Travelling has become easier during the last decades thanks to the widespread use smartphones and tablets. Prior to this, bookings had to be made in advance, otherwise you were left hunting for an internet café or waiting for the only communal computer in the hotel or hostel. Nowadays, it’s just a case of connecting to Wi-Fi and making use of the many apps designed to simplify our lives. Sadly, talking to other travellers and locals, or visiting the tourist information centres, are often overlooked in favour of creating an itinerary from digital sources; consequently, it’s important to find the correct balance and not become over-reliant on technology.
The majority of lists for useful travel apps are repetitive and inevitably contain those for booking.com, tripadvisor and skyscanner, so I thought I would compile something slightly different. Here are many top five free apps which I’ve found incredibly useful for my travels.
Firstly, I am a huge fan of Google Maps, although I feel its offline capability falls a little short. In contrast, Maps.me provides reliable detailed offline maps with data taken from openstreetmap.com, a community driven collaborative project. With some forward planning, you can download maps for entire countries, or regions of bigger countries, and access them offline. Features supported include finding your current location, assuming your device GPS enabled, route planning for either walking or driving, searching for local businesses, sights, and amenities. Any location of interest can be pinned for future reference.
Pocket allows you capture web pages or images when you have a cellular or Wifi connection, view them offline when you don’t, thus saving money on expensive data roaming. You can access Pocket from your desktop computer, and sync all information to your mobile device or tablet, in addition to refreshing content whenever you are online. To make finding your relevant pocketed information a little easier, you can add tags to your items. The only downside I’ve encountered to date is that the formatting for webpages can often get screwed up, and whilst this is a little annoying, there is no loss of content, which the most important thing. As an iPod user with no cellular data, this is great for saving public transport maps and timeables, and of course any interesting articles for those Wi-Fi free moments.
Travelling to foreign countries can be a little confusing when you need to pay for something and you’re not used to the currency and exchange rate. I previously used the xe.com app for currency conversions, however I promptly ditched it in favour of this excellent general purpose converter developed by Trelleborg Sealing Solutions. Like xe.com, currencies are updated when connected to Wi-Fi, and stored for offline use. Aside from the common conversations such as distance, weight, and temperature, this app contains information (and pictures) of the power plugs used in each country, as well as time zone, shoe size, and clothing conversations. If your a frequent traveller, or travel to numerous countries during a single trip, this is an essential app.
This photography app (and website) enables travellers to share their inspiring travel photos with the Trover community. Uploaded photos include a brief description and location; users can then search for a particular place, as well as what’s nearby in the surrounding area. You can save anything interesting to your own lists for future reference, or view lists from other users. Unfortunately there is no offline capability, and some of the user geotagged locations are not entirely accurate, which can be slightly annoying. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic tool for planning your trip and discovering places that you may have otherwise missed. This is probably my most used travel app.
One of the main reasons I love travelling is to experience the local food and drink. Whilst there are many apps which review restaurants, this app (and website) takes an alternative approach. It’s essentially the Trover equivalent for food, and allows you to search the many user uploaded images for a specific dish, rather than search by restaurant or cuisine. Assuming you’ve found something of interest, you can bookmark it for later or recommend those that you’ve tried, and there is also an option to view other dishes from that particular restaurant. There are external links to both google maps and Yelp too. All things considered, this is a great app for finding traditional and local dishes such as those shown below.