Now that we’ve sorted out how to get a functioning phone, let’s see what a phone can do for you. I’m not talking about your average phone for calls only, I’m talking smartphones and apps for travel. Remember when all of us backpackers carried Swiss Army Knives? Even if I’d love to have one I can’t, I carry my bag on every flight and knives aren’t allowed. So I have the 2015 version of a Swiss Army Knife, my iPhone.
There are many, many, MANY apps for travel out there these days. I could write a hundred posts on the different apps that you can use in travel (and I may do that, stay tuned). To begin, I’m going to go through a few simple ones just so that those who are new to technology can see the potential of a smartphone.
Google Maps- One of my most used apps for travel. This is an incredibly accurate mapping tool that can locate you and give you directions for driving, walking or transit. I’ve been amazed about the accuracy of the timings, it’s almost always correct even abroad. You can locate and zoom in on an address, find yourself on the map, then get directions. I use it in the car instead of a GPS, it will give you verbal directions. I just set my address, turn on directions and set it on the dashboard. Works almost every time. Sometimes a one way street will confuse it. Beware of data drain, though. I found that this app was using lots of data on my phone, but I do use it almost every day.
Google Translate- Translate almost anything instantly by typing in the text and selecting language input and output. It isn’t foolproof, it doesn’t really understand context, but simple words and phrases work well. It’s also got a camera function. With that, you can aim your phone’s camera at a sign or menu and it will translate it visually….more or less. If you take a photo, it will generate a translated photo. This is cool for amazing your foreign friends.
Maplets- Find local maps for just about anything and download them. This works well if you don’t want to use data to look at maps and they have some unusual maps, like biking routes and museum maps.
Booking.com- Of all the websites devoted to hotels and reservations, this one is the most common here in Europe. I was reminded about this yesterday when a young couple arrived at the hotel I’m staying at and asked for a room. They had been slogging all over town going door to door. I remember doing that as a backpacker years ago. But that’s silly now, instead tap on the booking.com app and it will immediately show you who has rooms available. You can even book and pay later. The app keeps track of your reservations too.
What’s App, Skype, Viber- For communicating with home, you have many options. With a wifi or data connection, you can easily call or text home for free with any of the apps mentioned above as long as the person you’re calling has that app too. I like What’s App because it is reliable, although the phone call quality isn’t very good. FaceTime works well from iPhone to iPhone, as does iMessage, and those are free over a data connection too. Skype is the only service I’m mentioning that will call landlines over the Internet. It is pretty cheap, about .10 per minute, depends on where you’re calling. Quality isn’t always great, but it’s much cheaper than calling on my Italian cell plan. You can use all of these services over a cellular data connection, but be careful as video chats can empty your data pretty quickly.
Skyscanner- If, when you’re traveling, you like to make plans last minute, Skyscanner is for you. It’s an airplane booking app that looks at all airlines, including Ryanair, Easyjet etc. Other booking sites don’t include the cheapie airlines normally, and I’ve been able to find last-minute tickets for a great price through them. They also have an “explore” setting that lets you enter in a date and look at a map showing prices to different destinations. Great for the undecided or spontaneous traveler.
Kindle- Even if I write and I’ve worked on guidebooks for years, I’ve done away with paper books. I love paper books in a way that I never will with eBooks, but they just weigh too much. Kindle eBooks are fantastic for travel, particularly for reference books. I have a huge library that I’ve bought over time, always accessible from my phone, tablet or Kindle. You can also save PDF documents such as tickets or confirmations in this app, like a document storage locker. Get the Kindle app for FREE.
iTunes or Amazon Music- What is a trip without a little traveling music? With either of these apps, you can buy and store your music, make playlists and so on. I’ve moved in this direction because my purchases are stored in the cloud and are always available on any device I’ve got. The Amazon Music app is especially useful if you have Amazon Prime, you can listen to tons of albums for free.
These are, in my opinion, the basics to get a new smartphone user up and running for a trip. There is SO MUCH more, but I don’t want to scare off those who aren’t comfortable with tech. Not just yet… Piano piano, as we say in Italian.