25 Smartphone Apps for Full-Time Travel: 2014 Edition

by Nora Dunn on February 3, 2014

I’m kind of a smartphone dinosaur. Although I have a smartphone (currently of the iPhone ilk, but likely to change soon), I’m not an app-slut the way I probably should be.

Having said that, I realize I have quite a repertoire of smartphone apps that I’ve become quite dependent on. (Note: where possible, links to all versions – iPhone, Andriod, etc – of the app have been provided).

Here are my smartphone apps and recommendations for full-time travel in 2014:

 

Smartphone Apps for Travel

I don’t have nearly as many travel apps as you might suspect; partly because I just culled a bunch that were proverbially collecting dust. Here’s what remains:

Trail Wallet

Trail Wallet is an awesome expense-tracking app for travelers (here’s why I think so). It is by far the best one I’ve come across in my travels. (Only available on iPhone – which makes me sad as I’m probably going to migrate away from iPhone).

 

Camera +

Camera + helps iPhone users make the most of their camera. You can adjust focus and exposure, add fill flash, and the pictures are often a little sharper.

 

XE Currency

Having a currency converter (and one that works offline with the most recently loaded rates) is essential. XE Currency is the current favourite for my travel colleagues, so I’m giving it a shot. It’s pretty good. I formerly used Oanda Currency Converter and also like it; to the point that I haven’t had the heart to delete it just yet).

 

ITA Matrix on the Fly

The full ITA Matrix website is one of the preferred flight search engines for travelers, and thus the ITA Matrix App does the trick.

 

Google Translate

A favourite of any traveler; Google Translate is brilliant for translations including written, voice dictations, and more. However it doesn’t work offline, so if you need some offline translations, best to find an offline dictionary app that handles the language you need.

 

Hotspotshield VPN

The yearly Hotspotshield VPN Elite membership is good for use on my laptop and multiple smartphone devices. It’s worth the fee to upgrade from the free Hotspot VPN, which has ads and runs much slower. Here’s why using a VPN is a good thing.

 

Wikitude

Wikitude is new to my list (another favourite of fellow travelers), and I’m not sure how much use I’ll give it but it’s worth a mention; it picks up your current location (again, WiFi or data dependent) and shows you everything in the area based on Wiki information. Also, point your camera at a place or object and you might just learn a little something about what you’re looking at).

 

Duolingo

I’ve saved the best for last in this category, because I’m in love with Duolingo! Use it to learn or improve your foreign language skills. It helps you practice multiple forms of translation including audio, written, reverse, etc, and it feels more like a game than something serious like learning a new language. It was invaluable to me in Panama.

 

 

Communication

Staying in touch (without spending a fortune on long-distance calls) is very important on the road. Here’s what I use:

Skype

Skype is a great app for free video and voice calls from computer/smartphone to computer/smartphone, and low cost calls from computer/smartphone to regular phones around the world. Also, if you want to call a toll-free number (in the US for example) but you’re in some far-flung country that doesn’t allow toll-free calls to the country in question, use Skype to make the call for free.

You can also purchase a phone number so people can call you (locally for them) and you can answer on your smartphone using WiFi or call forwarding, but they still don’t offer Canadian phone numbers. (Bah humbug.)

 

Magic Jack

The basic free Magic Jack app (scroll down their page to find the “Talk Free “app) allows you to use WiFi connections to call any phone in North America….for free. I tried to pay for a Canadian phone number (so family/friends could call me “locally” (for them) whenever I had WiFi), but that’s where it all fell apart; they were unable to process Canadian credit cards. Go figure. Despite my seething anger at the time, I still use the app for free calls to landlines and mobile phones.

 

Whats App

Whats App is the go-to for instant text messaging between various smartphones (iPhones, Android, Windows, etc).

 

 

Social Media

These apps are pretty self-explanatory – and they also represent the only social media applications I bother using for the most part.

  • Facebook
  • Facebook Pages
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Google +

 

Functionality

Although not travel-specific per se, these apps help me greatly with my mobile lifestyle:

FileApp

FileApp is far from the only smartphone app of its kind, but I found it a few years ago and it continues to serve its purpose: reading documents and PDFs and storing them on my smartphone for backup, reference, and occasional editing.

 

Flashlight

There are a million free flashlight applications so I won’t bother to recommend anything specific; just get one. It uses your camera’s flash to illuminate the situation. I’ve found it a very good substitute for a former favourite piece of travel gear (my headlamp, which I no longer have).

 

TinyScan

TinyScan just saved my skin; so it’s a keeper. I had to “scan” and send a number of documents and receipts across the world, and the recipient couldn’t open or print the .jpg files that I sent when I simply took pictures of the documents in question. (Their computer skills are highly questionable).

Enter: TinyScan; which uses your camera to take pictures and produce PDF files. The quality was infinitely better than the .jpg alternatives, smaller in size, and I was able to collate documents for easy sending/reading.

