It takes photos, sends messages and can keep you entertained with games and bingeworthy series. But these best travel apps for backpackers will turn your smartphone into a powerful tool for travel too.
- 1 Backpacking Life Before Smartphones
- 2 Apps for Booking Flights
- 3 Kayak
- 4 SkyScanner
- 5 Kiwi.com
- 6 Apps To Book Your Accommodation
- 7 Hostelworld
- 8 Booking.com
- 9 Tripadvisor
- 10 Airbnb
- 11 Apps To Use Before You Leave
- 12 TimeShifter
- 13 Packpoint
- 14 Groupon
- 15 Seat Guru
- 16 Apps To Use for Navigation
- 17 Google Maps
- 18 Apple Maps
- 19 Maps.Me
- 20 Apps To Use for Transport
- 21 CityMapper
- 22 Uber
- 23 Grab
- 24 12Go
- 25 Flixbus
- 26 Apps for Entertainment
- 27 Audible
- 28 Podcasts/Sticher/Spotify/Other Podcast Apps
- 29 Netflix
- 30 Tunein Radio
- 31 Books
- 32 Some Extra Useful Apps for Backpackers
- 33 NordVPN
- 34 Google Translate
- 35 Touchnote
- 36 Final Thoughts on These Apps for Backpackers
Backpacking Life Before Smartphones
Whilst backpacking in 2009, we used internet cafes to send emails, and had a digital camera for those all-important snaps. We took old phones that could phone, text, and…that’s about it. But now, travelling with a smartphone is de rigueur and we have built a collection of great apps for backpackers.
Apps for Booking Flights
We use Kayak for the majority of flight research for Flying Fluskey when we know where we 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 making searching with specifics clear.
The multicity option makes creating a full itinerary easy too. Pop in the dates and city pairings and it will put flights together that can be booked all together. They do also make hack fare suggestions but we prefer another app for that, Kiwi.
Top Tip for Kayak – If you have a little time, you can set price alerts. Kayak will let you know when the price goes up or down and suggest whether you should book or wait.
Many people preference Skyscanner as their main flight search tool. We’ve found the front page prices inevitably go up when you click through, leaving us with a mildly bitter taste. However, it does have one feature we adore.
So you’ve booked a month off 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.
Top Tip for SkyScanner – The prices brought up by Skyscanner affiliate GoToGate are very tempting. But it has a terrible reputation (confirmed by dealing with upset passengers at the airport) so we advise against them.
Kiwi also has an “anywhere” button but that’s not why we 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 it but it was entirely worth it.
Top Tip for Kiwi – Kiwi is brilliant if you only travel with hand luggage as you don’t need to worry about picking up a bag to recheck on those hacker connections. Just remember that you may still pass through another security so don’ pick up any large liquids along the way.
Apps To Book Your Accommodation
If you are a hostel fan, this is probably your first stop for accommodation. 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.
Using Hostelworld to search for hostel rooms can be better than on wider hotel booking sites as the reviews are from people expecting to stay in a hostel. They usually have different expectations and requirements from
Top Tip for Hostelworld – Even if you aren’t planning on booking a hostel, searching for can create a handy map that indicates where the action is. Many cities have an area where hostels cluster and so the map on the app will give you an indication of where to head if you are planning to haggle for a room on arrival.
“Free cancellation”, the most joyful words when you are travelling with an element of spontaneity, 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.
Top Tip for Booking.com – Booking.com allows you to save your travel preferences for future searches. We have ours set to one $, and free wifi.
Once Tripadvisor was just a review site but it has evolved to offer prices for your chosen accommodation. Tripadvisor reviews can be great for getting an overview of your selected hotel/hostel. Those of you with sadistic tendencies can filter the reviews to just show the 1 star clangers, but that has steered us away from a few places that mention bed bugs, so it is probably a good plan.
Top Tip for Tripadvisor – Look through the traveller photos rather than the ones added by the property as they will have more of te details and give a more authentic view of the property.
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. We have 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.
Top Tip for AirBnB – Serch results can be filtered to instant book, allowing you to book somewhere on the day without the worry that you won’t hear back in time. When booking, ask for the address and how to get the keys and you can head straight over.
