Everyone I meet on the road has some sort of tech now days, be it a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. Some people, like me, need them for work, to run their businesses and keep the money needed to travel coming in, while others are simply too used to having their gadgets as a part of their day to day lives to leave them behind, or they’ve promised family members that they would stay in touch. I’ve met people whose parents gave them IPads before their backpacking trips for that reason. But for a brief daily addiction to Facebook last year that ended in a cold-turkey cure, I could easily travel without any gadgets were it not for my freelance work. If I’m away for a very short time, my IPad replaces my laptop, which stays at home. Of course, I’ve put together a nice little list of my preferred travel apps which definitely come in handy when on the road, and as most of them are the apps of websites, even when the IPad stays at home and I have my laptop instead, I’ll still use the same sites.
1. Skyscanner. This site/app is addictive because of its ‘everywhere’ option: I can see a list of flight prices in ascending order to countries around the world. Terrible temptation, and usually one I give in to. Free.
2. Hostelworld/Hostelbookers app. These two apps – and the websites they come from – are pretty much identical, and I tend to use both, depending purely on whichever one pops up in Google’s auto-fill first. This would be my number one in how useful I find them, and they are beaten by Skyscanner only because of how fun and addictive I find browsing through worldwide flights. Finding a place to stay in the only think I would find difficult without wifi access, especially now that I have become used to booking rooms online rather than simply using my feet and my eyes. Lazy, I know, but we all do it. Both free.
3. Couchsurfing. When I’m feeling sociable, I love Couchsurfing – I’ve met so many people through this site, many of whom I am still friends with to this day. However, I’m someone who likes a lot of me-time. I enjoy my company, and so whether I choose Couchsurfing or a hostel tends to depend on my feelings on that particular day. Free.
4. XE Currency. There must be hundreds of currency converters out there, and surprisingly few of them are freebies. I tend to check the currency conversion when first arriving in a new country, or just prior to, and write down a simple list on a scrap of paper: £1=, £10 =, £100 =, etc, rather than standing awkwardly in the middle of a busy market or shop, scrolling through my IPad, jabbing in the exact price. I prefer a piece of paper and some simple maths. Free.
5. Google Maps. I’m not going to try and be fancy and different and mention some obscure alternative app that does the exact same as Google, just because everyone has heard of Google Maps. It’s free, it’s arguably the biggest and the best, and I know exactly how to use it. Free.
6. AroundMe. I use this when I need to find something in particular – wifi, a launderette, a supermarket. Yes, you need wifi, though there is a useful – and common sense – feature; wifi is not needed to find wifi. Sounds ridiculously obvious, I know, but you’d be surprised how many similar apps I tried before this one that had that one fatal design flaw. Of course, because that feature helps you wind only wifi without a connection, that means that sometimes I have to first find wifi, go and connect to that wifi before I can then search for what it is I’m actually looking for, but again, if I apply a little common sense (yes, I do use it from time to time), I can kill two birds with one stone. For example, if it’s 44C and I’ve just drank two-thousand gallons of water, I search for wifi at a cafe or shopping centre – the app always tells you exactly where you will find wifi, rather than just blindly guiding to it. Free.
7. Various metro map apps. I have one for Paris and Rome, and I once had one for London too. Generally they’re free, and of course they’re quite useful, though equally, every metro stop has a map. However, in some of the smaller, non-touristic metro stops in certain cities – Rome especially, it seems – the maps can be based only on the lines that cross that metro, rather than showing the whole map, or there is just one map in the building and it has been vandalized. It’s always handy to have your own copy, and I always lose the paper ones. Generally free.
8. Museums Mobile. My favourite geek-traveller app. With a frequently updated database on thousands of worldwide museums, including information on current, permanent and upcoming collections. It also uses GPS to inform you of nearby museums. I’ve found many a stroll turning into a spontaneous museum trip thanks to this app. Free.
9. Translate Pro. There are so many translation apps out there, but this is just the one I happen to use. Being able to say what you want in the local language is always useful. I don’t know what else I can say on that matter, really. Free.
10. Airbnb. Another ‘find a place to stay’ app. This is for when I really need me-time – and a bit of extra money. People rent out their apartments, either the whole place, a spare room or a spare bed for travellers to rent for a short time. Great for if you want to really integrate yourself within a community by staying somewhere where the locals live, rather than necessarily somewhere with the most popular attraction on your doorstep. Then again, I think there’s only so much you can really integrate yourself into a neighbourhood if you’re staying in someone’s home without them actually being there too. If they’re there, you’ll be invited out with them and their friends, they’ll teach you about their city and their language, whereas if you rent an entire apartment to yourself, you’re just the loner foreigner in the street. Free.
And the ones I am still to try:
JetLag Genie. I’ve only recently heard about this, but apparently it carefully calculates when to set your alarm clock based on your flight time, arrival time, flight length and normal sleep patterns to ease your through the ‘trauma’ of jet lag – something I have not yet experienced, hence I haven’t yet had any need for a jet lag app. I am curious as to how well it could work, though. Then again, if I have never had jet lag, how well would I know that it has worked if I were to try it on my next long flight? Perhaps I’m just super lucky and immune to jet lag (is there such a thing?). I don’t know. £1.99
Tipulator. It can be tricky knowing how much to tip. It’s considered offensive in some countries, and obligatory in others, and in those that is is expected, exactly how big a percentage is considered the norm? And once you’ve passed that first barrier, the total cost on your receipt is rarely easy maths. Even more so if you’re eating with someone else or a group and you’ve all chosen different prices dishes on the menu. Tipulator not only works as a calculator for you, but it tells you how big a percentage you give and works it out for you. I don’t know what happens if it recommends a certain percentage, and you disagree depending on the quality of your meal and service… maybe it works on a non-negotiable basis and you’d have to turn to good old fashioned pen and paper – or a calculator app and figure it out yourself… £0.69
TravelSafe Pro. Up until now I’ve again relied on pen and paper to note down each countries emergency numbers as I arrive there, and luckily it’s a scrap of paper (many lost and re-written scraps of paper over the years), that I have never had to use *touch wood*, but it’s definitely something that everyone should have, in one form or another. What would worry me more than whether or not I have the right emergency number is the potential language barrier if ever I have to make an emergency call… hmm… £0.99
WorldMate/Blackberry Travel. Simply, these apps – I mentioned the Blackberry one because I have a Blackberry… for some reason – organise all of your reservations, from flights to restaurants, and put together an itinerary for you. Pointless if you’re just winging it, of course, but they’re free, so why not? Both free.