Travel apps managed many aspects of our life of full-time travel, and we want to share with you the best ones we used regularly. These were critical in figuring out where we would stay next, how to get there, and what we wanted to see. They kept us on a budget and helped us find deals on flights. We even made friends on them and found entertainment on long layovers in airports. With so many apps out there, we have narrowed down the list to just the best.
Flights are the most expensive part of any international trip, and it is good to have a few apps handy to find the best deals. Narrowing down the list, we have our top three: Skyscanner, Momondo, and Fareboom. With each of these, we set alerts for each destination and find the least expensive days to fly. Many times we will start with something like Google Flights and then compare our options with these three apps to find the best deals. Even for the same destination and date, we found the prices to be drastically different between apps. We balance the price with the time in the air to find where we are most comfortable and then book it.
Skyscanner has a flexible calendar that is excellent for browsing all possible date combinations. It has the ability to look at fares for a city or an entire country to show the lowest prices. We are always looking for the lowest cost entry point to a new country. This app allows us to find those destinations easily and make better decisions.
Momondo breaks flight searches into the categories “best,” “quickest,” and “cheapest” flight options. The selection “best” compares the price of the flight vs how long it takes us to get there, and it comes up with a balance between the two. It also has a bar graph that allows us to see if there are cheaper flights on alternate dates. We like this site because it is easy to use and provides good flexibility in searching.
Fareboom will find flight options that may have longer routes, but can be very inexpensive. The app will find the absolute lowest prices available between destinations. It includes a handy flight map showing the cheapest prices around the world. Just know your threshold for pain as we found some ridiculous routes that didn’t make any sense.
We like all three apps for different reasons, but our favorite is Skyscanner. Being able to browse the various date combinations helps us determine where we are going next affordably and painlessly. We can even select “everywhere” as a destination and see where it takes us.
Ground transportation is sometimes difficult to arrange or understand between cities. Luckily there are some apps out there to help us find how to get to our next destination. Our absolute favorite is Rome2Rio. With this app we have the options to select train, bus, rideshare, and flight. After making the selection, we then choose the time we want to leave and the carrier with the best price. The app takes a lot of the pain out of searching the internet by having most of the options easily available for booking. However, there are occasions where the app is insufficient and local apps may be more helpful. This will be apparent when there is no option to get somewhere or the price is ridiculous.
Within cities, we sometimes need to get around fast, especially when we need to get to an airport. That is when we use Uber. In some countries, Uber is inexpensive and worth a few extra bucks to get somewhere. Unfortunately, it is not legal in all cities. In some places, they operate off the grid because the governments favor taxi companies. In those cases, we still use them but don’t broadcast that we used an Uber if officials ask. We tell them that a friend dropped us off. Uber is definitely useful when we have bags to carry that are awkward to bring on a bus or train.
To find our way around a new city, we usually use Google Maps or Waze. Depending on where we are, one may be better than the other. Google Maps allows us to see routes for different modes of transportation, and sometimes includes schedules for local transport. It also gives approximate walking times so we can determine if it makes better sense to walk. The downside is we have been on many “Google adventures” where we went down alleyways or dead-end roads. It is important to use common sense to avoid these situations.
Waze is only for driving and could be a better option depending on where we are located. It has more advanced details such as the best time to leave, and the ability to share location details with friends. Users can also report accidents with details in the app. The look and feel of the app is better for driving and it even shows driving speed.
When we travel, we try to get free or low-cost lodging as often as possible. There are many programs we use, and alternatives for when we are in a pinch. Our favorite app by far is Trusted Housesitters, where we watch someone’s pets for free lodging, usually for a few days or weeks. The longest stay we secured was for over a month, so the times can vary greatly.
Couchsurfing is our second favorite app where we are hosted by locals for somewhat free. It is an expectation that we cook a meal or two, and treat our host. That one is better for cultural exchange and living like a local. It even has options to create events or hangout with locals. Both of these cost money to join, but more than pay for themselves with even one stay. When these options don’t work out, we have some pay-per-night options.
If we can’t find something free, we go for Airbnb for a house or room, or we get a hotel using Booking.com. These are great in a pinch or if we need to stay near the airport for an early morning flight. As a couple, we aren’t as big on hostels, because they are more expensive for two people. However, we found Hostelworld is an excellent resource for finding hostels in any city.
For lengthy bus rides, flights, or a rainy day, we like to have some entertainment apps handy. Our favorite at home and abroad is Netflix. It has a wonderful variety of content and we can download shows or movies onto our devices so we don’t have to rely on internet connections. After Netflix, we use Amazon Prime Video and HBO Max. With those three, we can watch just about anything we want. They are subscription-based, so we only use what we can afford. YouTube is also helpful for travel inspiration and learning about our next destinations.
