Essential Apps for Travel

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On the road for a few months now, and I’m struggling to write, so here’s a simple list: my essential apps for travel. I’m traveling with an iPhone 5S, so these are for iOS. One nice thing is that in locations with slow or unreliable internet (basically all of Nepal and India, and randomly elsewhere), the apps can be much faster than trying to load websites.

Maps and Directions

  • Google Maps, (almost) guaranteed to know where you want to go and how to get you there, but not available offline.
  • Here Maps from Nokia, with the ability to take maps and points of interest offline as well as provide offline directions (not public transit), this is super helpful when traveling without internet. There seem to be some issues finding POI and addresses in different scripts such as in Vietnam, so I will have to see if this becomes less useful as I go to new countries.
  • Maps.me, as a backup offline maps and POI. Since the maps come from OpenStreetMap project, basically cartography geeks contributing to a “Wikipedia for maps”, it tends to be lower quality in less traveled areas like Asia (as compared to, say, Europe). But sometimes the POI are easier to find than Here Maps since many of the tourist sights are added.
  • Rome2Rio, a pretty impressive “travel anywhere to anywhere” directions app that seems to know more about options such as ferries and trains than Google. I tend to use it to check out options between cities, for example “Hoi An, Vietnam to Hanoi, Vietnam” or “Hoi An, Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand”.

Notes

  • OneNote, which I use for planning destinations or copying directions and map images for later use offline, and writing blog posts, and keeping a copy of passport and credit card images. I use this on the laptop as well which makes certain tasks easier, but then it syncs down to the phone (unfortunately there seem to be sync bugs which makes it take hours to sync a few kilobytes). Alternative for non Office 365 / Mac / iOS users, who all get OneNote free: EverNote.
  • Built in iOS Notes app, which I use for jotting expenses out of pocket (to later transfer to Excel), travel recommendations as they’re given to me (later transfer to OneNote), people’s email address, etc.
  • Pocket, which allows you to take web pages offline for reading later. This is super useful for taking Wikitravel articles offline (including the often great directions for getting from an airport into a city). Other articles I keep are the SIM card options for my upcoming countries from this wiki, language phrasebooks from Wikitravel (e.g., Thai), the Visa requirements for United States citizens Wikipedia article, or just general reading. Just like OneNote, I use this on the laptop as well.

Messaging

This one of course is up to where your contacts are… I use Messenger (Facebook) most, WhatsApp, and to a certain extent Skype. I use Outlook for email instead of the built in iOS Mail app as I find it is much better at getting quick notifications and has a pretty good filter for what is considered “Focused” (in other words, what I actually want to read).

Booking Travel

  • HostelWorld, which is typically my first choice at finding a dorm bed. I wish it would remember my choice for number of travelers, though.
  • Booking.com, which I usually fire up when I don’t like the options in HostelWorld for some reason (number, quality, or price seems off) or I want a private room, though it has beds available as well.
  • Flights (Skyscanner) for searching for airfares.
  • Kayak, which I don’t tend to use as much as I used to for some reason.

Plans and Travel Research

  • TripAdvisor, which recently introduced offline capabilities for certain cities, has quick access to ranked “Things to Do” for ideation and Restaurants, both organized by city or “Near me Now”, which can be nice in a pinch.
  • TripIt, simply forward your flight or hotel booking email and TripIt adds an entry to your trip itinerary. Main scenario: Having a backup copy of my airline information (including six digit booking number) available if needed.

Banking

Again this one is up to what you need, but I use Vanguard, Schwab (who has an international ATM fee reimbursement policy), Wells Fargo, DNB, Mobilbank (Skandiabanken).

Social

No surprises here, Facebook and I am learning to like Instagram. I have Twitter and some others, but I still can’t figure out what to use them for.

News and Reading

Personal preferences, but I use NYT Now (love this one, curated by NYT editors it’s the best of the web and NYT content), BBC News, NPR, Medium, as well as The Economist and The New York Times in the Newsstand.

India-specific

  • Cleartrip, a travel agency which you can use to book trains. The iOS app doesn’t support booking busses, but their mobile site does.
  • RedBus, a bus booking app, but I never purchased using it since I couldn’t obtain an Indian SIM card / phone number. It was useful for finding fares to make sure I didn’t get ripped off too much, though.

Let me know your favorites or what I am missing!

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