The days of paper maps are almost numbered and asking for directions is now hardly necessary. Navigating a foreign city is nowhere near as difficult as it once was with the advent of smartphone apps. You no longer need to wander aimlessly if you don’t want to and you can lighten your backpack of the old-fashioned 1,000 page guidebook (although we do still love a Lonely Planet!).
We round up (what we consider to be) some of the best travel guide apps that we use regularly and what we believe to be the best free travel apps currently on the market. Based on our personal experience, we’ve found these ones to be the best apps for exploring the world and share our favourite features below. If you come across the next best thing or can recommend another one for our arsenal, be sure to include the details so we can check it out!
A LIST OF THE BEST TRAVEL APPS FOR EUROPE & BEYOND
BEST TRAVEL APPS FOR NAVIGATION
Getting lost on your travels can be fun but it’s a good idea to know where home is. Before we travel or set off for the day, we save key locations on Google Maps whilst also categorising them accordingly. We tend to mark our accommodation (“Home Base”), restaurants, cafes, attractions to visit and places we want to see.
The pink heart we use to flag where we are staying; the green flags are places we want to go and the yellow stars are used once we have visited a spot. You can access Google Maps and your strategically placed markers when you are offline with no access to the Internet, provided you have not closed the Google Maps app on your phone BEFORE leaving Internet access.
We predict that approximately 90% of travellers will now have used Rome2Rio at some point when planning transport routes and undoubtedly found it helpful.
Rome2Rio can help you discover how to get anywhere in the world via plane, bus, train, car, ferry and walking. It brilliantly taps into schedules from transport providers all over the world and will list transport options, travel times and estimated cost between point A and point B. Multi-stop routes are possible, you can filter your search into local currency and change your distance to measure kilometres or miles.
When we have been unable to find transport options ourselves, we usually turn to Rome2Rio for assistance as often it will provide information of a transport company we had not come across in our primary research. Rome2Rio can be used on desktop and in a mobile app but requires an internet connection.
Rideshare | Uber/Ola/Didi/Grab/Lyft/Sheeba
How did we ever survive getting from A to B before the days of ridesharing apps? Uber is certainly classed as a godsend by millions of people worldwide much to the dismay of traditional taxi companies. Other rideshare companies are now competing with Uber including Ola, Didi, Grab (Asia), Lyft (USA) and Sheeba (female drivers for female passengers only). All rideshare apps require an Internet connection and a debit or credit card loaded to your user account.
Be mindful that most of these apps will send an activation code via SMS before use so it would be wise to research which rideshare companies operate within the countries you’re visiting and set up your account before arriving. For example, Uber does not operate in Singapore; the rideshare market is held by Grab. Unfortunately, we were caught out in Singapore and hadn’t downloaded Grab in Australia before our visit. We didn’t purchase a local SIM card as we couldn’t justify the cost for our two-day visit so we were unable to download the app successfully and as a result, we used public transport and walked everywhere instead.
Navigating a major city can be stressful and overwhelming but with the help of CityMapper, this task is much easier. CityMapper has tapped into the public transport networks of several major cities around the world, providing transport options, routes, travel time and estimated costs based on your query.
CityMapper can be used offline if you have previously already conducted a search query and loaded a route but new searches require an Internet connection. Keep in mind that unlike Google Maps, CityMapper is currently limited to major cities but one advantage is that the app may have access to some public transport options that aren’t available on Google Maps. This is particularly handy during those times your legs can’t walk any further!
Maps.Me is the ultimate offline maps application and arguably one of the best apps for exploring, allowing users to create their own routes via car, walking, cycling or public transport whilst bookmarking locations along the way. If you’d rather somebody else plan the route for you, you can download guides curated by travellers who have already traversed the route. The Maps.Me catalogue classifies routes into different types so that you can search accordingly. There are hiking and trekking routes, roadtrips, winter activities, sightseeing guides through cities or nature and self-guided tours written by select bloggers.
Downloaded guides provide the planned route, distance, estimated time and historical content so you’re guaranteed to be learning on the way too. Winning!
BEST TRAVEL APPS FOR COMMUNICATION
We know that you all do your best to learn some basics of a new language before travelling to a foreign country but knowing how to say “Where is the bathroom, please?” might not be as useful when you want to order some dinner.
Google Translate can be used offline once you have downloaded your nominated language for translation into your mother tongue. Select the camera and hold it above the text you need to translate (e.g. restaurant menu) and Google Translate can usually translate approximately 80 – 90% of the text (disclaimer – this is our estimate only based on our personal experience!). When trying to communicate with locals, you can also use the microphone to speak in your native tongue and Google Translate will provide a translation which you can either show on your smartphone or attempt to speak out loud! Google Translate would certainly prove to be one of the best travel apps for Europe where the language changes at almost every border!
Prior to 2016, WhatsApp had an annual subscription cost of $0.99 but now it is completely free! We find WhatsApp to be a useful app as you can communicate with others who have a registered SIM in countries different to your own – to use WhatsApp, you simply require an Internet connection. We have found it particularly handy when communicating with drivers or Airbnb hosts. Group chats are possible and you can also send photos and videos too.
BEST TRAVEL APPS FOR TRAVEL MONEY
Travelling in a new country will often mean working with an unfamiliar currency so you want to make sure you avoid getting ripped off by a shady foreign exchange deal. To be able to manage your finances and get a handle on those impulsive purchases, download XE Currency.
You can choose to have ten (10) currencies showing at any one time which is great if travelling through Europe or backpacking Asia. The foreign exchange rate can update every minute provided it is connected to the Internet. When you are offline, you can still obtain an estimated exchange for your selected currency; the app will simply use the latest exchange rate from when you were last online.
Remember – foreign currency rates fluctuate from source to source and the exchange rate on this app should be used as a guide only.
The all important one! Having access to funds whilst abroad is uber important. Avoiding ATM fees becomes a challenge and downright annoying as does any foreign exchange rate fees.
Recently, there have been a wave of “neobanks” who have developed apps that allow travellers to set up an account, purchase multiple currencies and have access to this money in a flash. By using these apps, you can do your best to sidestep commissions, poor exchange rates and foreign transaction fees.
Monzo is based in the UK and Xinja is based in Australia. Western Union is a familiar brand recognised worldwide in case you get into a pickle. We have used TransferWise previously to transfer funds across different currency bank accounts and found this process seamless, fast and reliable. Transferwise has recently established a multi-currency account too. For US-based travellers, we have heard that Remitly is a popular option for money transfers.
BEST TRAVEL APPS FOR HOLIDAY MEMORIES
TraveLibro can be described as the new age travel diary. Download the free app and document your itineraries by day. You can include photos, tag locations including restaurants and add a description in the notes so that you can remember the particulars. Then, when you return home, the benefit is twofold. You can fondly go back through your trips and relive your favourite holiday moments, and you can also provide recommendations to family and friends. Winning!