Travel Apps: 11 Travel Items Cell Phones Can Replace
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Today’s travelers are incredibly lucky for many reasons, perhaps most notably because of the smartphone. These days you can accomplish a range of tasks without looking up from your mobile screen – and that includes organizing trips. There are travel apps for almost anything you can think of. The best part is, most of them save you time, money and space in your luggage – the perfect trifecta of the minimalist traveler. Read on for our recommendations of the best travel apps, and bring yourself one step closer to achieving the ideal minimalist travel lifestyle on the go. All you need is a charger and perhaps some mobile data.
Whether you’re on the move or planning for your next trip, organization is essential. Keeping track of travel schedules and tasks can be daunting, not to mention stressful. However, using paper planners and calendars can be frustrating – damaging pages, losing a particular address or forgetting an event can happen too easily. The major benefit of keeping a digital planner is having everything in one place. Many phones and apps sync with cloud storage and your other devices, so you never lose your details. It also offers a simple solution for keeping your travel partners or family in the loop; you can share your calendar and itinerary with others at the touch of a button.
For a reliable task manager, try Todoist. It works on Android® and iOS® devices, and is superior to Google’s task option for a couple of reasons. First, it’s extremely versatile and utilizes popular methodologies to track and improve your productivity – which is essential if you work online while traveling. Next, it provides project templates for larger tasks. There are a lot of advantages, all for the relatively small price of $29 per year.
2. Travel Agent
Alright, this one isn’t strictly an item – but replacing your travel agent with an app can possibly save you more money than anything else on this list. There’s simply no need to pay additional agent fees, when you can find all the best transportation and accommodation deals yourself by scouring a few travel planning apps. We’ve listed some of our favorites below. Alternatively, you can check out individual websites and book everything directly from the airline, hotel or rental car company. However, we’ve had great success with these.
Some of the best options are: Skyscanner and Kiwi for flights, Airbnb and Hotel Tonight for accommodations, and Uber or Lyft to get you to and from the places you want to visit.
When we travel, especially abroad, we prefer to stay in private accommodations in residential neighborhoods to get a true sense of local culture. For this, we use Airbnb. While we don’t always meet the owners face-to-face, we have had wonderful experiences with each host.
Often, we find we like to “wing it” on road trips. While driving, the passenger will look ahead for a place to stay before we arrive in town. Generally, hotels are the best option for this strategy and we love a good last minute deal! For these, our goto is Hotel Tonight. They have great deals and lots of options. Even though they have a website, you do everything from the app.
3. Wallet and Credit Cards
Carrying large amounts of money around in foreign countries can make you an easy target for pickpockets. It’s always advisable to store cash in more than one place. Mobile banking and cash transfer apps make it a lot safer and easier to manage your finances while traveling. Venmo and Paypal are commonly used for international transfers. They’re simple to set up and they give you the ability to send payments to businesses and send/receive money to/from individuals.
PayPal is another payment service you might be familiar with. It’s been around for a long time and it is relatively secure. They also offer some buyer protection for online purchases. While we like it and continue to use it for certain purchases, we find Venmo easier to use for quick cash transfers.
There are also a range of apps for managing your credit cards, such as the Cards Mobile Wallet. With it, you can store your details and track spending on your phone, so you avoid the surprise of a massive bill when you get home. Monzo is an innovative travel credit card that’s gaining popularity fast. It doesn’t charge for withdrawals or profit from exchange rates – and you can top it up anytime. Like some other apps, you can also transfer money with this app. It even allows you to pay with Apple Pay. Finally, although you can’t completely get rid of your card yet, there have been some great improvements to the NFC payment system recently. NFC stands for near-field communication, meaning at some point in the future you will be able to pay for items by simply bringing your phone screen within 1.5″ (4 cm) of a scanning device – just like a contactless card. Apps utilizing this technology are on the near horizon.
