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dave

August 11th 2014 2:10 pm

What are the best travel apps for smartphones?



In a few weeks, we'll be leaving on an epic vacation to Southeast Asia. In the meantime, I've been searching for useful applications that will help us get around and understand things while traveling abroad. Do you have any good recommendations? Share them in the comments below!

Here's what's on our phones so far. (I apologize for the iOS centric nature of my list -- it's what we're traveling with!)
  • FlightAware (free / Android, iOS): This is handy to check on arrival times for your flights. Is that plane going to be late? Why am I sitting on the tarmac for 2 hours? What's been the average time this flight has been delayed over the last few weeks. flightaware.com­/mobile/
  • Galileo ($4 / iOS): This is a handy mapping application that allows you to download vector maps from Open Street Map data for offline use. Combined with some useful bookmarking tools, it's going to handy for navigating around strange cities and remembering interesting places that we want to see. We used it on a vacation to Europe a few years ago and found it really useful! galileo­-app.com/
  • iTranslate (Free / iOS): S̄wạs̄dī! This seems like it will be useful so that we can figure out how to say hello in interesting new languages. Or at least try to figure out what we're about to eat based on a menu item. www.itranslateapp.com/
  • Travel List ($3 / iOS): There's a lot to do between now and when we leave. This helps me build my packing list ahead of time and make sure I'm not forgetting anything important. (Oh, hey! We're going to be gone for 3 weeks and I forgot underwear and a toothbrush.) There are a number of packing list apps floating around, but for one reason or another, this is the one I ended up using. travellistapp.com/
  • TripAdvisor (free / Android, iOS): I think TripAdvisor is an incredibly valuable resource when heading out on a new adventure. It makes it easy to find (and bookmark) interesting hotels, attractions, landmarks, and whatever else you want to see on your next adventure. I do think the apps leave a bit to be desired (kind of slow and cumbersome on my iPad -- I'd rather just use the website), but they provide a way to download information for offline use. www.tripadvisor.com­/apps
What's on your phone that helps you get around abroad?

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48 replies
milpie

My three favorite iOS apps are:
- CityMaps2Go for offline, walking around town
- Tom Tom series of maps for driving
- Word Lens for on the fly translation, especially sign, restaurant menus, etc..

The key to these apps are that they're completely offline, so there's no crazy data plan charges.
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dave

I completely agree with you about the importance of travel apps having a robust offline mode. I still get a mobile data plan when I travel, but it's nice to be able to rely on certain apps not burning through my limited quota.
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erikbrits

I'm downloading CityMaps2Go right now, thanks for the tip!
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ElenaElena

Don't forget about JetRadar! apps4trip.com­/jetradar­-travel­-app.html ;)
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madisyed

i am now using youth friendly apps j.mp­/DWBNSc and
itunes.apple.com­/us­/app­/office­-togo­/id782250899­?mt...
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fujianman1

1. Nokia Maps (Here!) - nothing beats having offline maps with voice guidance when you are lost in a foreign country.
2. Nokia pro camera app - simple to use, awesome pictures.
3. Transzilla and/or Bing translate - depends which of my two phones, a 920 and a Fonepad7, carry could pickup a signal. Trust me, certain radio signals in certain countries are more compatible with one or the other.
4. Expedia and Tripadvisor - never know when you need a hotel or flight ASAP for cheap.
5. News360, Appy geek, Overdrive, and Mangasearch - reading material for those long bus rides in the middle of nowhere.
6. XE exchange - money is king, thus we need to know what the proper exchange rate should be.
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raj5151

