Travel apps have changed life on the road. When I bought my iPad a couple of years ago, I took a leap of faith that it was a tool that could transform my work. Somehow. No clue how. I bought it with a few little ideas in my head about file sharing and image display and as always, lightening my load. It’s taken some investigation and creativity, but it really has made a huge difference. iPads aren’t worth much without great applications, so here are some ideas about my favorite travel apps that make my work and life on the road much easier and more fun too.
Getting Work Done
Notability – $4.99 iOS only
This is my preferred app for taking notes or creating documents. I’d say that it is the most useful app on my iPad for my work. It allows for text boxes and pictures to be added wherever you like, and also has a draw/write function. It includes a utility for annotation of PDFs, which can be useful in many situations. For instance, if you get a form in email that needs to be filled out and signed, you can import it to Notability and type or write on it with your finger. I use it often for permission slips for my kids. On my tours, I import our daily schedule background and write, type or insert images. I can mark up hotel rooming lists with room numbers, then email both the passport list and schedule to the hotel directly from the app. Any kind of PDF, including books in PDF format, can be annotated, highlighted and manipulated. This would be a great app for a travel journal, especially if you want to write with handwriting and have a stylus for your tablet like the Wacom Bamboo Stylus with a fine point. You could even export your daily journal entry to an email list or a blog, to keep others connected to your journals.
Instaweb – Free iOS
Sometimes I find things on the internet that I want to save for later or pages that I would like to keep and write on. I love to knit but lose my printed patterns all the time. With this app, I can clip a pattern on a web page, turn it into a PDF document and then write notes on it or highlight my progress using Notability. This app is a simple one, it opens up as a browser. You can search using Google to find what you need, then clip the page and send it to your email or another app for later use.
iBooks – Free iOS
This app comes with the iPad and is meant to be for use in storing and reading books purchased from the iBook store. While I do use it for that, I use it more as a place to store documents. Any PDF can be saved to iBooks and will be archived to iCloud when not in use.
Keynote – iOS, included on all Apple devices
Just like PowerPoint, this app creates slide shows. It’s a little simpler than PowerPoint with fewer features. Once a slide show is created, it can be exported in a format compatible with Keynote or PowerPoint, or as a PDF. I’ve found that turning my slideshows into a PDF makes them easier to share and display on my IPad, I store the converted slideshow in iBooks.
Photos – iOS, included on all Apple devices
The native photo folder on your iPhone or iPad is not very exciting and not great for sorting and creating folders. One cool thing it can do, though, is to create an iCloud photo stream. When you tap on the cloud symbol at the bottom, you can create a new shared folder and email an invitation to whomever you like. This would be great fun to do with travel partners. We used this on a recent tour and it allowed everyone to share their photos instantly, while we were traveling. We had a slideshow the last night that used all of the photos the group had put in the shared album.
Photo Manager Pro – $2.99 iOS and Android
This app allows you to organize photos into simple folders. The photo folder on the iPad does allow you to create folders, but this app is more intuitive for me, and makes sorting simple. I often use it to display images while speaking to a group.
Evernote – Free iOS and Android
A notebook app with lots of potential for collaboration. Saves notes, photos and web pages in one location and syncs between devices, making your files available almost anywhere. The Premium version allows for searchable text in all documents. I use this app most often to save webpages to read later, such as creating my own recipe book using online recipes. If i find a recipe I like, I just tap the export button and save to Evernote. Then it asks which folder to put it in. I save articles on the countries I work in, and then send a link to my folder to colleagues who might be interested in my discoveries. You can also take pictures and write notes about them, just as you might use a scrapbook or notebook. Evernote is a complex app with many possibilities, and as travel apps go it surely has potential I haven’t even thought of. There are a couple of additional apps that work as a part of Evernote: Scannable and Skitch.
Scannable – Free iOS only
A document scanner, plain and simple. Place documents on a dark background and this app automatically snaps and adjusts a scan, then saves into the Evernote folder you choose. With this app you could create a folder to file receipts as you get them. Business cards can be scanned and automatically converted into contacts.
