Although traveling abroad often implies losing the constant internet connectivity we’ve come to take for granted, smartphones still remain powerful devices while on the road.
There’s a plethora of travel apps, and the list seems to keep growing. While some of the ones I’ll discuss here are only available for iPhone, they all have similar alternatives in the Android ecosystem. These are my 5 essential apps for travelers:
1. Trail Wallet
Unless money is of no concern to you, you should probably keep track of your expenses, especially if you’re on the road for more than a few days. Trail Wallet does a brilliant job at letting you do just that, and much more.
If your trip encompasses several countries, you can add as many currencies as you need, and have instant conversion to your local currency (offline), so that you have a better grasp of how much you are spending on that delicious watermelon smoothie in Bangkok (hint: if you’re coming from, say, Europe or North America, next to nothing, compared to what you’d pay back home… which is why I couldn’t have enough of those smoothies when I was in Thailand!).
Finally, Trail Wallet can double as a make-shift travel diary, since you can add a rather long description to each entry (I actually don’t know if there’s a character limit). So if you’re ever curious about what was it that you payed €3 at lunch for, the names of the guesthouses and hotels you stayed in, or the entrance tickets to attractions, for instance, you can add a note to that effect for future reference. Now that I am back home, I am finding this feature extremely useful to both retrace my journey and recall specific details from it. You can also use the CSV export feature to analyze your expenses in more detail on a spreadsheet, if that’s your thing (I may actually try that).
Above all, using Trail Wallet every day really helped me to stay (mostly: I’m only human!) on budget, so I was glad I decided to use it from day 1 of my trip. You can download it here and try it for free with up to 25 items.
Yes, I know. I’m not breaking new ground here by recommending such a well-known website. But I have used TripAdvisor so many times, both while planning trips at home and on the road, that I just can’t leave it out from this list. The combination of travel booking tools and user reviews is just perfect. Look for accommodation at a city on certain dates, and TripAdvisor will present you with deals from all of the main booking websites such as Agoda, Booking and Expedia, that you can book from within the app at no extra-charge (as far as I can tell).
As a side note, be advised that all major booking websites add a commission of between 15 and 20% over the listed hotel rates, so in most cases you’ll be able to get an equal or lower rate by contacting the establishments directly.
Every now and then reports emerge about fraudulent user reviews on TripAdvisor. I’m sure there’s some of this going on, but you should take these reports with a huge pinch of salt, just as you should do with user reviews and ratings on TripAdvisor itself. In my experience, if you look for establishments with several dozen opinions spanning over a half year at least, with 80-90% very good or excellent ratings and few or no recent bad reviews, you just can’t go wrong. To me, TripAdvisor is an irreplaceable tool for any traveler.
Given the name of this blog, you won’t be surprised to find that two of my current five favorite travel apps are not travel apps “per se”. It makes sense though, since documenting my trips with images and videos is an essential part of travelling for me.
There are dozens of camera/photo apps for your phone, and I have bought quite a few, but Camera+ is the one I keep coming back to. While many of the existing options offer very similar functionalities, Camera + was one of the first to bring up a well-rounded package with an extremely easy to use interface.
The in-app camera comes with several features not available in the standard camera, such as a stabilizer, and a grid as a compositional aid.
The range of built-in scene modes and filters should be more than adequate for most users. You can adjust the intensity of filters between 0-100%, and also layer them on top of one another to achieve just the right look you’re after. Oh, and if you haven’t tried it yet, that clarity preset has to be one of the best around to add some “pop” to even the dullest of your images.
If all that is not enough, the app offers plenty of options for finer global and local adjustments.
You can download the app here.
Lately, I’ve started using the much more powerful, and truly awesome, Enlight app, but this is an altogether different animal and I’ll probably write a separate post about it in the future.
4. Hide My Ass
Funny name aside, Hide My Ass (HMA) is the kind of app you should never travel without. HMA is a Virtual Protected Network (VPN) that encrypts your data through remote servers. In lay terms this means it’s a way for you to securely and privately surf the internet on public networks. There are many VPN services available, some free and generally not recommended, and other paying ones that in my view are well worth the money.
When you are travelling you will mainly be using public WiFi networks in cafés, bars or guesthouses. These networks are often unsecure, or are set up less than ideally, so using them will leave your smartphone, tablet or computer dangerously exposed to hackers, malware and other threats. If you are connected on one such public network, you really don’t want to do some online banking or give your credit card details to book a flight. In those instances, using a VPN will give you peace of mind.
In addition, there is a seemingly growing list of countries around the world where popular services such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or even Google and Gmail are banned (see this for instance). Earlier this year China took things even further by blocking VPNs too, but you can still use a VPN in most countries, and you probably should even in your own country whenever you connect to a public network.
I have been an enthusiastic photographer for the past few years, and have only recently taken an interest in video. The problem is none of my DSLR or mirror-less cameras are capable of recording decent video, except for one camera that is a bit on the large and heavy side. For these reasons, I think twice before bringing it to longer trips where packing light and saving space are priorities.
In my last trip, I resorted to using my iPhone 6 to record video, and found myself using it more and more often as days went by. I’ve come back home with some half-decent video footage that I’m currently learning how to edit (see this post for instance). But in hindsight, I do regret not bringing along a more adequate camera for video shooting.
However, if you still want to use your phone for video recording, you could do much worse than trying out MoviePro. This app comes with a plethora of choices that are unavailable when using the iPhone’s native camera app: choice of aspect-ratio, and resolutions up to even 3K; plenty more fps options and a finer manual control of auto-focus and exposure; different options for audio recording, including uncompressed audio; audio metering and adjustable mic volume, and many others that I have yet to explore.
In my first trip using the app, I mostly used the 1280 x 720 resolution recommended by YouTube. The standard iPhone camera only allows for 1080p video, a higher resolution that comes with larger file sizes. So in terms of saving up memory space in your phone (and boy did I need to do that!), it makes sense to use an app like MoviePro that gives you the choice.
Above all, I found the pause/resume functionality to be one of the greatest features of MoviePro.
This feature is not available in the native iPhone video camera, which means you end up with far too long videos that require splitting and editing to cut out the uninteresting bits in between and save memory space. Alternatively, you have too many separate clips depending on how many times you stop recording as you go. None of that happens with the pause/resume feature in MoviePro. If only for this and the ability to record in 1280 x 720 resolution, I think the app is well worth it.
You can download MoviePro here.
So what do you guys think? Have you used any of these apps or do you have any other favorite ones (for iOS or Android) to recommend? Leave me a comment below!