I have experimented with many helpful (and not-so-helpful) phone apps over the past few years in a quest to make my travels easier. This blog post discusses in detail what I consider to be the best travel apps, organized by category. Be sure to read until the end – my most-used travel app of all time is in the “miscellaneous” category!
If you want to know the full scoop on how to score cheap flights, check out this blog post. But here are a couple of phone apps that can help get you started!
Skyscanner: This is one of the best travel apps, and also one of my favorite websites to spot cheap flights. Unlike most sites for buying flights, which only search airline websites and get a few special discounts of their own, Skyscanner scans all of those other sites to be sure you have the absolute best deal without having to search all those sites individually!
Hopper: This app charges a fee to buy tickets on it, so I don’t recommend making actual purchases with it. However, you can enter your destination and the dates you want to travel, and it will predict when the best time will be to buy your flight and will notify you at that time. Then, you can head over to Skyscanner to search for flights (instead of searching the site every day for months to find the best deal!)
Google Maps: This app has been an absolute lifesaver for me, and I couldn’t travel without it! This is not the app that comes on iPhones; it’s made by Google so you have to download it from the app store. This app is so amazing because it works offline, so you will NEVER get lost! Before you arrive, use WiFi to download a map of wherever you’re going. Click on the three lines in the upper left corner, choose “offline maps,” select “custom map” and zoom until you have the desired city and click “download!” This way you will always know where you are, and you can look up any restaurant, hotel or attraction without internet! I recommend “saving” the places you plan to visit so that you can locate them at a glance – just click on the place and choose the “save” button at the bottom of the screen!
Uber: I’m not always a fan of Uber back in the States, but sometimes it can be useful abroad when trying to get to a lesser-known attraction or restaurant. Uber isn’t available in all countries: click here to see a list of the places whereUber currently operates. Countries often also have their own version of Uber, which may be cheaper and/or be more familiar with local places. Just note that you need WiFi (or roaming data or a local SIM card) to use Uber and other ride-sharing apps. So most travelers can only use the app to call cars from places with WiFi, such as your hostel.
SpanishDict: SpanishDict: This is my all-time favorite app for Spanish, although it now costs $2.99 to use offline. The definitions are very thorough, and they also have games to practice vocabulary, imperfect vs preterit, etc. I also like the app’s “word of the day,” which helps me expand my vocabulary effortlessly!
VidaLingua: This company has dictionaries for most romance languages, and I find it to be both reliable and easy to use. It also has some basic phrases mixed in there. And, most importantly, you can use it whenever and wherever (even without WiFi or data) since the apps all work offline!
Jigsaw Lab: This company offers offline dictionaries for some of the less-common languages, such as Arabic and Hindi. They also work offline and the app can even pronounce the words for you out loud! You only get to do this a few times on the free version, however, so if you can’t read the language, it might be good to upgrade to the pro version for just $0.99)
Linguee: This app allows you to download various dictionaries for different languages in just one app, although it only offers a few basic languages.
Learning a Language
Duolingo: Most people have probably heard of this app by now, but it is fantastic! If you haven’t already given it a try, I highly recommend that you do so. It makes learning more fun than just studying a dictionary of making flashcards, and you actually learn pretty quickly! Instead of making you memorize grammar rules, the app sort of teaches you by doing, which I think works a bit faster – especially when your main goal is to communicate in a new country!
Drops: Like Duolingo, Drops is another fun, game-like app to learn language. But while Duolingo also teaches grammar and sentence formation, drops is focused solely on expanding your vocabulary. These two apps work really well together, as Duolingo’s grammar lessons are necessary for speaking, but the app teaches vocabulary fairly slowly.
I love these apps because they expand my knowledge of the world, as well as giving me something fun (but educational) to do on the plane! And, of course, they work offline!
World Maps: This offline game helps you memorize countries, capitals, and natural geography by continent. The basic maps are all available for free, although it costs a small fee to download the natural geography ones. But until you’ve memorized every country in the world and its capital, that probably won’t be an issue!
Flags of the World: This app is a fun way to learn the flags of the world. Since there are 193+ flags, it gives them to you in smaller batches to make the memorizing manageable. Plus, you can change the language of the app! I like doing it in Spanish so that I also know the names for every country in Spanish. After using this app for a while, country names now often come to me in Spanish before English!
Units Plus: This is my most-used travel app ever! Maybe you were expecting something a bit more glamorous but I promise that it is INCREDIBLY useful. And, contrary to the “Plus” in the name, the app is totally free (and works offline)! This handy app can convert weight, volume, time, temperature, speed, pressure, power, length, fuel-mileage, area, data and currency with the click of a button. As an American, I find myself frequently referencing the sections on length, speed, weight and temperature abroad. But by far the most amazing part of the app is the currency converter. The first time each day that your phone connects to the internet (or data), the app will update the currency rates for EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD! Then you can convert between any two currencies with the click of a button and without using internet or data. No more trying to do rough calculations in your head while being hassled by a street vendor! Now you can quickly and discretely convert local prices to your home currency and make sure that you ask for the best price – and don’t go over your travel budget!
App in the Air: I don’t use this app for its utility so much as for fun, otherwise I could’ve put it in the transportation section. This app keeps track of all of your flights and notifies you when to check-in, when to go to the gate, if your flight is delayed, etc. But I like to use it because it keeps track of your lifetime flights, distance travelled, number of countries visited, etc.