Skitch – Free iOS and Android
Another extension of Evernote, this app creates annotated documents and saves them into Evernote. You can take a photo and write or draw on it like you see of my poor cat above, create a map and mark it up, search the web and copy whole web pages to mark up. The possibilities of how to use this as a travel app are endless. For the forgetful, you could snap a picture of new acquaintances you meet on the road and write their name immediately on the photo. You could generate a map and mark it up with the route you are taking as you walk…no need to carry breadcrumbs anymore! There is also a function to turn web pages into PDFs for an extra cost. If you are on Android, this is a good substitute for the Notability app.
Where Am I? Where and I Going?
Google Maps – Free iOS and Android
Google Maps is probably the most necessary travel app and I am stunned by its accuracy. It maps the most efficient routes, alerts about traffic jams or accidents and gives vocal directions. The function for giving GPS based directions is not only easy to use but precise about arrival times to an almost scary degree. It works well abroad as long as you have a data connection.
Maplets– $2.99 iOS and Android
A database of more than 10,000 city maps from around the world. Street maps, metro maps, biking maps and more are all downloadable within the app and available offline once they are downloaded. The most comprehensive set of city maps I’ve seen, I’ve gotten maps here that I haven’t found anywhere else.
Uber– free iOS and Android
An alternative to taxis, you can order a ride in almost any city. Payment is done through the website with a credit card, which could be an easy plus in a foreign city. Uber is a little contentious in Europe at the moment and it is a dynamic situation, but they are available. If you want to try it, load the app with this promo code and get a $20 credit- N12BO (Truth in advertising, my dad works for Uber! The promo code is from him.)
DB Navigator- Free
Trust accurate train schedules to the the Germans with this app that covers rail networks all over Europe. Plan a trip from London to Palermo and send the schedule you’ve created to your calendar on your phone.
Pronto Treno – Free iOS
The official trip planning app from Trenitalia. Check schedules and maybe buy tickets here, it’s Italy so who knows! You can also watch the realtime progress of a train as it moves across Italy.
Where Should I Sleep?
This hotel booking behemoth is the easiest way to find a hotel and book online. I like the map view, so that I can select a hotel by neighborhood. Typically you can book a room with a credit card number but pay at checkout however you like.
I’m a big fan of AirBnB. Since I’m on the road for several weeks at a time, I like to spend days off pretending to be at home. I’ll rent a little apartment somewhere I don’t know well and use the kitchen to cook for myself, wash my laundry, and just relax. It’s much homier than a hotel, although without a maid I have to clean up after myself (yuck!). I’ve had great luck with these rentals and their cool owners, but you need to pay attention to the reviews.
Similar to AirBnB, this is an apartment rental website. The selection is different and tends to be geared to longer rentals, most of them require 3 or more nights.
Skype – Free iOS and Android
Turn a tablet into a phone. Voice and video calls are free with other Skype users. While FaceTime is better for video calls and WhatsApp is better for voice calls, Skype is great to have when you need to call a landline. Call to any phone number by setting up a credit card on your account. Calls to landlines are about 10 cents per minute, more to cellular numbers. This is a great back-up if your phone ever fails. I once had a broken cell phone and needed to call my bus driver, so I used Skype on my iPad. I looked pretty silly holding that giant tablet to my head, but hey, it worked.
WhatsApp– Free iOS and Android
A popular text messaging app, which lets you message other WhatsApp users for free. It uses your phone number, so this is not available on a tablet. Once you install it, it will automatically recognize the people in your contacts that use it, so you can start messaging right away- many people already have it on their phones. It can also send photos and voice memos. This seems to be the most reliable instant messaging app I’ve found. Creating a group conversation is simple, we have one for my family to chat and share photos. It also allows for good quality voice calls to other WhatsApp users.
Dropbox – Free iOS and Android
A virtual drive that can save photos and documents. Great for file sharing and even better as a locker that you can get to from any computer. As a travel app, I would store copies of my travel documents, flight and hotel confirmations here as a back up. You can create folders that can be shared and email a link to anyone you select.
