The Internet is rife with posts touting the best travel apps out there, but every time I click on one of these articles, I find myself rolling my eyes when there’s yet another inclusion of Yelp, Google Maps, or some very well known travel app out there. If you find yourself in the same boat, fear not! This article is based on my current travels through Eastern Europe, which have unveiled several handy FREE travel apps that I really hadn’t used much (or in some cases even heard of) until this trip.
Before we jump into the good stuff, I have to give a big shout out to the T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan that offers you unlimited data and texting in 140+ countries at no extra charge. Calls are just 20-cents per minute, but you can get around this by doing free video calls via Google Hangouts or Skype. This low cost plan effectively lets you use your phone as you normally do when you’re traveling abroad, which continues to blow my mind after years of dealing with calling cards and international phones. While some travelers may prefer to not be connected while on the road, many will find it tough to travel without this phone plan once experiencing the transformative power to fully use mobile travel apps abroad without worrying about roaming fees.
Best Free Travel Apps
1. Google Now
Today there are a plethora of apps aiming to be your intelligent personal assistant, but many are third party apps requiring maintenance of yet another account and password. If you’re the owner of a relatively recent Android phone, you’ll find a better alternative in Google Now. While this personal assistant app first launched in primitive form in July 2012, it has made significant strides over the years and surprised me on this current European trip with how handy and truly intelligent it has become. Sorting through my emails and detecting my location via GPS, my mobile phone’s Google Now widget shows me my upcoming travel itinerary, the weather and currency exchanges in my current location, and even some handy phrases and words via Google Translate. That is truly an indication of a real smart phone!
2. Google Translate (formerly World Lens)
Speaking of Google Translate, this is another must-have travel app, and not just for the language dictionary. The main feature of this app that I use over and over again without fail is the camera text translation feature that was formerly offered by standalone app World Lens before it was acquired by Google. This seriously sci-fi app uses your phone’s camera to read a foreign language and literally translate it before your very eyes. While it may not be helpful for conversations, it’s incredibly useful when shopping, browsing restaurant menus, or translating guides or written pieces. Note that in most cases, you’ll need to download a rather large dictionary file for each language you want to translate, so you’ll want to be close to high speed WiFi before fully using this app.
I can’t imagine a world without Google Maps. From navigating around my own state to exploring new roads in other countries, this app has saved me more times than I can count. But when traveling abroad or in an area with spotty Internet service, Google Maps is notoriously unreliable. Enter Maps.me! Functioning similarly to Google Maps, but without requiring an internet connection, Maps.me gives you high level detail of all countries and cities around the world. Helpful for both navigation and discovering new points of interest, this app can function even when your phone is on Airplane mode, helping save your phone’s battery and mobile data usage for when you really need it. Similar to Google Translate, you’ll need to use your data or WiFi internet to download a map file for each country before fully using this app.
This is a handy app with a sad story. I discovered this app while scrolling through Scott Dinsmore’s website upon first learning that he had tragically passed away on the tail end of a his around the world trip. That in itself is a topic worthy of its own blog post, but for now, discovery of an app like Touchnote is one of many reasons why Scott was one of my personal heroes. This sweet, simple app allows you to send printed, personalized postcards and greeting cards to anyone anywhere using photos straight off your camera phone or PC. As someone who regularly struggles to find postage stamps let alone a piece of paper and pen to write on, this app has become a star favorite for keeping in touch with my friends and relatives who prefer snail mail communications.
I have to admit, I’m still not a 100% advocate of this app yet, but the idea of it intrigues me. Ingress is a multiplayer online game for Android and Apple mobile devices with a focus on location-based augmented reality. Based on my brief time using it, Ingress is like The Matrix meets Geocaching (another cool, recommended travel app) in that the whole objective is to travel around the world to capture portals at places of significance; it’s this latter part that intrigues me, as it’s an interesting way to augment your travels and potentially discover new places while also playing a sci-fi video game. It’s apparently pretty big among Martin’s friends here in Bulgaria. While I’m not hardcore into it and doubt that I will ever become fully immersed, it’s an interesting concept that other travelers might find fun and engaging.
Over To You
Have you used any of these travel apps, or have any essential apps of your own that you use a lot when traveling? Let me know in the comments below.