Apps To Use Before You Leave
Do you suffer the pain of jetlag? We feel your pain! However, with a little planning, you can get a headstart on jet lag and ease the symptoms on your arrival.
With TimeShifter, you can put in your destination and it will help you adjust slowly to your new circadian rhythms. It can be tricky if you are working the few days before you leave but try to follow it as closely as possible and it can really help.
For years, packing lists were made on pieces of paper, with omissions unnoticed until travellers reached their destinations. That transformed into to-do lists on phones but finally, an intelligent packing app is here. Put in that huge list you have built up over the past few years (added to every time your backpack was bereft of your toothbrush or swimwear) and it can be divided into certain kinds of trips.
Going on a winter break to Sweden? You need your gloves but not that floppy straw hat. Off to Thailand? Leave the snow boots at home! You can even pop in the kinds of activities you are planning and it’ll work out whether you should pop the suntan cream or not. Of course, extended backpacking trips are a special case as you may be seeing and doing everything, but for shorter trips (like a 10 day Jordan trip) it is ideal.
Top Tip for Packpoint – Packpoint actually checks the weather at your destination and advises you of what to pack. That puts the smart in smartphone.
About a month before you leave, sign up for Groupon’s daily deals. It can throw 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 or thought you could afford on a backpacker budget.
Top Tip for Groupon – Remember to cancel your email subscription or useless emails will haunt you for years!
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 screaming baby in the row in front. 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.
Top Tip for Seat Guru – If you are unsure of your plane type, check flight radar which may have the specific model.
One of those apps that gets used on our phones all the time, Google maps is one of those apps that is rarely shut when we are travelling in a country in which we have data. Walking routes between areas mentioned in the guidebook can be worked out and knowing that the next sight is just 20 minutes away inspires you to keep going.
Mind you, Goodle Maps isn’t just a “find out where you are” tool but has three other fantastic features:
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.
If you get recommendations or just have a look around the map of your destination, you can add them to the map for later under three categories, “Want to go, Starred places and Favourites”. Plus, you can drop pins and label them whatever you like, “That Instagram spot with the pretty roof”.
Look around you. You can find recommendations for food and drink, broken into categories like breakfast, lunch, dinner, cheap, fast etc. We have found a few nice spots this way at home and away.
Many people choose to use Apple Maps in their everyday life but we are both Google people. However, Apple Maps is particularly useful in China where Google services are blocked. it has accurate travel information for journey planning and it uses less data than google so if you have purchased a sim and only have a little data, this is a good option.
This backpacker app has boomed in popularity over the last few years. Maps are available offline and can be edited. Backpackers that have gone before have added great tips onto the maps, almost making this is an app-based guidebook. Secret cheap eats, photo spots or picnic places are there to discover.
Navigate to the country you are travelling in and zoom into a city or town until the app suggests downloading it. The entire visible area will be inlued.
Top Tip for Maps.Me – Again, Maps.Me is particularly good for China. For example, download the map of Shanghai before you leave your hostel and you will have the map all day, even if you have don’t have any data.
Apps To Use for Transport
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 on public transport. It’s now in over 70 cities across several continents.
You would be amazed at how many cities now have an Uber service. We even jumped in an Uber 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. Although a backpacker budget may not stretch to a taxi all that often, there is sometimes no option when travelling from airports or to some sights. The app shows you an estimated price so at least there shouldn’t be an unexpected stong at the end of the trip.
Top Tip for Uber – If you aren’t in a rush, you can get a cheaper ride by picking Uber Pool. You will share the journey with other riders. If you are travelling to see a famous sight, find hostel buddies to travel with and use the fare split option.
The Grab app is from a Singaporean developer so it is mainly focused on Southeast Asia. It has local taxi firms and even tuktuks so there is no more standing on streets flagging them down (if you have data or wifi). It works similarly to uber so you can see riders close to you, hail the ride and then pay on the app afterwards. Keeping your card details on the app allows you to keep carrying cash to a minimum, or pay for a raise before you’ve had a chance to get money out/converted. Plus, if you use a travel debit card like Revolut or Monzo, it is easier to keep an eye on your spending.
Top Tip for Grab – Even if you don’t end up booking on the app, it will give you a good guide price for your negotiations.
Originally just in Asia, 12Go now covers travel in Europe, Oceania, North and South America too! We look forward to seeing it in Africa too.