Tunnel Bear – Free, but needs subscription, iOS, Android and Windows
Convince your computer, phone or tablet that you are in the US. This is a VPN that changes your IP to a country you select. This is necessary for some services that are US only, such as Pandora, Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO Go.
Pandora – Free, but subscription necessary for ad-free music, iOS and Andriod
A free streaming audio app. Create customized radio stations by country, music type or preference. Stations can be refined until they are exactly what you want to hear. This is a US-only app, so it must be used with Tunnel Bear VPN when you are abroad. Create a mood in any country by listening to the music.
8tracks – Free iOS and Android
Another music app, but one with great potential. Rather than randomly generated music, here you can find and listen to other people’s playlists. You can upload your own music and share your playlist online.
Google Music (formerly Songza)– Free iOS and Android
A music app that plays ad-free music. Choose your music from pre-made playlists, based on mood, artist, activity or let the music concierge choose for you. Can be used in Europe without a VPN.
You Tube – Free iOS and Android
This is how you play that song that you must play right now but don’t have on your iPod. Works anywhere without a VPN but does require an Internet connection.
Kindle – Free iOS and Android
The digital storehouse for all of your Kindle books, but can also be used in the same way as iBooks, to store PDF documents. This app is a great reading platform because the titles in your library are available to access from a tablet, phone, Kindle reader and computer. Many public libraries also allow you to check out ebooks in Kindle format. If you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow certain books for free.
Amazon Video, Netflix, HBOGo, XfinityGo and more- free with cable subscription
Watching TV or a movie while traveling may sound counterproductive, but there are just some days that you really want to relax and hang out in your hotel room. Almost every cable channel has its own travel app these days, most of them are available to watch as long as you know your home cable user name and password. You will also need to use a VPN such as TunnelBear to disguise your location, as well as a decent WiFi connection. I like Amazon Video and XfinityGo best because they both have an option for downloading movie or TV shows to view offline, like when you are on an airplane.
Getting the Information
Converter Plus- Free
You are probably not surprised that they don’t use pounds, feet or inches on the Continent, but do you know how to calculate from the metric system? This converter does many calculations including tips.
World Factbook – $.99 iOS
A database of information provided by the CIA on all countries. Need to know the per capita gross income of women in Andorra? The population of Liechtenstein? They’ve got you covered.
Rick Steves Audio Europe- Free iOS and Android
A must for travel in European cities. Rick has put many of his radio interviews and guided tours here. You can download them and listen while visiting the great sights. I recommend the Vatican Museum tour as an alternative to a live tour.
The Pope App – Free iOS and Android
Did you know our 21st century Pope has an app? And a Twitter account? Along with his latest Tweet, this app tells you where the Pope is and his schedule (about a week out). In this Jubilee year, having the app to check schedules will be a time saver. There is also a camera of St. Peter’s Square so you can see how the crowds look before you head over.
Skyguide – $2.99 iOS and Android
Not a necessity, but a fun app for stargazing. Great for evening walks with the in the French countryside or to use while sitting on a romantic terrace on the Amalfi coast. Hold your tablet or phone up to the sky and a map will appear with names of constellations and planets.
Google Translate– free iOS and Android
One of the best travel apps out there. Translate text into other languages by typing or writing with your finger. You can use the microphone to translate a spoken language. My favorite way to use it is with the camera function. You can point your camera at anything and have the app instantly translate, to use with menus, signs, museum plaques and so on. Be warned, though, it isn’t always accurate. Often with hilarious results.
City Papers – $.99 iOS
Most cities in the world have an English language newspaper. This app gives you access to many of them in one place.
Postagram– Free iOS and Android
The days of sending postcards home are becoming a thing of the past, something reminiscent of the 19th century. Postcards are still available everywhere, but the postage is hard to find and usually expensive. A 21st century travel app has arrived to solve that problem. Using any photo on your camera or tablet, create postcards and have them sent directly to the people on your mailing list for $.99 a piece. And I bet they will arrive before you get back!
This is my list of most useful travel apps of the moment. If you have others to add to the list, please comment or message me and I’ll keep adding.