I have selected ten of the best free travel apps, which are particularly useful for solo travellers and those on a tight budget. If you have any suggested additions, let me know in the comments below.
Knowing a few phrases in the local language is a basic courtesy. Not only does it generally endear you to your host country, but makes a world of difference to your ability to integrate.
The mother of all language apps, Google Translate, has recently introduced offline functionality. This offers you the ability to download language packages in 52 languages for offline use, which take up only 25mb each. Just open the translate app and tap the arrow next to the language you want to download.
As an offline replacement for Google maps, Maps.me is invaluable. This app allows you to use WiFi to download whole countries in advance, which you can then consult on-the-go without an internet connection.
It also offers offline route-finding, and so can also be used as a sat nav, or to find hostels, cafes and other facilities nearby. I found this invaluable while exploring by rental motorcycle in southeast Asia.
More than just a way of finding a sofa for the night, Couchsurfing offers the opportunity to find friends, meet locals, and delve deeper into the culture. It allows you to stay with locals rather than at hostels where social activities tend to revolve around fellow travellers.
If you are feeling lonely then the new ‘hangout’ feature is particularly useful. This allows you to make yourself available to be contacted by other couchsurfers, with a specific activity in mind like having a meal. Bear in mind this is unlikely to be useful if you are travelling away from large towns and cities.
Citymapper forms an ideal partner to maps.me, but is more focussed on allowing you to use public transport to get you from A to B as quickly and cheaply as possible.
This includes information on subway, bus, rail, ferry, bike/car sharing and Uber. It compares these different transport options to let you choose the most efficient option from your current location to chosen destination.
This is quite a new app and has been widely acclaimed, however it is only currently available in around 40 cities.
Virtual banking operators like Monzo and Revolut represent a very economical way to spend money abroad.
Simply top up the app on your phone using a debit card or bank transfer, and then withdraw or spend as if it was a local card. That is, without any additional charges as might be levied by more traditional banks.
Be aware that these cards cannot exempt you from local bank charges, and ATM fees but are still a great option for carrying money abroad. Please note that at the moment Monzo is only available to UK residents.
This app is useful because it enables you to automatically backup your photos as you go, anytime that you connect to WiFi. Just make sure that you have the ‘backup and sync’ function enabled, which can be found in the settings menu.
On your return, you can then easily create an album of your travels, stored safely in the cloud. This can alsohich can easily be shared with anyone who might be interested.
As a bonus, the app will also automagically create animations, collages, and short movies from groups of related photos.
When you first enter a country it can be hard to get a sense of the value of the currency. This is usually just simple mental maths, and will come naturally after a few days, but until then it can be handy to have an app. This is especiall useful if you are in a place which is notorious for ripping tourists off.
A quick, accurate conversion can help you get a sense of the actual value of a product or service, rather than just an arbitrary number. The XE Currency Converter is a popular choice that is very easy to use.
Not just for hookups, this can be used to meet all kinds of interesting people as you go. Swipe yourself a local tour guide or language partner.
Uber is operational in over eighty countries worldwide, and grab taxi available across southeast Asia. For many these services represent a more trustworthy alternative to local taxis, whether or not that is actually the case.
The final item on the list varies depending on your location. This is a local Wifi app. Many cities around the world offer free local Wifi hotspots, but often they require a laborious sign in process.
You can avoid this by downloading an app to automatically connect to available hotspots. This is very helpful if you are on a budget and want to minimise data usage.
In Singapore the app is ‘wireless@SG’, and in the UK it is ‘Cloud fastconnect’. Equivalent apps exist in cities and countries across the globe.
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