Our top travel apps

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Travel Apps to help you on the road

More people are embarking on their own DIY travel adventures than ever before, as the world gets smaller, we become more dependent on technology to help us navigate and organise our lives.

If I were ever asked, 'who is your dream travel buddy?' I would of course answer, my travel-life partner of almost 2 years. Although, he probably couldn't tell me the fastest and cheapest route to take to get from Geongju to Seoul! Cue... smartphone.

There are literally millions of apps that are designed to aid and enhance your travel, but few travellers have the time to sift through all of them. We have tested many apps and have narrowed it down to a few of our favourite apps that have served us well during our travels.

Getting Around Apps

Google Maps

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So were not breaking new ground with this one, unless you've been living in a cave for the last 15 years, we're pretty sure most of you have heard of Google. But for those Gmail account holders who may not be in-the-know, we have great recommendations for some of the nifty additional features you could be using.

This app has features that enable you to put digital markers on locations on the map. Covering your living room walls with giant maps and coloured dot stickers in places you've visited/would like visit are a thing of the past. So now, you don't need to keep notebooks with endless lists of travel recommendations, you can go into your google maps app and add them instantly.

In order to access this feature, you'll need to have a Gmail account (it's free). Once you have it, you can search for anything in google maps and then save it. You can even make different categories/colours of the places you'd like to mark. You can also share your lists with other google users (so I can see my partners 'Want to Go' markers and he can see mine).

Pro Tip: Download offline areas that you're travelling in to your phone for use when you don't have access to the internet. With offline access you can still get from A to B by seeing your position in the map even if you don't have all the map details or turn by turn navigation.

Rome2Rio

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Rome2Rio is a journey planning app designed to find your route from A to B. They'll give you a list of suggested route plans with estimated prices. It will search for trains, buses, ferries, taxis and air routes to give you a myriad of choices.

We have been pleasantly surprised at how comprehensive it is and it has been able to help us plan our journeys in places that we didn't think the app would be capable of.

Lyft/Grab/Uber

By now most of us have Uber installed on our phones. But for travellers outside of a major city it's quite possible none of these ride hailing apps have ever been installed. Yes, Uber is the big bad of these options and frankly we try to avoid using them because of the many bad things the company has done and not done.

Lyft is a great alternative to Uber in the US and is slowly expanding internationally. When you're in Asia Grab is the without a doubt the best option. And since Grab just won the war with Uber in Southeast Asia it's really the only option.

With Grab there's no more haggling with drivers who want to charge you 10x the local price. You get the local price. And they've even expanded to providing moto-taxi service, delivering food, you name it.But for the rest of the world you will sometimes need to use Uber. But it can beat trying to sort out a ride from the airport when you've just landed with heavy bags, heavier bags under your eyes, and don't want to play "find the hotel" in a language you don't speak.

Security Apps

Safety is a priority for all travellers, especially when it comes to your phone. A stolen phone is potentially a key to our bank accounts, social media accounts, personal details and even our location.

Here are a few tips to help keep the contents of your phone safe.

LastPass

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We all have tons of usernames, passwords, account numbers, reference numbers, customer service numbers and even paperwork that we need to have access to while we travel. LastPass is a fully integrated password manager that allows you to store all of login details, photos of important documents and even generate highly secure passwords if you ever need them.

I was always the person who had to go through the 'Forgot Password' process to get into an account. I found myself trying to remember hundreds of login details for different websites, such as airlines, online shopping websites, banking apps and other random subscriptions. This becomes a challenge to manage, particularly when you're travelling and you need to access websites quickly.

You may also find yourself needing to travel with insurance paperwork, visa documentation, copies of your passport and bank details (it's also handy for adding copies of other documentation like employment contracts, degree certificates and apartment leases, etc).

LastPass has a section that allows you to save photos of such documents so you can access anytime from your smartphone.All you have to do is download the app and register an account (it's free), once you have a 'Master Password' you're all set to begin adding all of the login details for the websites you're registered to.

VPNs

With sky-high roaming and data charges abroad, many hostels, hotels, cafes and restaurants offer complimentary wifi networks for their customers to surf freely. While this is highly convenient, this can also pose a risk to your online security.