 

 

Fun

Here are a few fun apps that will serve you well on the road:

Shazam

I don’t use Shazam often, but when I do I’m thrilled to have it. Ever hear a tune when you’re out and wonder what the title or artist is? Just let Shazam listen for a few seconds and it will tell you!

 

Sky Map

This is all fun and also educational, especially when you travel a lot and want to orient yourself to the stars. Just aim your camera at any part of the sky, and you can see the stars, planets, and constellations, even if they’re covered by clouds. Heck – you can even spot constellations that are under the horizon.

 

 

Things I Have but Don’t Use

I’ve tried lots of apps but not found a proper use for them yet. It doesn’t mean they’re bad apps – my own reluctance to remove them from my smartphone is some indication that I wish I could use them more. (But, I don’t.)

Fetchnotes

Productive people swear by Fetchnotes, which coordinates notes and such between devices and computers and is all, like, organized. Evernote is another favourite.

But I just don’t take that many notes on my smartphone when I’m on the go; I use the standard notes/reminders applications to make my grocery lists, and I use a nice “real” travel journal for work-related tasks and inspired to-dos. (Told you I’m a dinosaur).

 

Instagram

I want to like Instagram. I want to use it, and I’ve tried to use it. And it’s pretty good. But I just can’t manage yet another social media application to maintain in my ever-increasing daily monotony of social media. I’ve capped it at the applications above, and until something happens and I simply MUST start using Instagram, and Pintrest, and all these other apps I’m “supposed” to use, I’m holding off.

 

InstaCollage

This is kind of like Instagram, but it makes photo collages and uploads to Instagram and other social media. Similar to the above, it’s not currently worth my time; but far be it for me to suggest that it’s not worth your time.

 

Hushed

Hushed was my last-ditch attempt at getting a Canadian phone number when Skype couldn’t help and Magic Jack was a pain (and no help). It allows you to buy “disposable” phone numbers in a variety of countries for a variety of time periods from a few days to a few months. I like the idea, but it’s a wee bit expensive for what you get, since it’s dependent on WiFi connectivity; and most of the people who need to reach me when I have WiFi can do so with instant messaging and video calls.

 

 

What are your favourite smartphone apps, and why?

 

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Ian Hodgkiss February 3, 2014 at 8:40 pm

Are you going to let us know why you are switching from the iPhone (says he with six iMacs, two Macbook Pros, one iPad and six iPhones in the house).

BTW – the torch function is accessed in iOS7 by sliding the home screen up from the bottom. Very handy if you need light in a hurry.

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theprofessionalhobo February 4, 2014 at 10:13 am

Hi Ian – Great question! The reason I’m likely going to switch from the iPhone is because I want a smartphone that has a camera good enough that I can ditch my “good” camera (which isn’t good any more and needs replacing) for a smartphone/camera combo that can do it all.
AT&T is currently lending me the Nokia Lumia 1020 and the Samsung Galaxy Zoom devices – which appear to have the best cameras on the smartphone market. I’m testing them both to see which one does the best job as an awesome camera/smartphone combo….and one that hopefully plays well with my Macbook Air laptop.
So far I’ve been working with the Nokia Lumia, and I’m incredibly impressed with the camera – which is hands-down FAR better than any iPhone I’ve seen (including the 5S), but isn’t the most user-friendly with Macs. I’ll be testing out the Samsung shortly.
And there will be at least a post or two on my findings as well….stay tuned!

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Leah February 4, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Speaking from experience, you’re not the only dinosaur out there! Thanks for great suggestions, and also the reminder that it’s time I cleaned up my apps too! Happy travels :-)

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theprofessionalhobo February 4, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Thanks, Leah! The travel lifestyle sometimes makes me feel like – despite engaging the world – I’ve been living under a rock. Perfect example: I was regaling a friend with tales of a tv show I’d just gotten into…had she heard of it? It’s called Breaking Bad. I was laughed out of the room, given that the show is five seasons in and done – and I was still on season 2. Ha ha!

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Phoebe February 4, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Hey, just thought I’d let you know that Google Translate works offline in android :) I have the Nexus 5 which I am loving. To make a language available offline, you just go to the top right and go to settings, then ‘manage offline languages’. You can’t do this on iphones.

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theprofessionalhobo February 4, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Hey Phoebe – WOW! And all the Google Translate features work offline? Or is it just phrases you’ve previously searched? If it still has full functionality offline, I’m in awe! (See? I’m a dinosaur). ;-)

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Phoebe February 10, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Well it doesn’t seem to do the feature where it reads out the phrase for you (I don’t use that anyway), but yes – you can look up totally new phrases you’ve never searched, yeah! It’s fantastic – it’s helping me a lot in Colombia while I learn Spanish.

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theprofessionalhobo February 11, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Awesome. Buena suerte con su espanol! :-)

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Ian Hodgkiss February 4, 2014 at 6:36 pm

I only use the iPhone in pano mode and then only because I want to get a quicker result than stitching 8 photos in PS6. I would never use a phone as a camera – as a degree holder photographer, I really want the extra features a dedicated camera offers. Actually, all I want is a digital camera with a MANUAL focus ring!!!!!!!!

