Planning adventures in far flung lands can be a challenge, and things only get more hectic once you’re on the ground, but so long as you’ve got a smartphone, you have everything you need to make your trip a success.
Yes, a list of top travel apps for 2017 (or insert year here), seems to be a right of passage for travel bloggers, or perhaps just a fluff piece for when they’re not on the road.
Still, just as our hopes, dreams, passions, and aspirations all differ from one another, so too do our travels. To that end, I’m going to join the masses, and describe the apps that have taken me half way around the world with my unique blend of overland travel, backpacking, adventure, and city breaks. Look closely, there’s bound to be a gem you haven’t discovered yet.
XE is the go-to site for currency conversions on the web, so it should come as no surprise that its app is so popular: For the traveller it is most useful for the simple fact that it’s able to convert every world currency. It also functions offline by saving the last updated rates, which is great if you’re in a place with limited connectivity or trying to save on data.
I used the Supercard exclusively through my 6 months in South America, and it worked well. That was the beta card though. The official launch product now charges for ATM withdrawals. 1.5% might not seem much, but on extended travel periods it soon adds up £15 per £1,000 withdrawn.
More recently I discovered Monzo (originally Mondo). It’s actually an app based bank account, but they offer a prepay currency card with near perfect exchange rates and zero fees. It just can’t be beat at the moment, and it’s the absolute cheapest method of spending abroad.
A lot has changed since 2017 when I first wrote this article and Monzo is no longer the travel card it once was. Money Saving Answers keeps an uptown date list of the best card for spending abroad, so that is well worth a check before travelling.
I used Azimo back in Argentina when the exchange rate of the Peso was artificially controlled by the government. By transfering cash from UK bank account to Azimo for withdrawal from one its agents in Argentina, I gained 25% more pesos to the pound. Of course these days the peso is a free floating currency, but Azimo is still useful a worldwide money transfer platform, and a damn sight cheaper than Western Union.
Booking, planning, and accommodation
I’ve used booking.com on nearly every extended trip I’ve been on. The ease of searching and booking hotels, hostels and guesthouses sets it apart from the likes of Expedia and others. Add to that, the ability to cancel booking free of charge, and it’s my go to app for accommodation at home and abroad.
booking.com tends to be main app for accommodation when on the go, but if I’m planning to stay in one place for a while then Airbnb wins hands down. I’ve used this for stays in Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and beyond and always managed to find a cost effective apartment in the right part of town. I know this article is about apps, but if you sign up via website using this link you’ll get $19 credit on your first booking.
Loved this app when travelling South America. iOverlander is a crowdsourced list of overlander friendly camping spots (including wild), guesthouses, and hotels, complete with descriptions, prices and reviews from other overlanders. Great when you need to find a hotel with garage in middle of Peru, or a safe wild camping spot in Patagonia.
I did try the app on a tour of Ireland, but it really shines once you get outside of Western Europe, and off the beaten track.
Not a booking app, but more like a social network for hostel goers. As if meeting people in hostels wasn’t easy enough, this app lets you connect with other travellers in the same hostel as you. Good for solo travellers, especially when staying at larger hostels.
Google translate/World Lens
I speak some very basic Spanish, even more basic French and a touch of Japanese, but I’ve been in plenty of situations and countries where this isn’t enough to get by. This is where Google Translate comes in. As well as simple text translation, if you download the dictionaries before you travel it can also translate spoken language on the fly, and since the buyout of World Lens, it can also translate signs, menus and other written texts.
Nothing needs to be said about this really. Free, and now that you can download tiles on wifi before you head out, you don’t even need a data connection. I tend to look up places ahead of time and then star them to allow me to easily find them when in a new city. Works well especially when starring them direct from a google search. The alternative for pure navigational purposes is the Maps.me app.
Rome 2 Rio
This is a wicked app for getting from A to B on unfamiliar public transport systems. Particularly handy for getting to and from forgien airports without paying a premium for expensive, and sometimes dodgy taxis. Hell, I even use it around the UK.
Any hidden gems I’ve not mentioned? Let me know in the comments below.