Nice list :)
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mjdb

As milpie mentioned CityMaps2Go is excellent. You can download maps and travel guides and then use them offline, including the gps to locate yourself. The first time I was using a similar older but more limited app I couldn't believe how helpful it was to have it show you on the map where you are standing. A real step up from bulky paper maps, particularly if you aren't clear on where you are.
Skype or something similar for wifi calling obviously. When my wife and I were in SE Asia we paid a tiny fee to get calling to the US and Canada and could call landlines and cellphones for free which was great.
As a vegan HappyCow is excellent, and found us some amazing places in Europe (the app costs a couple of bucks but the website is free).
Yelp is helpful for more general recommendations of course.
A decent translating app is good; particularly something that works offline and pronounces the words for you (for tonal languages it really helps). Lonely Planet used to make some, not sure if they still do. Though as most have mentioned WordLens will be amazing when it works reliably.
Don't forget to search your relevant app store for wherever it is you are going as well. Detailed or specialized offline maps, transit maps, guided tours, etc. are all usually available and either free or cheap.
Happy travelling!
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Geoworldman

Word Lens (android): It uses your camera. When you point it at block letters, such as a sign, menu, etc... it instantly translates the text. Languages so far include English, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, etc..

Frommer's Translator (iOS/Android): The unique quality is you can speak slang and have it translated back in the local language. (Free and Paid versions)
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dave

Word Lens is great! Though I feel like it's more of a tech demo at the moment. Hoping we see some more exciting stuff from them -- they've been pretty quiet since Google acquired them.
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madisyed

i am now using youth friend apps j.mp­/DWBNSc and
itunes.apple.com­/us­/app­/office­-togo­/id782250899­?mt...
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jovy1234

these apps were very useful before and during our travel:

tripit travel organizer- it organizes all your flight bookings, hotel bookings, and other itineraries, you can allow access to your email and it automatically adds it to its own list of itineraries coming up very useful for a comprehensive travel.

sygic offline gps navigation- very useful offline maps for most of the countries, but i used it on my 1 month travel around the USA, east coast.

tripadvisor- for reviews of restaurants and hotels.

goodluck with your travel
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kris

I second TripIt, which I've found incredibly useful for aggregating all the info I used to have to pull out of my email (or print outs).
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wildta

For Android:
  • F2C: convert Fahrenheit to Celsius or vice versa
  • Boingo Wi-finder: Boingo hotspot finder
  • Field Trip: Google app that tells you nearby historical markers, tourist sites, etc.
  • GasBuddy: Finding gas stations in an unknown area
  • Hotel Tonight: Last minute hotel deals
  • Lyft
  • Uber
  • OnTheFly: Search for flights using ITA Software now owned by Google. This is by far the best flight search engine. Really nice when you need to reschedule a flight.
  • TripIt: Forward your hotel, car rental, flight confirmations from your inbox to TripIt@tripit.com and TripIt will create an itinerary for you for easy access from the app.
  • Google Translate
  • Opentable: Reserving restaurant tables
  • World Clock
  • XE Exchange: Currency exchange rate
  • Yelp: user reviews for restaurants, stores, sites, etc.
  • Before I head to a destination, I look at the Play Store for any relevant tourist apps for that city.
  • Before I head to a city, I download the Google Maps for offline use. Helps save on data roaming as well as just making it convenient--faster load times.
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madisyed

i am now using youth friend apps j.mp­/DWBNSc and
itunes.apple.com­/us­/app­/office­-togo­/id782250899­?mt...
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frankspin

Going to make a suggestion that is a bit against the grain here and recommend you get DayOne and Launch Center Pro. Launch Center Pro now works with IFTTT and you can configure different triggers to create entries inside of DayOne to journal the trip. For example I have one for any time I post to Instagram with the tag #dayone it will create the entry with a link to the image. There are so many creative ways to make this work, and DayOne has a Publish feature too so you can easily share the entry with FB or Twitter if you want to journal the whole day.
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s7a8m

1. Maps.me (lite or pro for iphone) - I used it during my last trip in Japan - Awesome!
2. Manga Rock - You can download on your phone the last chapters of your favourite Manga and read it during the flight
3. Kindle - always on my phone!
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dave

MapsMe looks interesting. Similar feature set to Galileo -- I bet they're also using OSM data as well. Their export / import of bookmarks and KML files seems to be key though! I know I can export data from Galileo, but not sure if I can import data (it'd be much easier to bookmark a bunch of places in Google Earth and export that file to my phone).

