I learned a lot while traveling over the past 8 months (mostly through trial-and-error) about how to live, communicate and get around in different countries. If you search for travel advice online, articles mostly focus on apps to book travel – flights, taxis, hotels, dinner reservations, etc.
But they neglect to cover many of the real (and often costly) challenges you are likely to encounter while traveling. And while apps don’t solve everything, the right ones can make life alot easier.
This is especially true if you don’t want to travel like a tourist (or spend money like one) by staying in hotels, dining where everyone speaks your language, taking cabs, going on tours, and planning every detail of your trip in advance.
A traveler needs to be more nimble, adventurous and savvy, sightseeing yet living as a local would.
I would often spend only a few days in each city having done little to no advance research, but these apps made a clueless traveler seem like a seasoned local.
Talk may be cheap, but not when you’re “roaming”.
Staying connected while traveling doesn’t have to cost you the equivalent of a car payment and firstborn child. But it CAN – if you leave it to your mobile carrier, who will happily take your money.
You do NOT need to buy those ridiculous international call and text plans. With the right apps, you can communicate for free or close to it. All you need is wifi access.
- WhatsApp: MUST HAVE. Text any WhatsApp user in the world for free. It’s easy – just download it, register with your mobile number, and all your contacts with WhatsApp will automatically pop up. Once you travel you’ll realize most people with a smart phone use WhatsApp regularly.
- Skype: Aside from video messaging, Skype allows you to place calls just like a regular phone. Purchase Skype credits to make international calls for only pennies per minute. I’ve been using the same $10 Skype credit for the past 8 months and still have credit left!
- GV Phone (Google Voice Phone): Free calls and texts to US or Canada (even landlines) using wifi. It also syncs with Google Chat. You’ll be asked to select a new Google number (you’ll have two mobile numbers operating from the same phone). I love it because the person you’re calling doesn’t have to have the app. Only available to U.S. users.
TIP: Make sure to turn off your data and forward your calls to your Google number while traveling. Otherwise, even missed calls will cost you $1 or more (WTF?!). By forwarding calls to your Google number, you’ll only receive calls when you’re connected to wifi. And Google will email you transcripts of your voicemail messages.
- Do NOT use Google Voice (only available to U.S. users) to place calls while outside the United States! Unlike GV Phone, Google Voice connects calls using your minutes, which is roaming and costs roughly $1.50/min depending on your plan. I learned this the expensive way…Damn Google, a little warning would’ve been nice. I have a love-hate relationship with you.
- Viber/Tango: I’m not a fan because they only work if the other person has the app. And needless to say, it doesn’t work for landlines.
Transportation and boarding:
- Google Maps: The Transit function on Google Maps is life-changing. In most European cities I’ve been in, local transit agencies report their routes and schedules to Google so you can plan your routes in real-time. You can even set your desired departure or arrival time so that transit options are updated to reflect the buses running during that time.
- AirBnB: I traveled for 3 straight months by booking on AirBNB, which is a site where locals list rooms (or entire flats) for rent to travelers. At a fraction of the cost of a hotel, you’ll generally have access to a full kitchen and often a washing machine. Plus you can search by location, price, and amenities (wifi, parking, etc).
Where to go, what to do:
- Foursquare: It’s not just for “checking in”. I used it to find restaurants, pubs, museums and more. Foursquare recommends the best reviewed places based on your location. Listings usually include photos, opening hours, phone numbers and sometimes links to menus. You can even bookmark places and check them off as you go along.
- Yelp: It works similar to Foursquare but I find that it’s not as widely used. I recommend having both since all countries are different.
- iTranslate: I love this app because it saves your translation searches so you can access them even when you don’t have wifi. I’ve used this app to help me have full-on conversations in French and Italian – and the locals tell me the translations are pretty accurate.
- Word Lens: This amazing translation app works just like a camera! Let’s say you’re having trouble understanding an Italian menu. Just scan the menu with the app and order “pasta con pollo straccetti e carciofo grigliato (pasta with braised chicken and grilled artichoke)” with confidence! And it works without wifi. $4.99 per language.
I hope these apps save you time, money and headaches! If you know of any others, I love to hear from you. I’ve only used these apps in Europe but would be curious to hear how they’ve worked for you.
I wish you happy and safe travels, my loves!