Some game apps we like on the road are 2048 and Pokemon GO. 2048 is a puzzle game with the objective of sliding numbered tiles on a grid to combine and get to 2048. This is a good one to work the grey-matter a bit and take a break from the video content.
Pokemon Go is a location-based augmented reality game where we collect Pokemon, battle in gyms, and increase our skill level. We like it because it gets us out of the house and walking around in whichever city we’re in.
While we keep paper copies of our important documents, we also like to have a backup in case our bags are stolen and we need to get replacements. Before leaving on our trip, we scanned digital copies of our passports, vaccines, and travel insurance. We then saved them online with Google Drive. To access the documents easily on our phones, we downloaded the app. Google also has a photo app to back up the photos we take on our phones. So if someone steals our phones, we won’t lose all of those precious memories.
When traveling, we may have times where reading signs, deciphering menus, or conversing becomes difficult. With Google Translate, we can do all of those things. We open the app, input the language we are translating, and hold the camera over the text to read it in English. We can even talk into it and have it translate to another language in real time. If we have poor service, we can download the languages we need onto our phones in the app, so we can use the app offline. Google Translate isn’t perfect, but we usually get the gist of the translations.
The best thing to do before arriving in an unfamiliar country is to learn some key phrases. We use the Duolingo app, which gamifies learning languages. Not only did we learn how to read words in a new language, but we also heard the pronunciation. Similar to Google Translate, there is a possibility to download lessons with the premium version for a fee.
We met many friends while traveling, and we wanted an effective way to communicate without having to rely on cellular. WhatsApp works well on WiFi and has been critical to keeping in touch with our family and our friends. It has a texting feature and can also make voice and video calls. One key feature we like is the ability to create groups with our friends so we can all stay in touch together and we leave no one out. Lastly, it is cross-platform, and includes a desktop version so we can type instead of text. Whenever we have a Couchsurfing stay, or a house sit; the first thing we do is set up a group chat.
There are some other similar apps that are more popular in other parts of the world. In Asia, they commonly use the app Line, especially in Japan. We haven’t used it much yet, but it has all the same features as WhatsApp and its user base is growing fast.
On such a lengthy trip, it is important to keep track of our expenses. We had a daily budget of about $100 that we wanted to carefully manage. Luckily there are many apps for that, and we definitely debated quite a few before making a decision. Our favorite is Trail Wallet even though it has a few quirks. In the app, we set a daily budget and tracked all of our expenses by category. Everything from food, transportation, activities, and travel insurance could easily be categorized and applied to the trip. It is a perfect way to monitor our spending and make sure we are staying on target. This app is only for Apple iOS, so we included a popular one for Android devices that is also made for travelers.
VPN for Data Protection
While abroad, we rely heavily on WiFi, and many times we are on open public networks. Especially when we want to check bank balances, we don’t want anyone stealing our information. This is where a good VPN comes in. We use NordVPN which has servers all over the world and is one of the fastest VPNs we have tried. It is subscription-based, and the pricing is reasonable.
We recommend having a backup VPN in case it isn’t working well. We also use Tunnel Bear. which is good in a pinch if the other is not working. It has a free version with a limited amount of data use.
There is an added bonus to having a VPN: changing the location of your IP address. This is handy when we want to watch a Netflix show and we are in a region that does not have access to the show. We would just set the VPN to United States, and regain access to the shows we typically watch. It also works with flight bookings, as flights can be cheaper depending on which country you are in.
Bonus: for fun
On our trip, we wanted to document each day of our travels. There is an app called 1 Second Everyday (1SE) where we can choose a photo from our phones, and then put in a journal entry of what happened that day. Also, the app has a feature to combine all the seconds into a short video based on your specified timeframe. It is so much fun playing back the memories.
Finding destination specific apps
Many cities have their own apps specific to their local transportation and tourism that are more sophisticated than worldwide apps. We would always look to see if there is a local transportation app, or activities app so we could get more reliable information. Sometimes a local tourism board is a wonderful resource to find out what apps the locals use. There will not always be an English option for every app, but that is when we use our translation app if it isn’t intuitive.
When choosing apps for travel, there are many options out there. The most important thing is finding what works best. Developers are working hard at making these tools better and creating more all the time. The apps we have mentioned are applicable to almost any trip, especially for full-time travelers.
What apps do you use while traveling?
Psst… do you love reading trip planning? You might also enjoy these:
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