Smartphone Apps for Travel…..here are the best!
– This post was updated in 2017; I’ve added and removed a few apps –
I’m kind of a smartphone dinosaur. Although I have a smartphone (currently of the iPhone ilk), 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. The on-board photo editor is also pretty awesome….use the lab to tweak to your heart’s content (hint: the clarity function is awesome).
Having a currency converter (and one that works offline with the most recently loaded rates) is essential. XE Currency is the current favourite for me and my travel colleagues.
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. For flight searches, you may want to cross-check with a few different apps, including Momondo or Skyscanner. I like ITA Matrix for its sophisticated search functions like setting the sales city, but I still cross-check the results with other search engines, since ITA Matrix doesn’t always pick up regional/budget airlines.
A favourite of any traveler; Google Translate is brilliant for translations including written, voice dictations, and even visual (by using the camera – an invaluable function for me when I was in Japan). It even works offline if you download the dictionary in advance.
Over the years I’ve tested out a number of VPN services. Here’s why using a VPN is a good thing.
My two favourites are TunnelBear VPN which is cheap and fast, and very easy to use, and IP Vanish which costs a wee bit more, but works with all operating systems and devices, including Windows phones.
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.
New to this list in 2017, FLIO has earned its place here. Before I pass through an airport, I check my FLIO app to get airport recommendations of lounges, how to get in/out of the city, layout, and more. It’s a one-stop shop to learn about airports.
City Maps is also a new addition in 2017, and is my offline map of choice. It uses GPS to tell me where I am on the fly, and even what’s in the area that may be of interest.
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.)
WhatsApp is the preferred form of communication for a lot of people around the world. With a WiFi or data connection you can message, voice message, do voice calls, and video calls. In fact, I noticed in Asia and South America that many people don’t even bother talking with the standard phone plan; they use data to communicate through WhatsApp, and many pay-as-you-go plans in many countries offer special WhatsApp bonus credits. So….if you want to communicate with locals around the world, best to have WhatsApp.
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. (2017 Note: I’m back into using Instagram, though in a somewhat non-committal way and just for fun.)
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.
What are your favourite smartphone apps, and why?