After one year on the road, we compiled a solid list of travel apps we came to love and rely on. Some we used before we left, but since developed a new found love. Others we discovered on the road and came to treasure as well.
48 Travel Apps and Websites We Tested and Approved!
All of the apps and websites listed below we did test and are using almost daily with our iPhones 6. Most are free, except when duly noted. Because we traveled mostly in Asia so far, several items are more relevant to that region. The list will include other apps in new areas as we continue our world trip. A few applications are not real travel apps, but they have been essential tools that we feel they should be included. Since we love outdoor activities and any type of adventure travel, several of the apps and websites will cater more for the adventurous spirits headed for remote places or wanting to track their route.
Research Things to Do and See in your Destination
- TripAdvisor: No need to present TripAdvisor when it comes to trip planning. A good resource to get a quick overview of what to see, but also to get feedback from fellow travelers. Of course, take reviews with a grain of salt since not everyone travels the same way and what might be someone’s dislike might be what you are looking for.
- Viator: Disclaimer: I am Viator.com’s former Director of Content Marketing so many of the content and tour descriptions were written by my team, but I still use their app and website as a resource for tours and activities in destinations.
- As adventure travel enthusiasts, we look into tour operators like Intrepid Travel and Mountain Travel Sobek, and tour platforms like Stride Travel, for ideas and inspirations on remote and multi-day explorations.
- Wikitravel: Another good resource, but given the concept of Wikipedia, some destinations are completed, other less so.
- Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum: For information on places far and remote directly from adventure travel fellows. I used to be a big fan of their books but as Nomadic Matt pointed out, the quality of their apps and website have been declining. Every time I visit their regular website, I only see hotels or restaurant, but no real destination information.
Find Your Way
- Google Maps: Besides two occasions where the results were not accurate, Google Maps took us exploring cities, even small villages in remote China, trekking in Papua, and horseback riding in Mongolia. The ability to see detailed satellite views, download specific areas for directions and businesses, and mark spots are invaluable.
- Maps.me: Similar functionality as Google Maps good complement specially for very remote areas. Make sure to download the maps before you leave, and you will get details that Google Maps don’t necessarily have. Maps.me is also recommended in China where Google products don’t have any connectivity.
- Viewranger GPS Mapping: Keep track of your hikes and routes. You can export the GPX data files and import them in Google Earth, online in Google My Maps. It runs in the background and doesn’t use much battery. Don’t use in Lower Power though or it will eventually stop tracking your position.
- Tile: Not so much for direction, but for ensuring that your main pack is nearby once loaded on a bus. It’s also reassuring to see it when waiting for its delivery at the airport.
- Earthmate: This app from Garmin InReach GPS (previously Delorme) sends Facebook notifications. Very useful when you are in completely remote locations for a long period, to show that you are still alive. In case of emergency, the device will send your GPS coordinates to rescue operations.
“Speak” the Language
- Google Translate: Just because our Mongolian, Kazakh, Mandarin, Rajasthani, etc. are not perfect… Download the language pack when you have Wifi and then use it offline. A few languages are not available, e.g., Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea. Major languages support live voice translation if you have connectivity. Alternative app that we haven’t tried: Microsoft Translator
- Sketch Pad: When Google Translate doesn’t get the right word, make a drawing! Useful to confirm numbers, directions, or to play with kids!
- Google Hangouts and Skype for VOIP: For cheap phone calls everywhere, as long as you have wifi. We prefer Google Hangouts but Skype sometimes offers better connection.
- WhatsApp: Very popular for messaging. Banned in China, use WeChat instead!
- Facebook and Facebook Messenger: These replaced emails in most countries (except in China where WeChat rules), and are a favorite among local and travelers alike
Track Your Finances & Documents
- Google Drive: Store travel research and planning on spreadsheets, keep copies of travel documents, etc.
- Foreceipt: Track expenses per categories and in different currencies. There is a free version good for a limited number of expenses records per month. The paid version gives you unlimited access.
- Scanbot: Scan documents, tracks receipts, store travel information. Will sync up to cloud storage service (DropBox, Google Drive, etc.) once you have wifi.
- iBooks: Save PDFs, boarding passes, e-visa authorizations, etc. This app can be a small reader for short books.
