few different methods of translation offered by the app. Plain old text translation: where you type a word or phrase, and it‘s translated into whichever language you choose, and you can choose between text or a spoken translation. Conversation mode: is where you can actually talk to someone in a different language with the app translating as you speak. There’s also camera translation: where you point your camera at something, like a road sign for example, and the translation appears on your screen. Or hand writing mode: where you can write the word that you want translated on the screen. You’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
9. Express VPN
Certain countries block selected websites, like Facebook and Google. Or perhaps you want to watch some Netflix from back home. My preferred way to get around these problems when on the road is to use a VPN, (virtual private network). The added benefit of using a VPN when connecting to public or hotel Wi-Fi networks, which are notoriously insecure, is to protect your privacy from potential hackers or identity theft. There are plenty of providers with great deals, I use Express VPN, which has secure servers in 148 cities and 94 countries, and it will work on your IOS or Android phone or tablet, also on your Windows, Mac or Linux laptop. There is a cost, around US$8 per month last time I checked, but there is a 30 day free trial period.
10. Google Trips
Trips is a fairly new app from Google, which can pull reservations from your email, including hotel bookings, car rental details, flights and plenty more. The app is different to other travel planners in that it doesn’t actually book anything, it’s more of a place to curate your trip, and of course being Google, it offers plenty of suggestions of what to see and where to go when you get there. I haven’t used it that much, but it is pretty handy and I’m certain that Google will be adding more functionality all the time.
GetYourGuide is a one stop approach for finding and booking activities while on holiday, and it’s actually really, really useful. It’s another app that I’ve only recently started using, and am finding it handy for finding and booking tickets for day trips and entry to local attractions. The app has over 30,000 tours and activities in over 2,500 destinations, across more than 110 countries. Viator has more total activities available to book, but I just find the interface with GetYourGuide more friendly, and most importantly I’m always ready to back the little guy. So far I haven’t been disappointed.
12. Flight Radar
This one is more cool than anything, but by showing pretty much every aeroplane that’s in the sky at any point in time, on more than one occasion it’s alerted me to a late or delayed flight before the airline’s native app. Flightradar24 was started in 2006 by 2 Swedish aviation geeks, which has grown into a global flight tracking service that provides real-time information about thousands of aircraft around the world. It’s really cool, the basic app is free to download, to get rid of the adverts carries a nominal cost, but it’s not necessary, unless you find the ads really annoying.