Has anyone tried Google Maps offline mode (where you type in "OK Maps" and it downloads the current view)?
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Geoworldman

Yes, It works fine. Also on Android you swipe the map upwards and get a dialog box saying, "Save Offline".
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beachminter

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letsplaychicken

I find Navfree to be the best free offline maps app on Android with turn by turn navigation. Offline maps are the way to go when overseas as otherwise you will burn through data.
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mastarmark

1. Be sure to unlock your phone before travelling abroad if possible. I would also recommend a $60/month international plan through StraightTalk.
2. WhatsApp (free / Andriod, iOS) be sure to verify in your country before travelling. Wifi texting, sharing location is also helpful. Most countries us WhatsApps for texting.
3. Viber (free / Andriod, iOS) Wifi calling.
4. TripIt (free / Android, iOS) Itinerary list. Can do a free 30 day trial of the Pro which is nice. Auto updates plane reservation changes.
5. Google Translate
6. Tinder (free / Android, iOS) Meet up with local peeps (at public spots) and have fun.
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slidvendetta

Navigon - Offline maps, save the ones you need. So many useful features.
https:­/­/play.google.com­/store­/apps­/details­?id­=com....
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xionn

MapFactor: GPS - FREE ability to download and store maps locally on your phone. This is absolutely ideal for driving in countries where you do not have data. Not the best app interface but is free and has open source maps for anywhere in the world. Has been great for Costa Rica, Spain, UK, Canada, Mexico, among others.

I also like Stitcher for offline mode podcasts
TripAdvisor city guides are great too
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dave

I'm kind of surprised no one has mentioned either Foursquare or Yelp. Are those apps not entirely useful when traveling abroad? I use them all the time here in the Bay Area -- but I wonder if their utility is a bit more limited in some place like Hong Kong or Hanoi?
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EngVagabond

I use Foursquare and yelp all the time. I've been traveling for the last 7 months and we check in everywhere we go. It's been really useful having all of my checkins on my calendar. Not just to be able to journal where we went, but also to give recommendations when people ask in the future and being able to remember. Also, on more than one occasion I've had to call my bank about a weird charge and been glad that I could go look at my calendar to know exactly where I went that day that might have charged my card.

Yelp is a little more hit or miss, in Europe very few things seem to be reviewed. When I was in Australia and the east coast of America, almost every restaurant seemed to be on there so it was easy to get plenty of recommendations.
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xionn

Both require Data. TripAdvisor is used much more extensively in Europe than Yelp!
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kris

Yelp doesn't cover every single country. Foursquare does, so we relied on it heavily when we were in Tokyo last November, and found some great restaurants through it. (Yelp launched in Japan this past April)

I haven't used Foursquare on a trip since they retooled, so I don't know how helpful it is abroad. I'm not a big fan of the changes locally, since it doesn't seem to be very good between distinguishing between local and tourist activity.

I hate that they gamified the tips instead of check-ins.
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milpie

There's no Yelp (that I know of) for Hong Kong. I used OpenRice. But I'm weary of apps that aren't offline or have offline caching capabilities when I travel abroad, as my data plans are very limited and I tend to save that for chat apps (WhatsApp, iMessage, etc..) I think to be a useful/successful travel app, it needs to be able to cache a portion of the data for offline access.
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EngVagabond

I've been traveling for the last few months and really enjoy hanging out with someone I know in a place that I don't.

wherethey.at (free) has shown me my friends who I never would have known are traveling too, or live near me.

