The best travel app recommendations you’ll ever find. By travelers for travelers. Trust us.
Not a day goes by but there seems to be another 10-12 mobile travel apps all claiming to be essential and having made someone’s TOP 20 Travel Apps List or “Best Travel Apps for 2016.”
We don’t list a specific number because there is no perfect number of travel apps. You might have six, another traveler may find 18 indispensable. But some suggestions are listed below with essentials marked by an *. If you’re like me, you download a few at a time, try them out and end up deleting them either right away or right after your trip. Let us start by saying the most important “travel app” is possibly a free medical app that might save your life or the life of someone you love or know what to do in an emergency. For those apps, check out our critical medical apps for travel page.
The other issue I have with all the top travel app pages is they tend to think everyone travels to world-class cities like San Francisco or Berlin. They are much less helpful if you are going to Samarkand or to Belize to volunteer.
HERE’S OUR ESSENTIAL TRAVEL APP RECOMMENDATIONS:
Your preloaded Map program – (iOS, Android)
Thanks to tipster Kenneth Garcia, we’re also checking out, Maps.me – (Offline maps for iOS, Android, Amazon)
Whether Apple or Google, get familiar with the GPS features and directions, etc. of your maps program, voice input, and both walking and public transportation features! (Even on Apple iPhones, you can now go ahead and download Google Maps if you like it better than the Apple version.)
Remember, with any GPS features running, you are consuming battery life, so use airplane mode, when you can, to conserve! (This is why Maps.me has a great potential – See their User Guide here. You can even have it remember where your rental car is at and help you locate it in a parking lot!
*Google Translate – (iOS, Android)
Free. Essential. Translates back and forth between a whole multitude of languages and can even speak for you or allow you to hear pronunciation. A must. You may also want to check out Better Translator Pro for Android, iTranslate or Babelingo. But Google Translate bests them all.
UPDATE: Google Translate will now include both automatic language detection to switch languages AND Word Lens (see below) in it’s app. That is great news and makes Google Translate the travel app of the year in our opinion. (www.mashable.com/2015/01/14/google-translate-word-lens/)
*Briteness Level – (iOS, Android)
Whether on an iPhone or Android, screen briteness usually eats up 50-90% of your battery. (As does WiFi and Bluetooth!) On the road, if you either don’t have a second battery in your bag, or can’t replace batteries (iPhone), it’s best to turn down briteness when you can.
*TunnelBear – (iOS, Android) or CyberGhost – (iOS, Android)
Free or pay for addl. services. A travel WiFi anonymizer (VPN) so that you can surf, make calls use travel apps without huge risk to your data or finances. Since even the top 10 travel apps have data security flaws, this is a must if you use airport, hotel, or open WiFi hotspots.
WiFi Detector/WiFi Finder or JWire, now NinthDecimal – (iOS, Android)
Free. Help finding local or nearby Open WiFi hotspots as well as signal strength. JWire is a ittle better for remote areas—located in more than 140 countries worldwide.
DropBox – (iOS, Android)
Free for up to 2gb. Great for cloud storage to move images and videos off your phone to make space (IF you have fast wiFi in your hotel or someplace you can plug in at the end of the day. Also perfect for sharing folders with friends back home so they can see your images before you get back home!)
Skype – (iOS, Android)
Free. Skype let’s you call or video chat free (or even to landlines for mere pennies). We wouldn’t be without it and neither should you. Skype uses VOIP (voice-over-internet-protocol) to make almost always crystal-clear calls anywhere in the world. And Skype to Skype calls are always free. We love Google Hangouts too, but it’s too hard to find our friends online, has fewer installed members and people have trouble using it/getting on Hangout on Air. Everyone we know has discovered or experienced frustration trying to join our calls. One good feature of Google+, you can record calls for later (private) playback on YouTube.
