Travel apps are great. They turn a lot of the tricky parts of international travel into distant memories, things like attempting to translate menu items and finding your way around winding side alleys in big cities. But there are so. many. of. them. Pretty much every company or service you can think of, someone in a meeting room has decided they need an app for it – which can make it a little difficult to filter the good stuff from the rubbish.
The right travel apps are the ones that take an otherwise confusing or impossible task and make it really simple. They are apps that function offline in case your mobile data doesn’t work, and that boast handy information or special offers you can’t find in one place anywhere else.
I’ve been told that travelling with me is akin to having a travel agent holidaying next to you, something which I take as a compliment, but which is really mainly attributable to my miniature army of travel apps. When I set off to the other side of the world solo, I didn’t do it unarmed – I did it with a smartphone (and backup ‘don’t care if I lose it’ device) carefully primed to help me along the way.
People often ask for recommendations, so here they are: the travel apps I don’t set off without.
Citymapper is just witchcraft, isn’t it? Okay no, it isn’t actual witchcraft, but it does feel like magic when you’re in a new city and you’ve no idea where anything is or what the transport timetable looks like.
The fact that Citymapper brings together timings for buses, trams, underground and overground trains, even bike sharing schemes now, means it is second-to-none at directing you around places you’d otherwise get very lost. Yes, Google Maps and Apple Maps try and mimic this with their half-assed transport integration, but when you need to get from A to B and you can’t read any of the signs properly / are like me and have zero internal compass, Citymapper is a lifesaver.
It gets added points for telling you how much your journey on public transport is likely to cost in many bigger destiantions, too, meaning you can amend your route to suit tight budgets easily.
2. a local language phrasebook / GOogle Translate
Alright I know it’s two separate things, but they kinda have to work together.
Aside from the fact that nobody wants to be That Guy who is just pointing at stuff and desperately repeating the same words in your native language over and over again, looking like a total chump, it is both polite and sensible to know the basics of communication in the language of your destination.
Knowing how to ask basic questions like “how much is this?” and “where’s the toilet?” is very handy when you are travelling, along with foundation phrases like yes, no, please, thank you and a few numbers to top it off. Without wishing to be a pessimist, I have always made a point of learning the word ‘help’ in the language of wherever I’m going, because you never know when you might need it.
Language phrasebook apps can be quite hit and miss, but they’re worth downloading because Google Translate doesn’t always understand the nuances of international sentence structuring and might try and make you look silly. It also doesn’t always get pronunciation right. Where GT does come in very handy is things like speedy translations of signs and receipts.
(Make sure you download a phrasebook / holiday phrasebook and not a full language learning app like Duolingo or Babble. Those are both fantastic apps, but they’re designed for people who are trying to learn the whole language from scratch – not people in a hurry who need easy access to specific words.)
The Google Translate app has much more functionality than you get just by searching in Google for “translate: (phrase)” and if you’re struggling to remember phrases or need to figure out what’s on a menu in a hurry, it’s definitely the best shout. They’ve even updated it recently so that it has an offline mode – just pick the language you need to keep handy, and the app can stay ready to do the rest.
3. Happy Cow (but omnivores will look to TripAdvisor)
As an official vegetablearian, avoider of all animal products in my diet, Happy Cow is a godsend. Whereas the omnivorous among us can definitely get by with Tripadvisor to help them hunt down good places to eat, if you’re veggie or vegan you should absolutely get Happy Cow into your armoury at once – if you haven’t already. This one is a paid app, which usually I steer well clear of, but having the app instead of just using the website gives you that offline functionality we so desire when heading off to places outside of usual mobile data zones.
If there’s one thing you know you’re going to do when you travel, no matter where you go, for what purpose or who with, it’s eat. So you might as well eat at good places, and you might as well make it easy for yourself to find places that you can eat.
If you’re not a veggie/vegan then Tripadvisor is my other recommendation, duh, and either app is loaded with reviews to help you decide where to go as well as photos people have uploaded that either seal the deal or put you right off. Plus, a general idea of pricing, opening times and contact details in case you need to book. What’s not to love?
Special mentions to Booking.com/Hostelworld/Skyscanner
I’m reluctant to say these are apps you shouldn’t set off without, because it depends on the trip. They’re definitely useful when you’re planning and booking, but if you’re going on a regular minibreak or week away you probably don’t need to keep these installed while you’re there.
If you’re going backpacking, though, definitely keep them around. When you haven’t pre-planned your accommodation for the whole trip and don’t have set dates to skip from country to country, being able to quickly dive into any of this trio makes life much easier. You can find bookings without having to rummage in your emails, compare prices and genuinely do get better deals. And ya girl right here loves deals, k?
If there are any apps that you’ve found to be real game-changers for travel please do let me know! Maybe you’ve found one that makes long-haul less of a chore, or that’s great for managing money when you’re border-hopping all the time? Any recommendations, just drop me a line or comment below!