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 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 + 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.
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.
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.
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.
Update July 2014: I’ve also tested out TunnelBear VPN, which is also good for my laptop and multiple smartphones. Although the free version is really only best used for trials or very light internet use (allowing 500mb/month), the upgraded version works seamlessly and without any glitches.
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).
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.
Staying in touch (without spending a fortune on long-distance calls) is very important on the road. Here’s what I use:
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.)
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 is the go-to for instant text messaging between various smartphones (iPhones, Android, Windows, etc).
These apps are pretty self-explanatory – and they also represent the only social media applications I bother using for the most part.
- Facebook Pages
- Google +
Although not travel-specific per se, these apps help me greatly with my mobile lifestyle:
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.
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 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.
Here are a few fun apps that will serve you well on the road:
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!
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.)
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).
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.
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 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?