What’s App or Viber – (iOS, Android)
Free. Allows you to make calls and text (if you have wiFi access!) even in areas/countries where you have no phone service. Handy when you don’t want to buy local minutes or pay outrageous cell fees. In some countries WhatsApp surpasses Skype and similar services for installed user base, so it may warrant your getting an account. Allows for pictures, videos, sound clips and GPS tags as well as text. Viber is on more platforms including desktops, but I use WhatsApp. (Others include, Apple Facetime, Google Hangout, and Facebook Messenger)
Waze – (iOS, Android)
Free. Okay, so we love using Waze in the USA to help with our commute times, but did you know it is in multiple languages and is used internationally to get to the airport on time, determine routes, and much, much more? Check out https://wiki.waze.com/wiki/Countries_and_Languages to see where Waze is currently deployed, and https://support.google.com/waze/answer/6071125. If you don’t already use it, download it today and get on. However overseas, you will need data or a local/international SIM card to avoid high roaming fees.
*GooglePay, ApplePay, Wallet – (iOS, Android)
Free to download. In case you didn’t realize it, many countries use a chip-enabled credit card versus magnetic strip. If your credit cards or Starbucks card is magnetic only, you could be out of luck. However, if you have one of these three electronic payment apps on your phone, you can use any magnetic strip card, chip-enabled card or even Paypal to pay overseas. A real lifesaver if your wallet is stolen or left at the hotel.
Uber/Lyft – (iOS, Android)
So I am finally breaking down and adding Uber and Lyft to this list. After using Uber for over a year in many different cities and locations, I am convinced by their drivers and service. However, always exercise caution overseas, esp. getting picked up in unknown areas. Sometimes a cab stand in front of known hotels might be a safer bet. And not traveling via cab or Uber alone.
Amazon Kindle or other eReader – (iOS, Android)
Free. Whether you use iBooks, Kindle or some other form of eBook reader, you can buy and download travel guides, a book or magazine for the airplane, even reading material from many public libraries! While not strictly a travel app, who would travel without an eBook reader?!
Twitter – (iOS, Android)
Free. Yes, Twitter. Get fast recommendations, search by city or activity, delays, deals,…Twitter is a power-traveler’s best friend. Honest.
Yelp – (iOS, Android)
Free. Find restaurant reviews as well as business reviews, (even doctors or medical treatment facilities!), BEFORE you commit. And also…Urbanspoon.
TripAdvisor – (iOS, Android)
I use TripAdvisor’s reviews religiously when searching for hotels when traveling. They also have a number of Free City Guides that work OFFLINE, which is nice, as are their maps and photos from other users. Millions of travelers use TripAdvisor – You should too.
WordLens – (iOS, Android)
Free, originally language packs by QuestVisual cost extra (NOW A PART OF GOOGLE TRANSLATE). This amazing app uses augmented reality to instantly translates foreign text via your phone’s camera. The download itself costs nothing, and is incorporated into Google Translate (above). New languages are being worked on. You simply have to see this program work to appreciate it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2OfQdYrHRs
Postagram – (iOS, Android)
Free app. $ .99 per digital postcard. Postcards meets the digital age. Innovative app will send any printed photo you take, in the mail to yourself, friends or family anywhere in the world, for just $ .99 – And since it’s personalized (not just the writing), your friends and family will love it!
*Medical/Health apps – (iOS, Android)
Free. See our page at: https://www.gninsurance.com/essential-medical-apps/
APPS FOR SPECIFIC USES OR USERS:
Your health insurance app – (iOS, Android)
Free. When you need to find a clinic locally, a recommendation for a western-certified doctor, translation help in an emergency (such as when a doctor is recommending treatment and doesn’t speak English well and you’d like a second opinion), need pre-certification or not sure if you need to get an okay prior to treatment, or wish to submit a claim online these handy programs are “critical” to your well-being. You will be glad to have their app on your phone in times of need.
TripIt – (iOS, Android)
Free. Keep all your travel documents and planning in one place. Even better if traveling with a group or for tracking other’s itineraries. This program keeps getting better and even though it seems redundant or overkill at times. It is the only trip planning app you’ll ever need. The “Evernote” of travel apps.
