Not so many years ago, travellers around the globe could be observed standing on busy street corners flicking their eyes from the map to the street with a constant look of confusion on their faces. Then they could be seen making their way to the nearest phone box, tourist office – or later an internet cafe – to contact accommodation, book a show, or find out the train timetable. Thankfully those days are behind us – well, except for those older tourists who still faithfully cling to the old ways.
Smart phones have a few (only a few, in my opinion) redeeming features in modern life, and one of them is the ability to travel with greater ease, not to mention security. For Cass and I this has been the major difference in travel logistics from when we were young, solo backpacking tourists in the early 2000s. Since taking to the road back in April we have experimented with a wide range of apps to assist in almost every aspect of the travel experience – buying tickets, weather forecasting, communicating with loved ones on the other side of the globe or finding a good place to eat. The following five apps are those that have made travelling easier and have allowed us to break out of that old paper-map-wielding-tourist mould.
Maps are vital for travel, especially if you are like us and like to travel off the beaten path. Galileo is the perfect fit. While we sometimes use Google Maps for getting easy directions to follow en route, it’s not the best app when you have no service, or when you want to find a walking trail to an intriguing lighthouse you’ve spied atop a hidden headland. Galileo is our go-to map app.
The vector maps can be used offline (you can download entire countries as you need them) and the walking trails, bike paths and small roads are usually more accurate than Google Maps (especially in less populated areas). You can save your favourite places, make bookmarks and record where you are travelling in real-time.
For me, though, the most fun feature is that we can download files from websites, tracking devices and use them while travelling. Before walking the Camino de Santiago, we downloaded the Camino del Norte map onto Galileo. Whenever we couldn’t see an iconic yellow arrow or scollop shell, we could easily find the route even when we were out of service range.
Not used as frequently in Australia, WhatsApp is a must-have for travelling in Europe. Everyone uses it, and everyone has it. For those that don’t know it, WhatsApp allows you to message, voice call, video call and send photos on a secure encrypted platform. It is a vital tool when contacting accommodation or people you meet. It’s also useful for contacting home, as the video call function works better than Skype. As it uses data instead of your mobile service, it saves money too.
I use this app for budgeting and keeping our spending in check. The best feature is that I can easily change between currencies. I can also track how much is in my bank account and it is useable offline. I’m sure there’s other great apps for this same purpose, but I have been using this one for years and it hasn’t disappointed yet, so I’m sticking with it.
There’s more about Home Budget in our article on travelling Europe for €25 per day.
Nothing irks me more than a tourist that doesn’t even bother learning how to say hello, goodbye or thank you in the local language. Over the years, I’ve encountered too many people shouting a slow, simplified English at locals in an attempt to communicate. In nearly all the countries I’ve been to (one major exception, but I’m not going to country-shame), if you try and speak a little of the local language, people instantly become more helpful and willing to converse with you in whatever way they can.
Cass likes to learn on the ground as he goes, (and that works for him) but I’m a planner, so I like to do it in advance. Usually a few weeks before we get to a country, I use Duolingo to learn some basics in that language. It’s been helpful in most places and I can now have a (very) basic conversation in a number of languages – a Jack of all trades, master of none.
I’m reluctantly including Trip Advisor, as it is not usually how I’d like to travel. I don’t like an algorithm or a guide book telling me the places to go or what to see and do. This is one area where I don’t like to plan. I like to arrive in a place and discover what there is to see and do by walking around and talking to people.
But, there is a major advantage to Trip Advisor. For our first few months travelling, we found eating out very difficult. We love to cook at our accommodation, but it isn’t always practical. Our kids were fussy eaters (thankfully this is taking a turn for the better – after nine months on the road!) and to further complicate things, I don’t eat a lot of meat. Spain is a very omnivorous country, and most of the places we can afford to eat include meat in every dish.
After a few months, we started using Trip Advisor to find places with vegetarian options, as well as something that our kids would actually eat. The filters made it much easier to find nearby options and some of the best places we have eaten have come from Trip Advisor recommendations.
There’s a multitude of great travel-oriented apps out there, and we use a whole lot more than those listed here, but these are the core group that make our lives a little bit simpler every day so we can focus on enjoying the real adventures.