It’s hard to believe that when I started travelling, not only did we not have apps but we barely had mobile phones. Paper was the name of the game in terms of both books and maps and for a while there (don’t laugh, sweet youngsters) we had to wait to get paper tickets through the post.
Now, though, you can hold the entire history and philosophy of mankind in the palm of your hand as long as you’ve a power supply and an internet connection to keep you company.
Perhaps more usefully, you can hold train timetables as well.
I’m often asked at interview what one thing I’d never leave home without and I pretty much always answer “my mobile phone.” (I also wonder how anyone travels with only one item when leaving without the wallet ‘n’ keys combo tends to seriously derail the day. But I digress.)
Away from interview questions, I thought it would be useful to list what I thought were the best travel apps. Few on my list are travel apps in the niche sense but they’re all fantastic and I use them when I travel all the time. And, as a bonus point, even though there are seven of them, they fit onto a single phone so ha! Stick that in your one item list and smoke it.
Or something less dated. Anyway, enjoy!
I love Evernote for all sorts of different tasks. Essentially, it consists of notebooks that you can organise with notes that can be in photo, text or audio form. You can arrange for some of these notebooks to be available offline and can send information into Evernote by email. Hotel reservations? Email straight to Evernote. Airline tickets > Evernote. Backup copy of passport, driving license and the state of the car you hired when you picked it up? Evernote, evernote, evernote.
What’s more, it stores geolocation info as you add notes on the move. So if you are in a city and see something you want to come back to, you can add an audio note there and then and it will store the point on the map for you. Or say you discover a bottle of wine you enjoy? Take a snapshot of the label and you can search the text in Evernote when you get home. Simply genius.
Oh yes, baby. SatNav on your phone. No need to pay extra when you hire a car. No need to fumble with Google maps or fall into cyberlostworld or the land of extortionate roaming charges if you need to use 3G. Pay for the proper SatNav app up front and spare yourself all that. It can also help you find the nearest petrol station, viewpoint, hospital and so on. TomTom sell a range of different regions but because of where I’m based, I use the Western Europe one the most.
I’m at the stage when I can hardly remember how my life used to function before I found Pocket. Enter the URL of a web page into Pocket and it will store the article and pictures there for you so that you can read it offline. Perfect for loading up with travel articles and background reading for any train or plane journey en route to your destination.
I’ve written about Sleepstream before, over here on How to Sleep on a Plane. Essentially, sleep doesn’t come easily to me and I only wish I’d discovered this app back when I was a tired and harried junior doctor changing shifts every other day. Sleepstream plays a variety of soothing soundtracks to drown out the background noise of crying babies, outside roadworks, chattering passengers and so on. (Obviously, don’t use it to drown out the sound of your own crying baby.) You can even put it on a timer to prevent all your battery juice draining away. A real sanity saver.
Yes, we should all remember to look up the exchange rate in advance and we should all be able to perform simple sums in our heads. But…Well, we should all be able to cook our own food too and that doesn’t stop us from going out to restaurants…(In case that was too cryptic, Xe currency does all the currency brainwork for you.)
This app promises many different things but the part it does the best is living up to its name as a seat guru. A quick consultation on check-in with this handy app and you can be sure you won’t be sat next to the toilet. (Unless that’s the only seat left. In which case, at least you have a while to get used to the idea…)
I alluded to this at the start, but really. I am still amazed by this. You can have almost any book in the world available to read on your phone. No heavy hardbacks, no time-consuming choice (this always used to slow me down in the bad old packing days.) No having to leave books behind in order to fit in souvenirs/accommodate the confusing law of physics that says that somehow-the-same-pile-of-stuff-will-never-fit-back-into-your-suitcase-the-way-it-did-when-you-first-packed-it-at-home.
Just book after book at your fingertips, on your phone.
So that’s it, that’s my list of the 7 best travel apps. And already I am thinking of more…But before I get to that, what do you think?
*According to me. Drunk on power again…
** Oh and for those apps on this list that aren’t free, I think I get a few pennies if you buy them through these links. Thanks for that!
Top image originally from Shutterstock, text and the rest from me.
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com