I didn’t get a smart phone until last Christmas. For years, I had rocked a chunky little slider with minimal photo-taking abilities and no prayer of getting an internet connection. It made sounds like a bird when I got texts, and I loved it.
I had always been horrified when I saw what smart phones did to people (absorbing them into a screen and making the world around them disappear), and had put off getting my own as long as possible. But last December, I began a travel adventure that was bigger than any I’d ever done- I left my job at a hostel in New Orleans to embark on a road trip to the San Francisco area, then a flight/bus ride to Vancouver, a drive down the California coast, a flight to Fiji, and onward finally to start my year in Australia. All that in less than three weeks.
My mother, with her Yoda-style wisdom, gave me the new phone for Christmas in an attempt to save me from myself. And goodness knows, I might still be lost in the Southwest if she hadn’t.
Needless to say, I’ve changed my tune about smart phones a bit since then. Besides having the basic GPS and internet functions, phones today can be a traveler’s best friend. I’ve been using a few carefully chosen apps these last few months that have made my travel experience so much easier. I’m going to share my top 5 picks every traveler should try, and of course a few honorable mentions because I can’t help myself.
#1- World Clock & Weather Widget
For the fast-moving explorer, this one can help you remember where you are. Most phones will automatically change their internal clocks as you move around, but with World Clock, you pick a city and it will tell you the time, the local weather AND what time zone you’re in. You can also have multiple cities listed on your screen, so you know what time it’s acceptable to call home.
I discovered Been right before I left the USA for the first time. This app is a simple map and checklist for keeping track of what countries you’ve been to. Just check off the country on the list, and when you view the map it shows up as bright orange. It can also be a fun way to keep track of what places are on your bucket list.
#3- Currency FX
I used this one about every five minutes when I left America. You pick your home currency and the currency of whatever country you are in, put in an amount, and it gives you the exchange rate and new price. It really helps to prevent surprises when you check your bank account, and there are tons of different currencies listed.
#4- Geography Quiz
I am addicted to this game. It’s basically a quiz that tests your knowledge of different flags, capitals, and languages from around the world. I’ve learned so much about countries I didn’t even know existed; it’s a great way to get some inspiration for new places to visit. The best part- you don’t need an internet connection, so it’s airplane friendly.
Duolingo is a language learning app, absolutely amazing for being free. It involves little lessons you can do every day to improve your vocabulary and fluency in any of a handful of languages, from Turkish to Spanish to Welsh. I’m currently working on Dutch, since my family comes from the Netherlands and I’ve met some Dutch friends while traveling. I’m excited to go there someday and have some basic language skills. My boyfriend and I are both slowly but surely working on our Spanish as well, in the hopes of backpacking through Central and South America at some point. If you have some spare time on an airport layover, why not learn some basic French before you hit the ground in France?
Those were the five apps that I think are the most useful for travelers across the board. But there are a few others that I have been rather fond of lately. Check them out:
* Hostelworld- Book a cheap room on the fly.
* Skype- Call your mom, she misses you.
* CheapoAir (USA) and Sky Scanner (AU)- Keep your flights cheap and your life easy.
* Australian Bites and Stings- Yes, I’m mostly putting this here to be funny, but everything in Australia is built to kill you. Great app for those of you thinking about coming down here.