12Go compares times and prices for transport between two destinations, then sending you the right place to book. The app compares buses, flights, ferries, trains and taxis but you can filter it by price, mode of transport or departure times to suit you. If you backpack like us, you will take it down to the cheapest option and stick with it.
Top Tip for 12Go – There are pictures and reviews of services on the app to give passengers a real idea of the standards expected. you can really see if it is worth adding on another 10% of your daily budget for the “VIP seat”?
Another place to look for travel options if you are backpacking in Europe is Flixbus. They offer bargain bus travel between many of Western Europe’s biggest towns and cities. With fewer budget options in the big hitters like France, Spain and Italy, it is good to know that there are still cheap and cheerful option available. Plus, any tickets booked through the app are held in a wallet on the app directly so they are always handy.
Top Tip for Flixbus – The app offers realtime delay information and other disruption info like top changes. It is good to be in the know, especially if you are waiting for a bus that now isn’t due for two hours. Time to find some shade, or warmth depending on the season.
Apps for Entertainment
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 available to those with a subscription. It’s nice to have a real page turner on the beach but when it’s dark, or 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 dorm mates in the bathroom and persistent touts around the world.
Podcasts/Sticher/Spotify/Other Podcast Apps
Podcasts have all the advantages of audiobooks, but for free. If you have found your favourite podcast you can download the whole lot and listen for zero pennies. My phone is full of comedy true crime and interesting fact podcasts. They can be great for long journeys or just to dip and out of for those boring moments in the travelsphere (waiting rooms, boarding gates and waiting for your sleeping travel buddy).
Streaming services have taken over the world meaning that you no longer need a room with a TV, just free wifi. You can download your favourite shows to watch on those day-long bus rides and keep renewing the content you carry with you. Combined with NordVPN, you can even switch your Netflix to another country. You will need a subscription (or a very good friend with one) to access Netflix’s massive library of films and TV shows.
If you have wifi or data, you can listen to radio from all over the world. We’ve spent some lovely evenings eating room picnics, listening to Heart London (or Magic at the Musicals for Rosie). If you are looking for wanderlust, rather than home comforts tune in to a salsa station in Cuba, a country and western station from Tennessee or k-pop from Korea.
Books need not be the heaviest thing in your backpack anymore. The books app on your phone can cope with novels, guidebooks and the complete works of Shakespeare. (You might want to store those Shakespeare plays in the cloud though to preserve space for all your photos). The only downside is that you may enjoy using the sharing libraries across the hostels of the world. Maybe you can combine the app with one cheesy paperback?
Some Extra Useful Apps for Backpackers
Being away from home for a long time, there are some things from home you might miss. Certain streaming services, social media sites and other things are only accessible in certain countries. UK-based travellers may need their BBC iPlayer fix, and how can you access Facebook in China? Well, get a VPN. There are lots to choose from but we have found NordVPN easy and reasonably priced. It reroutes your internet through a location you pick so your phone believes it in that location.
Top Tip for NordVPN – If your trip is short enough, you can just use the 30-day moneyback guarantee.
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. The talk to type feature was especially useful in China when checking in or to communicate with transport drivers. We even had a lovely chat with passengers on the Trans-Siberian Railway despite only speaking a few words of Russian.
Top Tip for Google Translate – If you are ever in a real emergency, we think it could genuinely save your life as it would be great for informing people of what hurts, the medicines you cannot take or why you need help.
This nifty app and website takes your phone photos and turns them into postcards. A company in the U.K. prints and sends it which means, your postcard may arrive home before you do!!! It costs less than sending a real postcard and if your family would appreciate a real postcard over an email, it’s a fabulous choice.
We’ve used it to send cards to our families so they had a photo of our location taken by us. It also has a message from us and usually a snap of us in the exciting place we were visiting too…triple whammy.
Final Thoughts on These Apps for Backpackers
The face of travel has changed dramatically. The tiny computers in our pockets mean we carry a cinema, library, atlas, translator and travel agent all at once. Pretty amazing when you think about it!
One last word on smartphones: we’re trying to limit our holiday phone usage over and above these great backpacker apps. After lunch, only practical phone use is allowed, no scren zombies at dinner! Enjoy your powerful new travel tool, but please browse responsibly.