Cards Mobile Wallet is essentially a digital holder of your credit cards. It works in much the same way as using them physically, but offers protection from theft and loss while making transactions more convenient. They don’t have a website, so you need to download the app to begin using it.
This is an obvious one – real-life maps are somewhat of a rarity nowadays. We are all in the habit of whipping out Google Maps or Waze to find the best walking or driving route to a destination. These travel apps also have the benefits of satellite and street view, spoken directions, reviews of restaurants and hotels, and journey time estimations. One of the most underused options is Citymapper – it’s unbeatable for public transport especially, as well as traveling via all other urban forms of transport.
Most of you might be familiar with Google Maps. It’s an old standby, but did you know you can download local maps while on WiFi and then use them later on your mobile device without a data connection? We used this extensively all over Europe and Central America for walking directions.
Many travelers overlook one of the most useful, high-performing parts of their cell phone – the camera. While it gets used all the time for selfies and cat photos, they seem to think that it isn’t capable of capturing magnificent landscapes and epic action shots as well as a stand-alone camera. However, many of the latest options from the big brands (Apple, Samsung, Huawei, etc.) have cameras with incredible specs, rivaling many point-and-shoot options currently on the market. For instance, most new flagship models offer 4K video features, a high megapixel front-facing cameras, and create amazing results in dim light. Unless you’re a professional, the difference may be undetectable – especially if you just want that perfect Instagram post.
If you don’t have an expensive phone, there are a variety of apps you can use to improve your shots. For example, Camera+ comes highly recommended by iPhone users; it gives you a lot more control over manual shooting settings like exposure, and throws in some excellent editing tools as well. For further high-quality photo editing resources, try Snapseed or VSCO. Both are free, so the choice may depend on what you’re trying to achieve. VSCO tends to be less precise when it comes to altering specific details of images, but its filters are unrivaled for making travel images look artistic, vintage or professional. On the other hand, if you like to control the process of editing, and prefer bold colors and highlights, Snapseed could be the better option. Have a go at experimenting with both to find your style.
6. Travel Clock or Watch
This goes without saying. Your phone always shows the time, and even changes time zones automatically. No more missed flights because you forgot to change your watch. Similarly, using the pre-installed alarm app that comes with every phone can be more reliable than a physical version, and it’s easier to carry around. If you’re concerned about not sleeping well when living in a different time zone, try the Sleep Cycle app. It tracks your sleep patterns and wakes you up gently in the morning. On the other hand, if you can’t risk missing something by sleeping in, Alarmy will certainly jump you out of bed. It has all kinds of features to make sure you are fully woken, such as requiring you to solve a math problem to get it to stop! Besides the obvious benefits of using your mobile device as a clock and alarm, it eliminates the need to wear a watch while traveling, which can make you more vulnerable to attackers or thieves. Besides, why waste money on a watch when you can put it toward a flight instead?
7. Currency Exchange Converter
Before you start out on a trip, you inevitably need to figure out how much money to bring with you. You may also want to see how your currency stacks up against that of your destination. That’s why XE Currency Converter is one of the most useful trip planner apps for travel abroad. For one thing, it is completely free and available for both Apple and Android as well as the web. It allows you to calculate the most updated currency exchange rates, and store them offline for future use. Once you are ready to convert your funds for a trip, you can use the XE Money Transfer service to do so. This way you can transfer or exchange your funds without incurring the exorbitant exchange fees charged by banks and airport outlets, which can sometimes be as high as 13%! In comparison, with this recommended path you could pay as little as 0.5% (depending on the currency).
A flashlight is one of those items that you should carry when traveling, just in case. For outdoor trips they are an absolute necessity. However, they tend to be either very bulky and cumbersome, or tiny penlights that barely work at all. Pretty much every cell phone has a built-in flashlight feature that works quite well. Or you can simply use the backlight of the screen as a backup option. We will note, however, that we still recommend a dedicated, high quality headlamp for any serious hiking and climbing.
