Smartphones have made travel so much easier and more comfortable than ever before. You can now stay in touch with your friends and family almost daily by downloading just a few travel apps. I've played around with a bunch in my travels, and have found these to be by far the most helpful and necessary for all kinds of trips.
Hostelworld is the number 1 hostel booking app in the world. Its interface is crazy easy to use, and you can even save your card and info, so all you have to do is input your trip dates and locations and it’ll do the rest. The Hostelworld app tells you what comes included in your stay (free breakfast, WiFi, air conditioning, pool, etc.), and gives you access to quite literally hundreds of reviews for every location. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve booked my hostel solely based on the Hostelworld reviews. It’s my absolute number 1 pick for must-have travel apps.
So apparently Google Maps does a similar thing these days, but I continue to swear by this app and use it on every single one of my trips. Maps.Me allows you to download an offline version of your region’s map while using WiFi, so that when you’re out of cellular range, you can still use it for directions and GPS capabilities. This means that when you’re out and about in the middle of a city or even in the jungle, you can pinpoint your location and use it to find directions without the need for internet. It’s incredibly easy to use and has saved my butt on more than one occasion.
This one seems like a no-brainer. Similar to Maps.Me, with the Google Translate app, you can download a language package while you're in WiFi range, and then use it when you’re offline. That means that when you’re out and about and need a last-minute translation - say to get back to your hostel - you can type your question in English, and it will translate it instantly into the local language. It’s incredibly helpful particularly with taxis, street vendors and bus stations.
Chances are you already have WhatsApp downloaded on your phone, but in case you don't, you absolutely should. Much like iMessage, WhatsApp uses WiFi to send and receive text, voice and video messages. This means you don't have to be connected to Cell Data at all while using it, making it essentially free. It even comes with a pre-installed (and removable) read receipt function, so you can always know your parents read your text and know where you are. It's absolutely essential and insanely helpful if you're traveling without an international phone plan.
A Banking App
When you’re abroad, your cash is your lifeline. Without a functioning debit/credit card, you’re effectively cut off from your cash. Having an app linked to your bank account is not only helpful, but it can be completely necessary in times of stress. I, for example, lost my debit card in Thailand and was stuck without any money. I used my banking app to get in touch with my bank, and they overnighted a new card to my hostel immediately. Do not get cut off from your bank account. Without money, you can genuinely do nothing. This is a vital app to have when you’re abroad.
XE Currency Converter
Remembering the exchange rate for your money can be tricky, especially in countries where 1 USD is worth something like 13,000 of the local currency. With the XE currency converter, you can instantly get the local value for your money and vice versa. This can come in handy particularly with street vendors, taxi cabs and bus companies. And the best thing is that this app updates in real time, so if the exchange rate suddenly changes during your trip, you won’t get duped out of a good deal.
Uber, Lyft, GrabTaxi
No matter where you are in the world, cab drivers will try to take advantage of unseasoned tourists. Apps like Uber, Lyft and GrabTaxi can stop you from getting taken advantage of, and can actually save you tons of money when getting around. Be sure to ask or check to see which apps are legal/used in which countries. In Colombia, for example, Uber is technically illegal, but is used anyway. In Indonesia, they only use GrabTaxi. Do a bit of research to see what options are available to you, because it will save you a serious penny, especially at airports.
Spotify, Podcasts, Audible
These apps have saved my sanity so many times. When you’re backpacking on a budget, you’ll likely take bus rides that can range anywhere from 2 to 20 hours. Without WiFi or cell data, you’re going to need to keep yourself entertained for these long, tedious rides. Podcasts, music and audiobooks can make any trip bearable and even fun. I listened to an audiobook during a 12 hour bus ride in Guatemala, and the time absolutely flew by. Be sure to download everything ahead of time, though, as you need them stored on your device before you’re out of WiFi range.
ProTip: when a bus company tells you their bus has WiFi, 9 times out of 10 it won't work.