Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Best Apps for Traveling Abroad

I've traveled to Europe a few times now, but our trip to Spain in May was the first time I've gone with a smartphone. I was a little unsure about bringing it at first since I was worried that it would just be annoying to have to keep track of something I wouldn't be able to use very much. Having worked at Verizon in the past, I know what a ripoff global phone plans can be. Unless it is very important for you to have cell service it's really not worth it to get one, and it does limit your phone's capabilities to not be connected to a mobile network. 

However, I did some research, found a lot of apps that work offline, and ended up deciding to take it along. I honestly had no idea how useful my iPhone could be, even without getting a global plan. We used it all the time, and I am so glad I brought it! 

Here are a few of the best apps we discovered:

(P.S. The links are for the iPhone version, but most of these are also on Google Play)

This is by far the app we used the most. Something a lot of people don't know about smartphones is that the GPS feature works worldwide, whether or not you are connected to a mobile network or the internet, and using it won't cost you anything. With this app, you can download maps for the country or state you are in and use it to see exactly where you are, get directions, and even look up restaurants and such. 

It was really handy, especially since we rented a car for a few days so we could drive to see Dallin's friends and some other sights. The roads there are completely jacked up, and I know that we would have spent a lot of time very lost and very frustrated without this app. It's a lifesaver! I think this is the only app we paid for, and it was well worth the $2.99. 

This is basically a free, electronic guidebook... on steroids. You can download info about different countries, regions, or cities to use offline. It has all kinds of great stuff... restaurants, attractions, maps, travel and safety info, phrasebooks, local time/weather, shopping, historical facts about sites (I used this a lot!), pictures, and more. It's all free too! I loved having so much information readily available. We didn't need a lot of it since Dallin was so familiar with Spain already, but it really came in handy sometimes, and I enjoyed learning more about the places we visited (and trying to pick up some more Spanish with the phrasebook). I can't say enough good things about this app!

I love Expedia. We needed to stick to a budget to afford our trip, and I did lots of price comparisons and found that Expedia really did have the best prices on flights, hotels, and our rental car. It saved us a lot of money to bundle our flights and hotel, by the way, so be sure to try to do that. They also have a very nifty app and it was nice to have our schedule, confirmation numbers, and all that good stuff all in one place. Made all the fun logistics bizness little easier! (Although being the overly prepared person I am I still brought spare paper copies of all our info, just to be safe.)

There are a million currency converters out there. Most of them probably work just the same, but this happens to be the one I picked. It did the job!

This probably isn't the best app for traveling abroad since it doesn't work offline, but it's the only one I used. Dallin is fluent in Spanish so I didn't really need one. This is free (always a plus!) and worked well for me. If anyone has a favorite offline translator let me know!

This app lets you call people for free, which was handy to let our families know we made it safely. You can also send texts but I didn't use that feature. One thing I wish I had done was try to call a local number while we were there to make sure that works. The reviews I saw were conflicting, some saying it worked and some saying it didn't, but if it does work to call foreign numbers then this is even more useful! You do need a Google account to use this, and of course it only works when you have wifi.  If you have an iPhone you can FaceTime or text other iPhones for free with wifi as well, in case you didn't know that already.

This is one I really wish I had known about earlier. In Madrid, and many other cities around the world, they have a wifi system set up with lots of hotspots all over. It's free, but you do have to go through this app and set up an account with them. It was worth the hassle  though! 

Most metro systems also have apps with maps and other info. It's nifty to have it in your pocket instead of searching around the station for a map. 

Airline-specific apps

I am pretty sure that all major airlines have their own app by now, which is really useful for checking your flight status and such. You can also check in and use your phone as your boarding pass, but to be honest I'm a little paranoid of having something go wrong so I've never used that feature before. If you've done it successfully you should tell me so I get the gumption to try it out sometime! 

Some also have airport maps and such which is really nice, especially when you get in the longest line in customs with the overly chatty dude that takes about 10x longer than he needs to, making it necessary for you to find your way around Chicago O'Hare and fast, or else you might miss your flight home. Not that I am speaking from experience or anything here. ;) Also, does anyone else get really antsy at customs? I mean, I am an upstanding citizen that hasn't even so much as gotten a parking ticket (knock on wood), but I always feel like I have to work really hard to look innocent. Clearly, I have problems. ;)

Well, there you have it! Hopefully these apps with be as useful for you as they were for us. 

Any other travel apps you can't live without?


  1. This is super helpful, thanks :) I'm excited to try some new apps in my next travels. And I totally feel like I have to work hard at looking innocent through customs, also for some bizarre reason LOL

  2. Viber is great. It sounds similar to the Google Voice app - it lets you keep your own number and call and text the people in your address book when you have wifi. It makes keeping in touch with the people you are traveling with so simple!

  3. Thanks for sharing. I'm definitely using these when I go abroad. I use SpanishDict for an offline Spanish-English dictionary. It works pretty well, though the offline version isn't as complete as the web version.

  4. Thanks! My parents are living in Mexico on and off for the next two years, this will be a huge help for them!


  5. When you get the chance, check out Bonjournal!

    Bonjournal is the simple way to record and share your travel adventures. The app helps you easily collect all the beautiful moments, stories and pictures from your journey into a single narrative.

    - Create beautiful travel journals, even without internet connection.
    - Share your travel journals via Facebook, Twitter and email.
    - Export your journals to PDFs, to enjoy them forever.
    - Follow your friends along their journeys.
    - Explore the experiences of fellow travel enthusiasts.

  6. Two travel apps to add:

    1. Onavo - When travelling abroad this app will reduce data usage on your phone. It works and will save money for you.
    2. - A meta-search tool for booking that the NY Times said "searches more sites than Kayak and beats their best rates".

    Both will save money for you.

  7. I have a couple more questions! Did you have your phone on Airplane Mode? Also, did the Wifi protect your phone from being hacked?