The level of security on these open networks is controlled entirely by the those that are supplying it.  So it's likely that your friendly hostel owner is an easy target and not likely to know if their wifi network has been compromised. The VPN essentially acts as your own private connection to the internet by disguising your location and encrypting the traffic to/from your phone, which makes it a whole lot safer for you to access your sensitive information on the web (bank accounts etc).

You may have also fallen victim to the bank account lockouts while travelling, this is because your bank account provider has detected that your account is being accessed from some random country and assumes that you're being hacked. Many of the VPNs out there will allow you to select your home country, so when you log into your online banking, it won't detect that you're out of the country. This is also great for watching TV shows and movies on your favourite media sites. You'll be surprised how many of the greatest Netflix shows aren't available to view if you're outside of the US.For the basic function of encrypting traffic there are many free options and we've found Turbo VPN to be reliable.

However, if you want more advanced features, like country selection, unlimited bandwidth, we rely on the paid service from NordVPN.

Google Photos (for backing up photos)

If you have an iCloud account chances are your photos are already being backed up, however we have discovered that even Apple's iCloud can have issues. So we have a back-up for our back-ups!

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If you have a Gmail account you can download the Google Photos app and use this as another way to back-up your photos. They also have cool animation and filter features which allow you to make fun edits to your photos.If you agree to high resolution photos then storage is free and unlimited.

If you want the full resolution photos then you'll be using your allocated Google storage and will likely have to start paying for extra space.If you're using an Android phone then you're already using Google Photos!

Personal Organisation Apps

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Travelling on a budget, or just trying to keep an eye on your spending? After testing a number of apps, I have found that this app is the most versatile and reliable when it comes to budget tracking.

We have used this app mostly to input data from receipts, this data is then saved in the app and it calculates your total spend against previously saved monthly budgets. This app also scans receipts, allows you to assign receipts to individuals and you can have more than one user for one account.

While it is one of the few apps we pay for, it's less than $1 a month and has been critical to helping us manage our budget during our travels!

Google 'Keep'

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Do you have a packing checklist? Or a list of 'must dos' on your trip? A nice app for this is Google Keep. It enables you to keep multiple To Do/Checklists which are accessible on your phone and can be shared with others. When you check something off the list, it updates other connected users in real time. 

Translation Apps

Google Translate

Translation apps are incredibly helpful when travelling abroad, particularly when they can create a written translation for something spoken in a foreign language. Google translate doesn't have every language but it is pretty comprehensive for a translation app. For the most common languages it even has the ability to use the camera and translate what it sees in real-time. Often helpful for reading menus!

Pro Tip: Remember to download languages offline so many common translations are still accessible when you don't have internet access.

IHG Translator

This app has reams of information on the culture, history and travel tips for the different countries around the world. They make for interesting reads when you're waiting in the airport or riding in a taxi. Always helps to get some background info and learn some of the basics like "hello," "thank you," and "how much?" Though you will need an account with the Intercontinental Hotel Group (free).

Pro Tip: Download country information to your phone for use when you don't have access to the internet.

XE Currency

For many travellers the ability to adapt is key, particularly when you find yourself in different countries from one week to the next. Ensuring that we've remembered all of our gear can sometimes be a challenge on the road, imagine also attempting to recall the exchange rate for each country you're in.

The XE Currency is a money conversion app that allows you to save a maximum of 10 currencies on the app's main page (you can swap and change these at any point). These conversions are updated in real-time and it even allows you to track the changes in the rate over recent weeks/months. Plus, the app is free to download and super easy to use.

Other cool apps

Pocket

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Pocket is a mobile app that allows you to save online articles to your phone, so you can read them later.

Specifically, you can download the articles so you can still view them even when you're not connected to 3G/4G or Wifi.It's really easy to use, just download the app,  create an account (it's free) and start saving articles. It is also great for those lengthy periods without access to the internet, such as long-haul flights (see Surviving a Long-Haul Flight 101). 

As you travel around the world, you may find that there are country-specific apps. It's always best to speak to locals to find out what the best food delivery, shopping, transport and travel booking apps. These apps have been really helpful throughout our travels and we haven't found any newer apps to replace them that quite hit the mark.