I went to Tokyo a few months ago with a friend and he used it and found out that one of his friends from high school was living in Tokyo and we got to stay at his place for a few days and were shown around. We had another friend that was in Tokyo for 24 hours and had no idea that we were there, but WhereTheyAt told us.
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ronlap

WeChat - Wi-Fi / Cellular app that uses data for chatting and SMS
Navigon - With offline maps, this is the fastest way to see how to get from A to B.
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Torontopoly

KnowRoaming - A small sticker on your sim + this app gives you exponentially better rates on calls, text, and data abroad. You can even purchase foreign phone numbers for $3/month.
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jiripavelec

1) offline Sygic
2) offline Triposo
3) offline Google translator

Google Maps are almost useless
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Rilee

I second the vote for Triposo. It does really nice 'city walks' that you can tailor by distance you're willing to walk. It adjusts the sights that are recommended automatically as you do this. Good stuff. Not sure if this feature requires a data plan, however...
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madisyed

i am now using friendly apps j.mp­/DWBNSc and
itunes.apple.com­/us­/app­/office­-togo­/id782250899­?mt...
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erikbrits

I'll give you a clue as to my typical travel itinerary by leading with this app:
Phone Ranger App (www.phonerangerapp.com/)

TL;DR:
  1. Phone Ranger
  2. Instagram
  3. Tripadvisor
  4. Google Search
  5. Google Chrome
That looks simple enough... so why is there a thesis as a footer? Well, where I travel, we're as interested in whether the destinations will have lions as we are in whether it will have a pizza joint, and cellphone signal is a luxury, not a given. So, given that I really don't want to reformat 100 listings on my site right now, I thought I'd give you guys some insights into tech in Africa (we have a thriving tech scene, btw - dunno how much of our news makes it across the pond?)

So... I need apps that are both useful without data, and capable of 'checking in' on connections that are both slow and have a high incidence of dropped packets. Don't believe anything South African providers say about mobile network quality :-)

My no. 1 'travel' app as someone who works in Southern African tourism is a way to share my photos with the world.

I'm a big fan of Instagram (@nightjartravel) but have emotional hangups about the fact that when there's no signal, the app says 'failed - retry?' instead of 'no connection - retry'. It sounds ridiculous, but given how often I have connections genuinely failing on me, having it printed on your screen is annoying - especially when the actual functionality is "image cached, retry when you have data". Flickr's wifi autosync is pretty cool, but I don't like that the "lazy workflow" ends up with the original and edited photos syncing to my account when I have wifi, and me having to remember to go and sort 'em.

My no. 2 priority is finding new things to see / do and places to stay. Southern Africa tends to not be as geographically compact as Europe of the urban areas of the US (having roadtripped across the Mid West, I know the States has just as much 'geography' as us down here!), so you're not often in a position where an app that offers "pitch up and we'll tell you what to do!" services is useful. The reality down here is that you will almost certainly not 'pitch up' without having preplanned for activity x or y, because the distances involved are just large enough that you can't easily change plans once you've arrived (not saying things are lightyears apart, but you wouldn't rock up in Joburg's Arts on Main district and then walk over to Monte Casino's Bird Gardens on a whim - just too far to be pleasant). So from my perspective, and it's like that for a lot of tech users down here, I need an app that makes pre-planning easy - and given that most of that still happens on laptops down here (we have a ballooning smartphone / tablet market but it is still far from the preferred device), I have yet to find an app that offers better functionality than just going to the source content website. We actually keep oscillating between building an app for our own online guidebook or not for exactly that reason (startup: tight budget so it's Got to be worth it) - we're still not convinced it will offer more value than the site itself for a target market that still prefers to work on a laptop. So, what do I use??

Well, good old Tripadvisor still has the largest database - but it comes with a major limitation in my region: data quality. We simply do not have a large enough technosavvy population with enough income for leisure travel to be able to properly populate a crowdsourced app. Thus, Tripadvisor is great for sussing out the big things - anything with more than say 30 or 50 reviews, but the data quality on the smaller / more niche stuff is poor. This being a structural issue with our demography rather than a tech-related issue, the competing providers aren't in a better situation. As primitive as this sounds, your best bet is to sit with Google (call me old fashioned but I do like the Google search app on my iPad, but I suppose the site works just as well :-P ) And suddenly loop back to (1) 'social networks' are really useful for discovering new things to explore, given that the alternative (dedicated tourism apps) dont have enough data - I pick up a lot of good leads on Instagram! It does help that S.A. in particula has a very active Instagram community, and we're all about the hashtag.

