Travel can be amazing, but it can also be stressful. There is so much planning, coordination, and “what-ifs” that go into every trip. International trips can add even more stress.
Fortunately, technology has grown to help relieve the stresses of travel and make a lot of things way easier. My favorite companion on every trip is my smartphone (and it’s not just for the endless photos I can take), but because a smartphone (or tablet) can be a great tool to use when jumping from sight to sight.
However, there are a surplus of apps out there to aid in travel, and it might be a tad overwhelming for a new adventurer to navigate each one. I’ve made a list of a few of my favorite applications to use on an adventure to help make things a bit easier. As a bonus, I chose to feature not only my favorites but also the free ones (because who doesn’t like free stuff?). Onwards!
Okay, so we all know about Google Maps (the superior alternative to Apple Maps and I’ll argue that to the grave). Whether it is the tested and true app of choice for getting you around those pesky traffic jams or alerting you when there might be a trooper so you might want to lay off that lead foot, Google Maps is a master of navigation. But it is also a great tool to use when traveling (and not just to get from one waterfall to the next).
One of the best features this app offers is the option to download maps to use offline. This allows you to continue to access maps for navigation even if you do not have a phone signal (or you’re trying to limit data usage in a foreign country). This also allows you to access your saved locations for those fun-filled days of sightseeing.
Before every trip, I spend a couple hours researching what I want to see and planning my routes. To make everything nice and seamless for my trip, I save each location onto Google Maps with the title of the location and a small note about what to see there/price. That way when we jump in the car at 4am to tour the southern coast of Iceland, everything is already planned out and we waste no time looking up each location. This saves time for those fun side-adventures that may pop up along the way!
Budgeting and money is always something to consider for every trip, especially if you’re traveling with a group. In the US, we all got comfortable using Venmo to split bills at restaurant or hotels. However, Venmo doesn’t work in every country (something I found out the hard way), and many foreign restaurants do not split checks. So, how do you travel with friends and keep track of what everyone owes? Splitwise.
Splitwise is money-sharing app that keeps track of what each person owes. You can create separate lists for different trips, with different people in each list. As you go about your adventures, each person logs what they pay and then inputs how much each party owes. At the end, you have a nice tally of the overall balance. It is user-friendly, and a great way to keep track of everything! No more exchanging euros over each transaction or getting mad because that one friend never paid for anything (no one likes sending “pay requests” on Venmo over and over again).
Splitwise does have one fatal flaw. It currently does not allow for you to actually pay your friends (such as Google Pay, Venmo, or PayPal). So at the end of your trip, you will need to settle-up in cash or simply wait until you’re back in the US to Venmo them.
If your travel buddies are the same adventurers for every jaunt across the globe, you can also simply carry over balances for the next trip. That way you just keep a running tab on who owes who.
Tip: Google Pay and PayPal do work overseas. However, you would still have to do a transaction after every bill, which is very inconvenient when you’re splitting multiple bills a day.
This is another well-known app, especially for those of us who teach English Language Learners when we’re not adventuring. Google Translate is a great app to quickly type in a question when you need to communicate with your Uber driver or AirBnB host. It also allows for individuals to speak into the microphone so it can translate what they are saying.
I use Google Translate the most when it comes to reading menus and signs. The app has a handy feature that lets you go into camera mode. Simply click the camera sign, point it at the menu, and it will translate the words on the screen (be sure to hold your phone steady for this to work). It has saved me many times from ordering the wrong thing! (I don’t care what people say. I am not eating cow tongue.)
See? I only translate the important things.
While it is not always perfect, the translation gives you a close enough guess. I wouldn’t use it to flirt with that handsome German at the bar, but in a pinch, it is a great app to have!
MyCurrencyConverter is a must-have if you’re going international. There are hundreds of currency apps available online, but I’ve found this one to be the simplest and most user-friendly.
The app has a very simple platform. All you do is select the country you’re visiting and input the amount you want converted. This is an amazing service when visiting countries where the currency doesn’t match up easily to the US dollar (The Hungarian Forint is currently worth 0.00351824 dollars. No one wants to do that math.)
The app also works on airplane mode, but the conversion won’t be exact (it will go off the rates when it was last connected to wifi or data). However, it still gives a great ballpark estimate and is a great accessory to use with Splitwise.
Most people are familiar with the TripAdvisor website. It is a great place to go when starting to plan a trip or posing a question on one of the forums. The site allows for you to book tours, hotels, rental cars, and restaurants. It also allows for you to look at reviews for all of these services, as well as find lists of things to do at each destination.
The TripAdvisor App offers the same services, only on a convenient mobile interface. You can easily access the “Things To Do” for quick planning on the go, or book that river cruise while drinking wine on a balcony over looking the Danube.
Alternatives: While I love TripAdvisor, I also use other sites with similar services. VisitACity is a great app for offline city guides. You can download city maps and attractions over wifi/data before you leave, and use the app to navigate your way through cities like Paris, Barcelona, and Prague.
Local city apps. Many cities will have their own apps to use to book tours, find information, or buy transportation tickets. It’s worth taking a few minutes before you board your flight to investigate. Many of these apps also offer discounts on dining and bus/boat tours.
Spotted By Locals is also a great city app, offering guides to over 80 cities. The information here is for people looking to get out of the tourist loop and into more “local” attractions and restaurants. Each guide does cost about $4, so it is not my favorite, but maybe something to consider.
Uber is an obvious favorite. For the countries and cities that allow Uber, it is a great choice to catch a ride easily around town. However, Uber is not offered everywhere, so it is worth researching other travel options. Many cities have their own taxi apps, which make hailing/paying for a cab easy and safe. (Check out this app for Budapest’s taxi app, Bolt).
You will also want to download the app for whatever train service will be in your area. For example, while living in Scotland, I depended on Scotrail to get me around. This app allowed for easy booking for trains, access to timetables, and updates on delays.
Many Americans are familiar with the rail app, Eurail. While you can book train tickets for all of Europe on this site, you will be paying a premium for that convenience. For those looking to save money, you will need to go to the specific countries website/app to book the cheapest tickets. German’s rail site (Bahn.de) also offers a great app to use (just be sure to click the “EN” at the top of these sites for the English option).
Trainline is also a great option for trips that go across country lines.
Mobile Passport is one of my favorite apps for international trips. You will need to set-up your free account before you board your flight back to the US, but you will only need to do this once (if you keep the app loaded on your phone).
This app lets you bypass those long lines at US customs. Instead of filling out one of the customs forms on the plane, you complete the questionnaire on the app once you touchdown in the US. Once you get off the plane, you will then head towards the “Mobile Passport” lane, which is much faster and shorter than the typical route. This is an easier and cheaper alternative to Global Entry.
While not every Port of Entry utilizes Mobile Passport, most international flights will have this option. Be sure to download this app before your departure, and enjoy the blissful feeling of painlessly navigating through Border Control on your return.
These are just a few of my favorite apps to use while traveling. I’ve found that they really help me enjoy a location without stressing about the smaller details.
Have a favorite app you’d like to share? Drop a comment below or send us an email. I’m always looking to expand my app-ertise (see what I did there?).
One thought on “Favorite (Free) Travel Apps”
One app I have used is Rick Steve’s walking tour app. You can download a city and listen to a walking tour with very specific directions and insights. It’s been a couple of years since I used it, but I think it was free.