I'm often asked what my favourite apps are to help with trip planning and while I'm on the road. Here's a roundup of my favourite apps that are always top of mind when I need help booking accommodation, staying in touch when I'm far away from home or just something to keep me entertained and sane on long travel days.
While most of these apps are free to download, some of them have a pro or premium version that can cost to upgrade. Let me know what your favourites are in the comments!
This article is part of my The Ultimate Guide to Booking Affordable Travel On Your Own series. Check out the other articles in the series for some more thorough advice on travel planning like a pro.
This is a great app to help you stay connected with people while you’re traveling. It’s basically a messaging app that also allows for calls over an internet connection, voice messaging and location sharing. When I meet someone on the road and want to stay in touch WhatsApp is usually the easiest way. You just need a name and a number and you’re connected. No need to hand out your Facebook details as I find Facebook can sometimes get clogged up with people you barely know and usually don’t remember. Another useful features is the ability to create groups. It makes organising with your friends before and during travel a lot easier.
This app is really a lifesaver on the road. You can quickly access currency conversion information to make sure you’re not getting ripped off or when changing money at a border. You can add countries to a shortlist and compare one currency against another. It’s a really simple app but you’ll be glad you have it.
As mentioned in my Top Travel Websites For Planning A Trip article, TripAdvisor is the first website I check to see what activities are on offer in a new city. It groups activities in a useful way so you can see all companies who offer snorkelling activities for example, or all walking tours, and read the reviews to choose one that suits you.
You can also check reviews for hotels on the go as well as look at prices from different booking websites. For those who like to plan ahead, there are some cities guides which are available for download so you can access everything offline.
Not just great for maps, many people don’t know that you can download maps offline, add tags and read reviews. Google Maps is also my main app for public transport navigation in most parts of the world. I’ve found it far more seamless for figuring out how to use multiple modes of transport as some countries have their bus, train and ferries as separate business with separate timetables.
One of the best apps for taking quick notes while you’re on the go. It’s a God send for me as a travel blogger as I can note prices, trip details and my initial impressions quickly. It's great for making sure you have all the info you need for a full day of sightseeing. I like to compile one note with meeting times, screenshots of bus timetables, names of places that I want to eat at and anything else I need for the day
Not sure where to have lunch after your museum visit amongst the many tasty looking options? Foursquare is another app that allows users to review places to eat as well as attractions. My favourite feature of Foursquare is that it encourages brief reviews with a focus on dishes that you did and didn’t like as well as who would like that restaurant.
Foursquare learns what type of places you like to eat at and tailors recommendations for you when you arrive in a new city. Feel like a taco at midnight? Foursquare will be able to tell you which place is most popular at that time of the night and which tacos are everyone’s favourite. Another unintended feature of Foursquare is getting wifi passwords! Helpful visitors note passwords for the wifi network so you can linger outside and use some wifi when in need.
Yelp is a similar app that is more popular in some countries like some cities in the US and Zomato is quite big in Australia.
For booking on the go, sometimes you don’t have a lot of options. I know I’ve visited some very small towns that don’t have a single hotel! Sometimes you are left with no other option but to consider some local hospitality. I’ve been saved by Airbnb a few times and now will often consider it as an alternative to hotels or hostels whenever I can. It might not be the cheapest option if you’re on your own but if you’re travelling in a group or pairs then you can find some great options (like a whole villa!) that gives you more of a local flavour than a traditional hotel.
This is my favourite hotel booking website. I’ll always check what’s available through Expedia first before I look elsewhere. I find their app to be easy to use and doesn’t frustrate me when I'm in a rush like other booking sites. They also have a great reward program and you get extra benefits when you book through the app versus the website.
I’ve tried Apple Music and it might make more sense if you are travelling with an iPhone but I always come back to Spotify. It’s so much easier to use and I can quickly download playlists to play my favourite songs offline along with recommended playlists so I can stay in touch with what’s new while I’m travelling.
If you’ve never tried a podcast before then drop everything and download Pocket Casts. Seriously. A podcast is basically a form of audio broadcasting on the internet. Pocket Casts is a podcatcher or a podcast client which you use to download and play all your favourite podcasts. There are many different genres, including comedy, business and they are great to listen to when you’ve got a long flight or bus ride, while jogging or anytime you’re sitting and waiting for something to happen. Which could be often when you’re travelling.
You can use podcasts to learn a new skill or just for pure entertainment and there really seems to be something out there for everybody and all of this content is out there for free! Here are some of my favourites to get you started: Serial, This American Life, Reply All and Invisibilia.
There are many podcast playing apps out there and I’ve tried my share of them but Pocket Cast is my favourite by far.
It’s a really fun way to stay in touch. It takes a while to get the hang of it as there is no real user guide. You are sent a how-to video when you first download it so make sure to watch it so you know what you’re doing!
Essentially it’s a social app that focuses on image messaging, using "snaps" which can be a photo or short video that you can send to an individual, several individuals or post to your "Story" which is like your wall on Facebook. The filters that you can use are super fun and change regularly so you always have something new to play with and send to friends.
I really didn't get it at first but really love it now so give it a try for a few days before you give up on Snapchat!
Very cool way to see pictures from a destination you’re in or heading to and also to stay in touch with friends you’ve met along the way. Facebook is kind of old news in that way as my feed is too saturated with videos and pictures and not enough actual content that I want to read. Your Instagram feed is all about the people you choose to follow and you don’t have to be friends.
Traditionally a dating app, Tinder is now being used by travellers as a great way to find people to give you tips on real local places and experiences to check out and sometimes you might even get someone interested in showing you around their city. I’ve had some pretty cool experiences with people I’ve met through Tinder and I definitely recommend giving it a try.
To make sure you're not breaking any hearts, I suggest that you’re upfront about your intentions in your bio and make sure to state that you’re visiting and you’re interested in some local knowledge.
When available, I will always use Uber over a traditional taxi service. I always feel secure and know that I will get to my destination for a great price. There’s often been some hesitation about Uber when it first enters a new city but from personal experience using it at home in Australia and across the globe in places like Costa Rica, Mexico City and Toronto, it’s always been a smooth ride.
The basic concept is that you tell the app where you are and where you’re going, they give you an estimate of how far away the closest driver is and then you can track their arrival in real time. You’re given their registration number, name and a photo so you can properly identify the driver when they arrive. At the end of the ride you just thank the driver and jump out! No need to fiddle with cash or negotiate fare as you often have to do in developing countries.
You can take some extra safety precautions when you use Uber to give yourself peace of mind by “sharing your ride” with a loved one, where they can track your route and see that you’ve arrived safely and you can also split fares with another passenger so you’re not taking on the full cost. In some cities they also have UberPool so you actually pick up a passenger heading the same way as you for a reduced fare.
Click here to sign up and get your first ride free!
This is my go to for longer chats with family and friends. All calls are made over the internet and you can find Skype on your mobile, tablet or even on your laptop. I love nothing more than spending an hour catching up with someone when you’ve been away for a while and if your wifi is good enough you get the benefit of being able to video chat! You can also find video chat on WhatsApp and Facetime if you’re calling someone with an iOS device.
This is a popular app amongst travelers to help with learning the basics of a new language. There's a fun game factor that helps keep you going back to the app and lessons are designed in bite sized chunks to help you manage your time around it. You learn by reading, listening and even speaking!
There you have it! A huge list of my most useful apps that I reach for time and time again. Most are free so jump in and give them a try for your next trip or even just to use in your home town.
Do you have any other apps that you would recommend? Let me know below!