As for note taking - packing lists, itineraries, blogs while I'm on the road, I love Evernote. I suppose there are other apps that offer the same functionality, but I was happy with Evernote from the start so haven't really explored the scene - I like that the syncing is cross-platform and you can pick up where you left off, and i like that I can forward emails with itinerary notifications, and I like that I can web clip all of the things. Really though, I just like that the stuff magically appears on my other devices.

Finally, I used Strut like a man obsessed - held the no.1 spot in South Africa until I bust my iPhone :-) This was not useful For travelling in any way, but very rewarding after Having travelled, being able to see my little lines scribbled like graffiti all over the country!
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Ememe

Tripomatic works with my Android phone, does what Galileo does, and is free.
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ted3360

The apps I found most useful during my travel to Vietnam are apps that helps me with logistics and planning.

1) Google maps: Came in really handy in helping us find attractions when we rented a scooter on the trip. In addition, we used Google maps to keep the taxi drivers honest about the route they are taking. A friend on the trip got driven in a loop around Hanoi by the taxi driver so he can get a higher fare.

2) Savvy Calls: VoIP calling app like Savvy Calls that can call landline and mobile phones. The app came in really handy for booking local tours, last minute hotel reservation changes, etc. The good think the pricing is transparent and since it's prepaid you know how much it cost going in.

www.savvycalls.com/

3) Instagram or other camera app. Sometimes carrying a camera, even a point and shoot, is either cumbersome or marks you as a novice tourist. I found myself leaving my dslr in my hotel and taking pics with my cell phone.

Safe and happy travels!
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Barbora

I'd recommend these apps:
- Tripomatic for making your personal travel guide
- Skypicker for finding cheap flights with low cost airlines (however I'm not sure how it works outside Europe)
- Tripit for handling confirmation emails
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Gomesakira

Already a Good Collection of App on this Thread. Mine are below:

Touchnote:This app-cum-print-service allows you to hark back to the analogue era by creating and sending physical cards bearing your own travel snaps and text to anywhere in the world, for a thoroughly reasonable £1.49 a pop. www.touchnote.com­/mobile

Wi-Fi Finder: With data roaming charges still laughably high, knowing where to find a decent wi-fi hotspot is essential if you’re to keep the twitterati up to date with details of your latest sojourn. simply fire up this handy app and follow directions to your nearest source of wireless internet. Best of all, the offline mode means you can download maps before you go, thereby dodging a massive bill. Available on iPhone (free), iPad (free) and Android (free)

Location Alerts: To schedule calls, texts and voice/text alerts based on location this can be quite an handy app for someone who is away from home. suppose you are visiting an area and want to alert your friend living midway through a text about your presence in that area, simply schedule a message. it will be automatically delivered whenever you will reach nearby your friends location. locationalerts.appsicum.com/
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ElenaElena

I used metro maps such as MetrO apps4trip.com­/metro­-travel­-ap.html I think it's important to have the subway scheme on your phone. Also Photo Translator Free apps4trip.com­/photo­-translator­-free­-travel­-app.htm... and just everything from this website actually, it was made for travelers.
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Moteoeons

There are NO apps that are useful while abroad, at least in Europe, because of the prohibitive, obfuscated and nasty roaming charges that exist. Anyone using their mobile phone or device abroad does so at their financial peril because of the draconian roaming charges and that is even before one considers data !
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Geoworldman

Global data plan from your local provider, such as Verizon doesn't have extra roaming charge fees
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milpie

wrong.. some offline maps and translator are quite useful.
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dave

Eh, I don't agree. If you read my original post up above, there are some great mapping applications that can cache offline data. Some translators as well. Maybe there's some handy app to find free WiFi? ;)
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kris

I didn't incur roaming charges in Japan because I'm a T-Mobile customer, which has "unlimited international data & text" baked into their basic plan.
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Tofolux

Value for iPhone. I use it to for travel budgets and check my travel expenses.
It's really handy. Download - https:­/­/itunes.apple.com­/app­/value­-personal­-financ... Website - getvalueapp.com
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