OFF INTO THE WILD WET YONDER How does this...
Travel Apps for Those Who Actually Travel
Considering the thousand-plus articles on travel apps out there—each prodding you to click with titles proclaiming “Top 20 Travel Apps You Should be Using Already, Dummy” and the like—why would I want to step into the fray and offer my two cents?
Simple. Because I feel that most of these articles overlook certain (read as: key) aspects of traveling.
Some focus on nightlife and restaurants, others concentrate on the avid hiker/camper, while others differentiate for those traveling solo and those with family in tow. The list goes on, with something literally for everyone. And while many of these provide some solid info, I find that very little of what they offer is actually necessary once the trip begins.
Flights? Whether you choose to reserve months, weeks, or just days before, tickets are booked in advance. Rooms? I tend to make arrangements for the first few nights (or the entire stay if the trip is less than, say, a week). Normally you can extend easily enough if need be, but if not then nearby accommodation can be found in a pinch. The point being, I have yet to be on the street with phone in hand looking for either.
As well, because my travel is primarily city centers within Asia, car rentals are not much of a concern. Train, taxi, tuk-tuk, or trike… public transportation abounds. The few times I have found myself in need of a car for the day, the addition of a driver to go with it was minimal.—A driver? A bit pretentious, eh?—Not at all. A driver is not to inflate any skewed sense of self importance. Rather, it only makes sense that having someone with local knowledge behind the wheel gets you where you need to be faster (and ideally with less stress) than if you attempted on your own. More importantly—and this is too often overlooked—in many developing countries the sight of a foreigner driving around on their own is often enough of a temptation for someone to create a minor fender bender or pedestrian incident, the goal of which is a quick payoff. So again, if you are visiting and absolutely need a car, getting a driver is the way to go.
If you want to grab a motorcycle for the day and go tooling around, one can easily be found for rent by asking the front desk staff of pretty much any hotel (luxury or budget, it makes no difference). So again, no app required.
Trip pre-planning is not the concern here. No, the focus instead is on day-to-day use when traveling. This is meant as a brief “how to” for handling work and pleasure while on the road with the least amount of hassle.
(I use an iPhone so invariably one or two of these will be “Apple only.” Apologies in advance to the non-iPhone users reading this. Whenever possible, I have tried to include links to the Android version as well as any other OS versions. Also, as airline and banking apps differ from person to person, I have completely ignored.)
It amazes that this app is not more well-known, bordering on criminal, actually. Constantly updated and expanded, it crowdsources from a number of sites to give you a snapshot of the best that a city or country has to offer. Restaurants (top picks, searchable alphabetically, by type of food, by area, within 1 km of you), bars, shopping, museums, historical sites, mini walking tours, you name it. Triposo even lets you focus on the type of travel you prefer.
Another huge plus is that guides for each place (complete with interactive maps) are downloadable for offline use, which saves you from any nasty roaming charge surprises when you get back home. Simply cannot say enough about the sheer breadth of this app.
Nothing gets me more into the feel of wherever it is that I’ve just arrived at like local television or radio. And while Songza, Pandora, and Spotify all serve their purpose extremely well, they are “country-specific” (read as: they won’t work in other countries without a VPN). Also, none are live radio. TuneIn Radio lets you choose stations by region, country, genre, what have you… all of which is impressive in and of itself, but that’s not the reason for my recommendation. No, I am mentioning here because once I arrive at the hotel and begin to unpack (ideally before a night out), I open the app, browse “local radio,” and set the tone for the trip.
Looking for something better than your laptop’s internal speakers? If you have not heard of UE Boom, suggest you take a look at this CNET review and perhaps consider one for your next trip. Great in a hotel room or on the beach, and as its essentially weatherproof no need to worry about the elements.
One of the better, if not the best, currency exchange apps out there. Extremely easy to use, it provides live currency rates, as well as the ability to view historical rates over the day, weeks, months. And it’s free.
Although extremely useful, you do not want (or need) to be pulling your phone out for every purchase while away. Rather, a good rule of thumb is to pick out a mental benchmark for yourself that you can refer to over and again until you become somewhat comfortable with the currency. In Japan, tell yourself that ¥5,000 is about US$50. In the Philippines, that ₱1,000 is about US$20. In actuality, they are closer to US$40 and US$22, respectively, but this gives you a starting point to build an understanding and some confidence on while wandering around town the first few days.
Hmmmm… how to explain this one delicately, and without marking myself a bastard? While the old adage “what happens on vacation stays on vacation” is as apt today as ever, that doesn’t mean you can’t look back at pics from time to time, does it? This app provides a private way to do so, keeping any “sensitive” pics and/or videos (without the need to compress) away from any unwelcome eyes in a clever, clever way. Think that’s about enough said on this.
Continuing on with the theme of photos, this app takes the built-in camera on your iPhone and turns it up to 11. I normally travel with a compact super zoom, but there are times when its battery is drained or I simply can’t be bothered to carry it along. This app picks up the slack.
Past midnight and the hotel office center is closed and you need to print, sign, scan, and send back something? DocuSign allows you to open up the file on your phone, sign it, re-save in PDF format, and then send it on.
Speaking of scanning, even in remote areas you’ll invariably be able to get to a printer. A scanner, though? Considerably less likely. After spending three hours roaming Bologna, Italy, one winter night looking for one I realized just how uncommon they are. Enter DocScan. One of the better scanning apps out, it auto detects and corrects angles (as well as page “bends” near a book’s binding) and even allows for some minor adjustments to lighten and enhance colors before sending on. For those who absolutely need the ability to scan while away look at the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100. But for those who only might need or lightly need to while away, this app will do beautifully.
It was this (way too simplistic) intro to Dropbox several years back that sold me on the idea before a trip. I have only grown fonder of the app since. Whether it’s uploading and synching pictures you’ve taken, pulling up a reservation, or being out in the middle of nowhere and receiving an email from work asking for a file—which you can look inside Dropbox for and send a direct link to rather than attaching, uploading, and sending—it has never failed me.
Viber, Skype, WhatsApp, Line… it all comes down to personal preference. While I have three of the four on my phone, I lean much heavier toward Viber on a daily basis. I simply find it easier for texting as well as sending pics and video while away. And not to worry… although Viber gets registered to the cell number you input at the initial setup, it is actually tied to the handset. This means that switching SIM cards in different countries will not affect anything. You will still get whatever from whomever even switching SIM cards. Depending on your situation, this could be either a good or a really bad thing, I guess.
A song can take you back to a time or place like nothing else. If it’s something you heard out one night drinking in Bali (is that Romanian I hear?) good luck trying to Google that back home after your trip. Shazam stops that from ever happening, whether you have the app set for “auto” or are that guy in the club holding his phone over his head as close to the sound system as possible. Good look, bro.
While this app certainly works as advertised… my own experience traveling throughout Asia all these years has been that most restaurants and bars are fairly free with their Wi-Fi passwords, and as such I have never really struggled to get online when out and about for the day. I did, however, want to make sure and include it in this list as it may prove useful to those traveling in other regions.
Although I use these only rarely while traveling, they are definitely worth having on hand.
The new real-time camera translation function alone could prove useful.
A lot of people (myself included) are not aware that Google maps can be saved for offline use.