It takes photos, it sends messages, it can even keep you entertained with little birds who seem a little disgruntled but the following apps will help turn your smart phone into a powerful travel tool too.
When I went backpacking in 2009, I had to seek out internet cafes. I took an old phone that could phone and text, and that’s about it. But now, I love to travel with my smart phone.
Apps To Book Your Flights
So you’ve booked two weeks off in June but you don’t know where you want to go? SkyScanner is a great place to start. Select your departure airport and hit the magical ‘Everywhere’ button. Wait, and a world of flights will load before you. You can scroll through and see if inspiration strikes. Happily, you then have the flight prices and routing right there.
I use Kayak to do the majority flight research once I know where I want to go. Looking up flights between A and B, is fast and easy. You can filter the results down (by flight time, stops etc) and set price alerts. The app will tell you when the price goes up or down, excellent if you aren’t in a rush to book.
Kiwi also has an “anywhere” button but that’s not why I love it. Kiwi doesn’t use the same criteria as other large flight apps. This website includes smaller airlines, great for cheap internal hops, and connects itineraries between airlines that don’t share agreements. Essentially you are buying two or more separate tickets but keep an eye on the connection times and it can save you a bundle. We saved £100 each travelling across Thailand. We had to pick up our baggage and recheck in but it was entirely worth it.
Apps To Book Your Accommodation
If you are a hostel bunny, like me, this is probably your first stop. Sign in to the Hostelworld app and you can book your hostel, save the details in the app and rate it afterwards. Pay just a tiny bit extra, and your deposit is refundable, meaning you can pop in and change it if you need to. Even if you aren’t planning on booking a hostel, searching the hostels in a city, can create a handy map that indicates where the action is.
“Free cancellation”, the most joyful words when you are travelling on standby, or even if you are just very indecisive. Booking.com, unlike most other hotel apps, provides this feature and offers a fantastic range of accommodation from hostels and tiny guesthouses, to top notch 5 star hotels. The app will save your bookings so they are instantly accessible and even allows you to save your travel preferences for future searches. I have mine set to one $, and free wifi.
Airbnb has changed the face of travel accommodation. There were other options to book holiday apartments but they took a long time to secure and the prices weren’t all that competitive. I’ve used Airbnb in some of the world’s most expensive cities (NYC, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Hong Kong) paying just £60 a night in Manhattan for a whole apartment! The app itself has search functions and makes it incredibly easy to contact your host. You can also invite other people due to travel with you to share ideas of places to stay.
Apps To Use Before You Leave
So you suffer the pain of jetlag? As a naturally early riser, I really feel it when I travel from East to West. My eyes popped open at 03:00 after a trip to Japan and I thought, there has to be a better way!
With Jetlag Rooster, you can put in your destination and it will help you adjust slowly into your new circadian rhythms. It can be tricky if you are working the few days before you leave but I try to follow it as closely as possible and it’s really helped.
About a month before we leave for a city break, I sign up for Groupon’s daily deals. It has thrown up some brilliant deals. We had half price entrance to Hong Kong’s Ocean Park for their Halloween Fright Night event and this deal to go up the Burj Khalifa is a total bargain. It can give you ideas for things you’d never thought of doing too.
It’s T Minus 24 hours, check in time! Don’t go blindly in and pick any old seats. Make sure you have done your research first. There is no joy in arriving on the plane to discover that your window seat has no window, or there is a creaming baby in the row behind. Worse still the bathroom is right there and you are disturbed (or gassed out) all night! A quick look at SeatGuru will let you know the configuration of the plane, the seats to avoid and the ones to aim for when online check in opens.
Apps To Use While You Are Away
Remember to download the language pack that you need before you leave and never get stuck again. We mostly use this to translate things in restaurants (special offers on a chalkboard, mysterious recipe ingredients) but it has come in useful out on the streets too. If you are ever in a real emergency, I think it could genuinely save your life.
One of those apps that gets used on my phone all the time, Google maps isn’t just a “find out where I am” tool. Two great features are:
Before you leave for your trip, download the maps for the areas you are visiting and you can access them whenever you need whether you have signal/wifi/data or not. GPS can even give you a rough idea of where you are even if your data roaming is off.
Look around you. You can find recommendations for food and drink, broken into categories likes breakfast, lunch, dinner, cheap, fast etc. We have found a few nice spots this way at home and away.
You would be amazed at how many cities now have an Uber service. We even caught one in Colombo, Sri Lanka! As long as you have some sort of internet access, ordering a taxi is very easy and you should get an idea of the price before you step in. We have never waited longer than five minutes in London or NYC. Watch out for that sneaky surge price though, every so often a story emerges “Drunk girl ignores 18x surge price and paid a g-jillion pounds for a twenty minute ride”
On a budget? Love exploring? Proud of your independent travel credentials? CityMapper is a great way to find your way across the city using public transport. It’ll take into account any local delays and even tell you the price of the journey. It’s now in 39 cities over several continents. I love getting buses and trains and so I use this all the time.
Spending hours in airports can be an unhappy result of travelling. I’m sure you have all felt the chagrin when the wifi you have found is password protected, or doesn’t work properly. WiFox should alleviate this. An app developed by travel-blogger and computer security engineer foXnoMad, so it comes from a real travellers perspective.
People submit information for wifi available throughout the world’s airports. You can find free wifi and even get the passwords for locked wifi and as it’s updated by people regularly, you shouldn’t find the information is out of date.
This nifty app and website takes your phone photos and turns them into postcards. A company somewhere in the U.K. prints the card and sends it which means, your postcard may arrive home before you do!!!
I used it to send cards home to my Grandma so she had a message from me and photo of me in the exciting place I was visiting…double whammy.
Unable to sleep on an eight-hour overnight bus, I thanked the app Gods for my Audible app! Audible has a library of thousands of audiobooks. I have a £14.99, two books a month, subscription and I use it all the time. It’s nice to have a real page turner on the beach but when it’s dark, or if you feel travel sick reading on a moving vehicle, audiobooks are fantastic.
Watch the scenery roll past or close your eyes and let your imagination wrap itself around the world of the book. You can also use it on the move (another advantage when compared to books) so I use it when I am travelling through airports etc by myself. Finally, paired with a good pair of in-ear headphones, it can help block out blaring TVs on buses, crying babies on planes and persistent touts around the world. This is one of the time used apps on my phone and I said always full of exciting listens.
If I am travelling to somewhere with trains/a metro/buses I plan to use, I see if there are apps for the train/bus companies. They can be good for timings and live departures.
Stay in touch with your friends and family (unless you are on holiday to get away from them) using wifi for messages and calls.
One last word on the smart phone: I am now on a mission to limit our general phone usage whilst we are away. After lunch, only practical phone use is allowed, no Facebook zombies at dinner! Enjoy your powerful new travel tool but please browse responsibly.