Esther, Michael, and I realized that we spend a lot of time talking about how we are able to travel to so many amazing places but little time about how we actually get around while we’re on the ground. Since I’m fresh off of a last-minute Labor-day weekend trip to Colombia (I don’t speak Spanish, nor had I been to South America before), I figured now would be a good time to share some of the tools I use to plan and manage my experiences on the ground. Here they are:
My stalwart, multi-purpose itinerary/note manager. Forward along (or have TripIt automatically import) your itineraries, and TripIt will (usually) bundle them together so you can look at your trip itinerary online or on your phone. Useful to hang onto confirmation numbers, phone numbers, addresses, and more. TripIt also serves as my go-to way to coordinate travel plans with friends and share them with emergency contacts (no more email!). Available for iOS and Android. Accessible on the web here.
This is probably my MVP, and has saved me at least once in every city to which I’ve traveled. Download maps offline for whole countries at a time. They take up about 100-200MB per (medium-sized) country) and 300-500MB for larger ones, but the fact that these map packs include not only addresses and searchable building/attraction names, but also directions is huge! What’s more, for those who didn’t know, even if your phone is in airplane mode with roaming turned off, your GPS will still work (and you won’t get charged), so you can always find your way home if you’re lost. Available for iOS and Android.
Need ideas for what to do on the fly? Check out community-curated itineraries associated with each city and get ratings and reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, and activities. Many major cities also have an associated ‘City Guide’ that you can download for easy (read: offline) access to these reviews. Available for iOS and Android.
Half the fun of travel is immersion into new or unfamiliar cultures, and one of the largest parts of that is learning (or at least attempting to learn) the local language. Google Translate allows you to draw, type, scan (augmented-reality style) any word you want to translate, and they recently added offline support whereby you can download language packs for a large number of the world’s languages. Available for iOS and Android.
Sister sites (WikiVoyage is supposed to succeed WikiTravel, but in practice they contain the same content) that tell you everything you would want to know about a city or destination, from its history, to its geography, to what to do, where to stay, and where to go from there. I’ll typically print out the guide (10-20 pages) for each city I’m traveling to and read the corresponding city’s guide while in transit. When I leave a city, I’ll leave the guide in the desk drawer (if I’m in a hotel), and then forge on to the next one! Links: WikiTravel, WikiVoyage.
Chase Sapphire Preferred It earns 3x at restaurants if you happen to be traveling on the first Friday of the month!!! Get it now! (For those who are new to travel hacking, I’m making a joke since it’s a credit card that pays out really high affiliate revenue and therefore the big blogs shove it down readers’ throats. It’s fairly uninteresting other than for its sign-up bonus). Seriously, though, just find yourself a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and you’ll be set.
The apps on this list are here either because they rely heavily on the infrastructure of the city you’re on (e.g. WiFi-dependent) or because they are only available on one of the two mobile platforms.
As loathe as I am to recommend it, since I despise their business and hiring practices, Uber has proven immensely valuable to me in cities known for unsafe or untrustworthy cab drivers. Most recently in Bogota, my friend and I had quite a scare on our taxi ride from the airport to our hotel at midnight (the ride went without incident, but we were both very much on our toes), and from then on we used Uber exclusively. Having a GPS record as well as a single point of recourse alleviated a lot of my safety concerns, which is ironic given that Uber is ‘just a random stranger’ driving you around. Obviously, this recommendation only useful in countries with the infrastructure to support it (drivers, laws, and internet), but it’s worth keeping around if you don’t already have it on your phone. Available for iOS and Android.
Google Hangouts Dialer
Finally!!! For years, Google Voice users had been without a native app with which to make VoIP calls from their phones, and thankfully, our prayers have been answered. Google Voice is my go-to VoIP app, above Skype because all calls and texts to US numbers (even if you’re physically abroad) are free. It’s a super easy way to check-in with family or friends at the airport or at your hotel, and I found call quality to be great, even on shaky internet. Sadly, there’s no iOS version, but you can download it for Android here.
“I’m a huge fan of tracking where I’ve been for future reference, and I always appreciate getting quick recommendations on things like what to order/avoid at a restaurant I just sat down in, etc. Foursquare shows me Twitter-short tips from other people who have come before me, and provides other useful information such as opening hours, phone numbers, websites, menus, Uber button, and more. It is more widely used internationally than Yelp, although I do use Yelp more commonly domestically. I use Foursquare’s companion app Swarm to “check in” at places; I can then easily access my history by Month/Year later when someone inevitably asks, “What/where was that awesome Korean BBQ place we went to in Seoul again?” Foursquare is available for iOS and Android. Accessible on the web here. Swarm is available for iOS and Android.”
So, there you have it. Hopefully you find something new or useful! If you have any experiences with these apps or recommendations you’d like to share, leave us a comment!