- Online Banking
If your bank offers an online app, make sure to download it. Sometimes security measures might block your online accounts (when you try to log in from abroad), but the app version will still allow you to log in.
Record Your Travel
- Evernote: Great to take note offline, also record sounds and add photos. We experienced some issues on the syncing with the online version.
- Voice Recorder: Good to record crazy birds or animal sounds in national parks, kids singing at night (when video is no go if it is too dark to film with your phone).
Stay in Touch with Home
- OpenVPN: This specific VPN requires your own server, but any good VPN software would work. Useful to access some US sites that don’t work from abroad. A must for China though it probably will be crippled by the Great Firewall of China.
- Facetime: A family and friends favorite and the best performance of all live video and audio apps.
- Google Voice and Google Hangouts: To redirect our US number. Great to still get communications from the US (spam included…). You have to port your number from your original mobile service provider to Google Voice service; then you can receive calls to the same number anywhere with Google Hangouts as long as you have internet connectivity
Manage Your Photos
- Snapseed: Edit photos right on your phone. Good editing features and filters.
- Sony PlayMemories, Canon Camera Connect and GoPro Capture: Camera-specific apps to control the camera and download your photos directly to your smartphone
- Resilio Sync: Sync files and photos between phones and laptops. Great for background sync of many files, photos or videos between local devices over wifi without using your data plan!
Book Your Accommodation
- Booking.com: We booked most of our lodging through Booking.com when we stayed in cities, though we learned that smaller destinations have a limited offering. I like their Free Cancellation policy which allowed us to change plans. Note that the procedure varies from each hotel, so you need to double-check every time. DEAL ALERT: Use this link to book your next stay and earn US$20 (we get US$20 too!)
- Agoda: Find a larger selection in smaller destinations (or so we found in Indonesia and Sri Lanka)
- Hostelworld: Find cheaper accommodations or when limited standard offering. Many hostels offer bunk bed dormitories but also private rooms.
- Note on Couchsurfing: We are listing it not so much because we loved it, but rather because we had no luck with it. We tried in China, and India, to no avail. Either people did not respond, or we got spammed by unwanted male invitations in the dozens. Maybe our profile is not good, maybe we did not try in the right countries, maybe we just got unlucky. But while many are raving about Couchsurfing, and we still love the concept, we have yet to experience it.
Book Your Transport Flights & Buses, and Trains
- Kayak & Expedia for flight prices in general. Many people mention SkyScanner, Momondo, and Hipmunk for the best prices, but we found the same offerings than Kayak and Expedia. So we stuck with these two to limit our search time to two apps. Nothing wrong with SkyScanner and Hipmunk, and maybe we did not how to use them properly to find the best deals.,
- Country-specific: Traveloka (Southeast Asia), CTrip (China), Cleartrip (India)
- Google Flight: Not an app but great to find a cheap flight out from any country – just pick a date and a departure point
- Buses: Redbus: Buses in India, Singapore, Malaysia & Indonesia
- Trains: IRSTC trains in India. A good website for anything train related is Seat 61.
- General Trip Planning and Booking: Make My Trip Route Planner trains, busses and flights in India. The route planner will help you connect point A to point B as best as it can!
- Taxis: Grab (The Uber of Asia), and Gojek (Indonesia, even for moto taxis!)
- Spotify: Survive long bus and train rides, and sleep in noisy hostels and around loud neighbors, with your own music. It usually requires a VPN connection to the US or Europe to work unless you buy a subscription and download for offline usage.
Note about China connectivity
Wifi is available everywhere but is pretty much unusable because of the awful speed. Buying a SIM card is possible at major mobile service provider stores (ex: China Telecom) though the data plans are fairly expensive (~50USD for 1 month for 5GB if I remember correctly). Also, don’t travel there without a good VPN solution if you want some access (though slow!) to any of the following banned services:
- ALL Google services including, Gmail, Drive, Youtube, Hangouts, Maps etc.
- Facebook and FB Messenger
- Major western news websites (mainly considered unfriendly/unfair to China so simply blocked!): New York Times, Washington Post, Le Monde, BBC, Bloomberg and more.
- Check out up-to-date list of blocked websites on Wikipedia.
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