A word of advice from a savvy traveller: Download some useful travel apps before your trip. They’ll make your life so much easier.
You want to have the right travel apps on your phone not just because they’re useful, but also because using them will free up your time to enjoy your trip more.
I’m all for letting tech tools do some of the work for me. When I say “work” I mean things like navigating, translating, converting currencies, connecting to wifi, finding out which bus to take… all sorts of small tasks that you can get done faster and more efficiently with the right app.
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I’ve written before about how to use offline maps to navigate when you travel, comparing the pros and cons of Google Maps and Maps.me.
Other than maps and navigation apps, there are tons of travel apps around, and you can spend hours searching for the best ones. But you don’t have to 😉 I’ve made an essential selection of must-have travel apps.
I chose only apps that are free or have a free version, that can work offline (with some limitations of course) and that are available on both Android and iOS devices.
Google Translate – Translate text, images and voice
This brilliant free app gives you instant translations. It can translate over 100 languages and is constantly improving with new clever ways to input the foreign language text.
The most basic use of the app is simply typing what you need to translate: pick a language pair, type in any word or phrase, and that’s it.
The app lets you download some languages for offline use, so you can save on data when you travel.
You can use it, for example, to communicate with locals who don’t speak English. Just type what you want to say into the app, show them the translation on the screen and then they can reply in the same way.
I once stayed at an Airbnb in Spain and the cleaning lady used the app to tell me that it was past check-out time 😉 I used it myself to ask supermarket staff in Japan where to find pasta. You can see the potential.
Other ways to use the app that are also super useful for travellers are the camera, handwriting and voice options.
If you’re visiting a country where you can’t read the alphabet, select the local language, press the camera icon in the Google Translate app and point it at the text. It will translate the text in an instant.
You can use it to read signs and even longer texts like menus. This is one of the tips I often give to tourists visiting Tel Aviv who are confused by the Hebrew alphabet.
The camera is also handy where the alphabet is familiar, but the text is too long to type. I used this a couple of times in Spain and Portugal to read long exhibitions texts displayed on the walls of galleries I visited.
Similarly, you can translate handwriting by clicking the handwriting icon and simply writing on the screen.
You can also translate voice recordings and even a conversation in two languages through the app. It won’t work perfectly each time, but it’s very quick and will give you a good indication of what’s being said.
XE Currency – User-friendly currency conversion
This currency conversion app is my personal favourite, thanks to its truly user-friendly interface.
It lets you convert currencies instantly and the exchange rates are updated every minute (as long as you are connected to the Internet). You can use this app offline too; it will show you the last rate saved.
If you’re travelling to several countries on the same trip, you can save up to 10 different currencies as you “favourites” and see them all on your screen.
Convert currencies quickly with the XE app
Click one currency and it will go to the top of the screen. Then you can then enter a value, say $12, and the app will convert it into all the other currencies instantly.
AccuWeather – Super specific weather forecasts
Bad weather can really ruin your trip. When you travel, you need weather forecasts for different parts of the country or city you’re in, and for different parts of the day, if you’re out and about all day long.
There are many weather apps out there, and to be honest after trying quite a lot of them, it’s hard to find one that’s really accurate.
I was surprised when I first used AccuWeather: I gave it permission to use your device location and what appeared on the screen wasn’t the name of the city I was in, but the name of the specific neighbourhood. That’s very useful especially if you are in a big city.
AccuWeather’s best use is in predicting weather changes throughout the day. I use it in places like London , where you can sometimes have four seasons in one day… It gives you real-time updates that are specific to where you are at that moment.
Click on the “Hourly” tab in the app to see the forecast for each hour of the day and decide whether you’ll need to take a jacket with you.
If you need to use the app offline, while you may not see the frequent updates, you can still see the forecast for the next 15 days.
Instabridge – Connect to free WiFi automatically
This app offers a solution to a problem every traveller faces from time to time: how to find free wifi. It saves public wifi passwords and connects you automatically whenever there’s a free wifi connection available.
Instabridge will save you money on data, and will also spare you having to ask for the wifi password at a restaurant, for example, if its password is already stored in the app’s database.
You can also browse a list of wifi connections nearby with walking distances, or see them on a map.
Connect to wifi near you when you travel (Source: Instabridge press kit)
Before your trip, you can go to the Offline Regions section in the app, choose your destination and download the password database for offline use when you travel.
The passwords are crowd-sources, so you can add your own and also perform a speed check for any network.
The app is very simple to use and pretty much works in the background for you. When it auto-connects to a network, you’ll see a notification on your screen.
Dropbox – Backup trip photos and travel documents
This cloud storage service isn’t a travel app, but is definitely one of the apps I use most when I travel.
I have Dropbox installed on my desktop and mobile and it syncs all the files I save between those two. When you first open a free Dropbox account you get 2GB storage space. You can later upgrade to a paid version if you need to.
Use Dropbox to backup and share your travel photos
The first things I recommend you do when you travel is enable the auto-backup of your photos to Dropbox. Simply go to Preferences and click on Import. You can choose to auto-upload videos too, depending on how much space you have.
Set up the automatic backup of your photos on Dropbox
Every photo you take on your phone will be uploaded to dropbox. This gives you some peace of mind on your trip, knowing that you have a backup of your trip photos available. If you travel with a laptop, then every photo you take will be waiting for you on a folder in your desktop.
Sharing photos and videos with people back home is also very easy with Dropbox. If the files are too big to email, simply send them the link to a shared file or folder in your Dropbox account.
Backup important travel documents and access them offline
You want to use Dropbox also to save any important travel-related documents, like boarding passes, train and bus tickets, screenshots of various reservations, a photo of your passport and of your driving licence and so on.
Make those files available offline (see instructions here). All of these documents will be readily accessible for you when you need them, and will be saved on all your devices.
When you are asked at border control about your next flight or where you’re going to stay, it’s easy to pull out the screenshot of your hotel reservation or the PDF flight ticket right away.
If you lose a document, or if you lose your phone and need to get a new one, you can rely on the copy of the document you need saved in the cloud.
If you’d like to play around with more Dropbox options, have a look at IFTTT, a service that lets you automate tasks and links various apps together. You can, for example, have all your Instagram photos automatically uploaded to Dropbox, or backup any email attachments when you label the message “Dropbox”.
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