______?_____ – Your favorite airline frequent flyer or hotel rewards app (iOS, Android, online)
KAYAK – (iOS, Android)
Free. Some like Priceline or other price shopping rate comparison engine, and I’ll use different ones on my laptop when researching my next destination, but the only one I keep on my phone is KAYAK. However, the desktop version in my opinion is better than the smartphone version.
GateGURU – (iOS, Android)
Free. Stuck at the gate? Starving or wondering if you have time to run through the terminal to the Starbucks? Wondering if there even is a Starbucks in the airport? GateGURU to the rescue! ATMs, even wiFi and public power outlets!
LonelyPlanet and ThornTree – (iOS, Android)
Free, and some costs. Most travelers have heard of LonelyPlanet but not everyone relies on ThornTree, their in-depth travel forums. Exchange travel information, advice, hints and tips from independent travellers sharing trusted advice. Thorn Tree travel forum is by travellers, for travellers, and covers every place on the planet (even places they don’t have guidebooks for).
Also check out https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree online.
Best Document Scanner Apps – Use your phone as a mobile document scanner
GoogleDrive and Evernote can do it too but I use CamScanner for Android.
Award Wallet – (iOS, Android)
Free – Some people love having and using every rewards program to save every penny. If that describes you, get this program to help keep track of your rewards. You can store your passwords, balances, and account numbers connected to your frequent flyer miles, hotel and car-rental and credit card loyalty points—even free coffee card awards. Even get notified before expiration dates!
FlightTrack5 (was Flighttrack Pro)– (iOS, Android by Mobiata )
$4.99. Turns your smartphone screen into the flightboard for any airport worldwide. Even get push notifications when the app is closed, so you know when you need to head to the airport early. Covers more than 3,000 airports and 1,400 airlines worldwide. And syncs to TripIt for powerusers.
Try Flightaware LLC’s FlightTracker for a free app that has most of the same features.
22 City Papers – (iOS only)
$.99 City Papers connects you to more than 3,000 English-language newspapers worldwide. Pull up the Fiji Times and learn where you can catch a cricket match and where not to drive your rental car at night. Excellent app to get up to speed quickly on your travel destination. If you are on Android, check out “World Newspapers” instead.
PackingPro – (iOS only, for Android see below) or
PackPoint – (iOS or Android)
$2.99 Packing Pro is a mobile app for iOS that has checklists on what to pack, and can also remind you to book reservations and water the plants before you leave home. Personally, I’ve traveled enough that I keep a travel bag/toiletries bag packed and ready at all times and rarely forget things, but this app might be reassurance for some travelers inclined to worry. Looking for a FREE App? Try PackPoint for iOS or Android. Now, did you turn off the coffee machine?
HerdTracker – (online only at DiscoverAfrica.com)
Free. This Safari web app by Discover Africa, provides real-time map updates identifying the locations of wildlife migrations according to pilots, safari guides and other national parks’ staff around the Serengeti and Masai Mara in Kenya and Tazania.
Xe Currency – (iOS and Android)
This app is the only one to download if you need a currency conversion app.
Lastly, Flipboard – (iOS and Android)
Free. Create your own digital magazine culled from topics and news sources. Visual, page-turning magazine is attractive. Fun. Makes you wonder how you got your news before you downloaded it. Great way to spend a few hours on a plane when you need a break from crunching numbers in Excel.
WHAT DO WE CONSIDER AN “ESSENTIAL” TRAVEL APP?
Even though I carry a Samsung phone with plenty of SD Card space (with the GOOGLE ANDROID KIT KAT update, you can save apps to your SD card versus filling up your on-board memory), I am very picky about what I leave on my phone, because I hate scrolling through screens and screens of app icons – All those screens also slow down my phone and eat up my battery life! But what do you think? Have an essential app you can’t live without? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org!