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theprofessionalhobo February 5, 2014 at 11:50 am

Hey Ian – Hmm. If all you want is a digital camera with a manual focus ring, maybe you should check out the Samsung Galaxy Zoom; I haven’t played with it yet, but it appears to have just that!

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Candice February 5, 2014 at 11:05 am

The Skype and Google Translate apps saved me many a time during my travels. Another great one is Google Maps. If you’ve got a wifi connection or cell service, it’s a godsend for the directionally challenged.

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theprofessionalhobo February 5, 2014 at 11:51 am

Hey Candice – Yes! Google Maps. Indeed, it has saved my skin a few times when wandering city streets and wondering where I’m supposed to go.

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Ian Hodgkiss February 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Sorry Nora – I would never buy a Korean copyright infringement device even if it is better (at least on the surface). Besides I don’t even know what a Galaxy Zoom is. I am currently looking at a Panasonic DMC-GM1 to replace my now battered and disfunctional DMC-TZ7. The phone all has the functions I require – adequate camera when the real camera is flat, Metro View maps for Australia and NZ (but Google maps for everywhere else), Doodle Pool for when I am bored and Facetime for when I can hook into a wifi connection. I don’t need to translate, check my stocks, the weather or all those other mostly useless functions. I don’t even have music on the phone because I can’t wear earbuds. I guess this is just my way of travelling – Metro View on the phone which is wedged into the instrument binnacle in the car and warp speed!!!!! This is turning into a really good discussion – keep making suggestions!

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Carmen February 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

I use most of these apps, especially Trail Wallet (LOVE it! Have shared it with many-a-traveller). Never heard of Wikitude though – going to download it now.

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theprofessionalhobo February 6, 2014 at 10:22 am

Hey Carmen – Let me know what you think of Wikitude! I don’t tend to use such apps with much gusto or regularity, but it appears to be a fav in the travel community.

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Herb February 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Hi, We just signed up to your site. Trying to prepare for a long trip to Australia. 8 weeks, give or take, to include trains, cars, planes and motorhome travel. Already injoying your input on apps and such. Thanks!

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theprofessionalhobo February 6, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Hi Herb,
Oh my the trains in Australia! Well worth it if you’re a train person. And I’ve done all the big ones….and loved them. Here’s my account of the Indian Pacific journey I did (with links to my prior journey on The Ghan).
http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2010/12/taking-the-indian-pacific-train-across-australia-part-one/
Happy travel planning!

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Maria Alexandra @LatinAbroad February 7, 2014 at 12:42 pm

here’s a tip from yours truly Nora: through Instagram, you are able to post to several social media networks at once, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, foursquare, and even Flickr I believe! this saves me tremendous amount of time, as I don’t have to go to each social network to post a great photo I shot from my smartphone.

Try the new update! :) they now have it on Windows phone, so happy.

-Maria Alexandra

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theprofessionalhobo February 8, 2014 at 10:48 am

Hi Maria – Aha…awesome tip! Okay, maybe I need to breathe new life into my Instagram account again…. :-)

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Elize February 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I love the suggestions.. Must try some of them :)

I love Tripit. it saved my ass a few times when I deleted a confirmation email by accident. if is available offline as well :)

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theprofessionalhobo February 16, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Hi Elize – Okay you’re the dozenth person to swear by TripIt…..I’m downloading it now! :-)

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Andreas Moser February 26, 2014 at 8:28 am

I don’t even have a “smartphone”. But I am smart myself, so I guess that’s enough.

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Rob March 5, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Fantastic list!
I’m slowly building up my list of travel apps, but you have some listed here that I haven’t seen before.

Thanks!

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Nora Dunn March 6, 2014 at 10:27 am

Thanks Rob – enjoy your newfound travel apps!

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KD March 7, 2014 at 3:19 pm

We were able to use our iPhone Maps (Google Maps, I think) in Italy on a recent trip for no addition charges. We have Sprint in the States and turned on the international service before we left so we could send and receive texts. They use Vondaphone (?) and it gave us about 3 bars the whole time. When we needed a map, we started using Maps fully expecting a charge when we got the next bill. Guess what – no charges!!

Other info – we couldn’t get international on iPhone 4, only 4s.

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Nora Dunn March 8, 2014 at 12:10 am

Hey KD – Wow, I’m amazed that you weren’t charged at all for international data and text usage! You must have been within whatever allowance your plan allowed for. Good for you!

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KD March 8, 2014 at 10:01 am

We did get charged for text messages (.05/.50 for incoming/outgoing). The surprising thing was we did not incur data or roaming charges for using the iPhone Map App. It helped us find our way back to Rome (but all roads lead to Rome, don’t they??). I may have just gotten lucky on the charges?

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Nora Dunn March 9, 2014 at 9:48 am

KD – Maybe you got free 3G/4G access…..

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