Back in the day, travel essentials used to be things like a map, guidebook, extra rolls of film and a sense of adventure. These days, basically all you need is your sense of adventure. All the rest is now conveniently stored on your smart phone. Now, there’s a travel app for just about everything you could need while you’re on the road.
Whether you’re trying to find a map of the town, a review of the tour you’re checking out, or a good coffee shop to stop at, you can find just about everything in one or another travel app. Most of them are free, and all of them fill invaluable rolls in a traveler’s life.
The only problem is that these days, there are so many travel app options on the market that it can be hard to hone in on the ones you really need. So today we’re going to go over some of the best. This list will help narrow down the wide array of travel apps you can choose from to the ones I find myself repeatedly pulling up on the road. Some of these I found myself, several I picked up from other travelers along the way. I use all of them daily now that I live on the road. Hopefully, they help you next time you’re traveling.
Traveling with a team can be awesome. Not only do you have your buddies around to party with and share the memories, but you can also share the costs. Splitting the costs of rooms, gas, and food can save you a lot of money when traveling. Unfortunately, it can also get a little complicated when it comes time to pay one another back. This is especially true if you’re dealing with debts in more than one currency or to more than one friend.
Splitwise was beautifully designed to keep track of shared expenses across virtually any currency for any number of people. The app is free to download and easy to use. You create an account, then add your friends whether they have accounts or not. You can enter debts in any currency as owed in whole, split evenly, split by percentage, or just about any other way you could imagine splitting a bill.
Across your trip, just enter all your shared expenses into Splitwise and let it do the math for you. The app keeps a running total of the cumulative debt owed. That way, you don’t have to deal with remembering to pay back each expense individually. It all comes out as one number of the total debt between you and each of your travel partners. I currently owe my travel partner about 1800 pesos… oops!
There are a ton of currency converters out there. My favorite is simply XE Currency, and it can really come in handy when you find yourself crossing borders. It can be hard enough to keep track of one new currency exchange rate. Usually, by the time you have the hang of the conversion in one country, you’re already crossing the border to the next.
Although currency apps won’t make you a mathlete, they will help with day to day travel math. It’s easy to show up in a new country and think you’re getting great deals. However, sometimes throwing a couple of prices into the currency converter will show the prices to be just about the same as back home.
Polarsteps is all about storytelling. After all, isn’t that what travel is all about? Everyone wants to remember their journey and be able to share it with their friends. Polarsteps is a travel app that makes it easy. It tracks your location over time and records your journeys on the world map. Upload your photos from along the way with tags and tid-bits to help fill out the story.
This travel app will keep a running total not just of where you’ve been and what you’ve done, but it also tracks what percentage of the world you have traveled. Now, I can’t say how exactly they make such a computation, but it’s a cool idea, even if I doubt I’ll ever make it over 5%, 1% feels pretty cool. Who knows what it takes to hit 100% but it’s worth a shot.
Lastly, and maybe best of all, you can share your trip with your friends. This is a great way to keep relatives and loved ones up to date on where you’re at. It’s important to note that this way they don’t have access to everything you do, only the photos and stories you upload. Dad doesn’t necessarily need to know about that after party where you did kegstands last Friday. It can also be really cool to share and compare your trips with your peers.
Most people would fail to see how Tinder counts as a travel app. If that’s how you feel, you’re missing out on such a wonderful opportunity. Sure, Tinder is a great dating app for certain types of people to spice up their home lives a bit. However, travel is when Tinder can really become a valuable asset. If you’re rolling your eyes, just hear me out.
Think about it. On Tinder, you can simultaneously meet locals, practice language, get tips about the town, and find a date. Perspective partners on Tinder are often the best candidates for teaching you the local language, as long as you’re sweet about it. And most of all, locals always know all the best places to party, get food, and spend the day outdoors.
If you don’t believe me, try turning on your Tinder the next time you’re abroad. Edit your bio to say how long you’re traveling for and what you’re looking to find. You’ll have a local date teaching you to Salsa, taking you to the local club, or to the beach in no time.
Tired of Google maps malfunctioning outside of wifi or cell signal? Sick of having to preload your route and pray it doesn’t disappear on you? Well, Maps.Me is a travel app specifically designed for you. It lets you download entire countries, states or areas for the offline use and then functions completely connection free.
I can’t tell you how many times this has saved me on the road. Maps.Me is pretty much my exclusive navigation travel app anytime I’m outside of the US and lots of times inside the US too. Not only does it have streets and paths downloaded but it also has sightseeing, businesses, and other attractions, sometimes with small bits of info. It also links up with iOverlander which we’ll talk about later.
However, no travel app is perfect and Maps.Me is certainly no exception. The most notable thing you have to watch out for is being led down streets that don’t exist, the wrong way on one ways, and dead-ending at foot bridges it thinks are roads. Those types of scenario are pretty common in big cities, especially out of the country. For highway navigation, the app works great though. Just make a habit of laughing it off when you wind up rolling from dirt road to dirt road in the backwaters of some strange city in Mexico.
iOverlander is especially useful for anyone traveling in a vehicle. You can find free camping virtually anywhere in the world on this travel app. It works by crowdsourcing intel useful to overland travelers (anyone living out of their car). This means that there are reviews of each site left by previous visitors, as well as sometimes photos and detailed location information.
It’s not just camping you’ll find either, markings include places to fill water, police checkpoints (corrupt or not) and good businesses other users have found. I use iOverlander even when I’m not traveling by car. It’s just a treasure trove of invaluable information. Just two days ago I found a mangrove tour recommended on iOverlander where we rowed past crocodiles bigger than my car and fed iguanas out of our hands.
If you get really into using this travel app, you should also consider giving back to the community by leaving reviews of some campsites. It helps to keep the site up to date. Your review can be invaluable to other overlanders down the way. This is especially true if you find something to be out of date such as a price that’s wrong, a place that doesn’t exist, or a road that’s actually a footbridge into the jungle. Other people who come after you will be thankful for your update.
There are a ton of hostel booking travel apps out there. They all work great and have their positives and negatives. However, I like Hostelworld because it does a great job of filtering by price. Hostels do have to join the Hostelworld network, so you won’t find every option everywhere you go. But if you’re on the main backpacker trail, you’ll have an easy time finding the best deals on available beds.
You can read reviews, check out pictures and see what each hostel has to offer before you ever show up. You can also book rooms through Hostelworld. Usually, this feature works great, however, some hostels can be pretty disorganized. It’s possible for any hostel to mess up your booking or give away your bed. The one downside to booking online is that it makes it even easier for a disorganized hostel to drop the ball.
For that reason, I don’t usually use this travel app for booking my room. Instead, I just check out the options, prices, photos, and reviews. I usually narrow the field down to my three favorites and then go check them each out in person once my feet are on the ground. Some qualities of a hostel can’t be conveyed online no matter how good your app is.
Other travel app ideas
Clearly, this list is just a drop in the bucket of all the travel app options that are out there. Each of us have our own favorite apps we can’t travel without. Some people like having a health app that tracks their steps. Other people like using TripAdvisor. Other people consider Instagram, Pinterest, or Snapchat to be their most important travel app.
No matter which ones you settle on, it’s important to have an idea of all the options that are out there. These days there are a lot of really smart developers turning great ideas into free apps for people just like you. If you can imagine an app that would help make travel easier, it probably exists already. If you look for it and discover that it doesn’t, you may have stumbled across a million dollar idea! Once your app goes live, let me know, and I’ll add it to the list.
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