9. Translation and Language Books
Traveling to another country immerses you in a new culture with different foods, customs and often languages. Learning a few local phrases or even studying the language properly can deepen the experience. To do so, there’s no need to purchase a load of heavy books or listening materials; everything you need can be downloaded to your cell phone.
For learning a language, there are apps like Duolingo, Babbel and Udemy. Duolingo is free of charge, user-friendly and makes learning fun and addictive by offering different levels, prizes and storing your progress. However some people find that it isn’t immediately applicable to everyday conversations. For learners with less time, Babbel is an inexpensive alternative that starts out with practical phrases and progresses with you. Both of these rely on a less structured approach to teaching (meaning learners are expected to absorb grammar and structure through immersion).
If you prefer a more organised, academic way of studying, Udemy has loads of professional language courses for speakers of all levels. While they are paid courses, they often have big discounts and many full courses can be had for under $12. Your purchases are easily accessible for learning on the go through the Udemy app.
To practice and improve, the internet offers loads of resources. You can read online newspapers, watch TV series and other videos on Youtube, etc. You can also practice speaking, writing and understanding while in transit to your destination – check out the app HelloTalk. It allows you to practice with fluent speakers via text, voice or video call, or recording, in exchange for helping them with your native language.
Once you arrive, getting around on your own has never been easier, with Google Translate’s real-time speech recognition features. It’s also capable of translating signs and menus from a photo, making transport and eating out less of an obstacle. In fact, with all the aforementioned apps, language barriers are no longer an excuse.
10. Music Player
Music can make a long bus or plane journey much easier to bear, and make it feel shorter. It’s also the perfect entertainment for hikes, freelancing work and sleeping in unfamiliar places. Long gone are the days of bulky, separate music players; now mobile phone apps dominate the scene.
Most services have free as well as a subscription-based versions. However, Spotify and Deezer only offer monthly subscriptions for their services – these include downloading songs for offline listening and creating themed playlists. On the whole, there’s not a big difference between the two, so which one you use really comes down to preference. I personally prefer Amazon Music Unlimited. The service is available to both Prime and non-Prime members. With access to tens of millions of songs on any device, it’s worth checking out the free trial.
Others services such as Soundcloud, or Youtube are primarily free to listen to online. These two tend to provide access to a wider range of musical genres and artists than the more mainstream services like Spotify. For a fee ($11.99/month), Youtube lets you download and watch videos offline using its Youtube Red service. However, this may not be ideal for regular travelers, as it currently only works in seven countries: the United States, Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kington.
In comparison, Soundcloud’s premium version – Soundcloud Go – is just $4.99 per month, allows you to listen offline, and works anywhere in the world. If you need access to 30M+ premium tracks, you might opt for Go+ ($9.99/mo). The best option for you depends on your personal music taste and how much you are willing to pay.
11. Video Player
This is closely related to the last item. However, there are enough options to warrant further discussion. Plus, this might be the only way to occupy a child on a multi-hour trip.
Just like with music, you have many choices in video platforms. Nearly all of them will stream movies or television programs, but those with offline viewing options tend to work better for travel. That way, you don’t have to worry about finding WiFi or competing with other passengers aboard a crowded plane. Therefore, we will only focus on services which allow offline viewing.
As of this writing, some of the main contenders include Netflix (nice mix of movies and television series; $10.99/mo for Standard plan), Amazon Prime Video (good overall selection; the standard annual fee includes all the benefits of Prime membership), Showtime (premium movies and series; $10.99/mo), and YouTube Red (access to all YouTube content without commercials and no ads; $11.99/mo). Be aware, some services do not allow offline viewing of all titles.
Side note: At this time, Hulu has yet to introduce their offline viewing option, but they claim to have plans to do so sometime in 2018 or 2019.
Hopefully this article has offered some inspiration for what to pack for your next trip – or rather, what not to pack. Find out how satisfying it can be to live out of a single bag on your next trip by employing some of our recommendations for the best travel apps. Suggest your own favorite apps or tell us about your experience in the comments below!
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