There are so many apps for travelers out there that already do an amazing job allowing you to buy a flight or book a hotel as quickly as going to the toilet.
But if you think about it, there are so many others non-obvious apps for travelers that also can make your life on the road easier and your trips more enjoyable and productive.
That’s exactly what I’m focusing on this article. The absolute essential travel apps you must have on your smartphone when you are out there exploring the world.
Trust me, they will save money, space, time or even d) all of the above!
This article has been updated for 2024.
1Revolut – No more conversion fees
The first essential app abroad: a smart banking solution to avoid the 20th-century ridiculous exchange fees. Revolut is one of the most exciting FinTech companies out there.
It works like an online bank account and their contactless VISA is the perfect card for travels, allowing you to pay with the real exchange rate. No extra fees. Apart from these, it also enables free bank transfers for accounts in 120+ countries.
- Opening an account is free (you can upgrade to a premium/platinum plan though)
- Keep a wallet of 130 different currencies, including cryptocurrency
- Free payments and ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world
- Free travel insurance if you upgrade to a Metal or Premium plan
2Seek – What’s this animal?
I’m a nature lover. In the first possibility I dive into forests, mountains, parks or just hit a beach. With time, I became more aware of my surroundings and keeping an eye on what’s really around me and curiosity started to hit. How is this animal called? What’s the species for this plant? Seek by iNaturalist answers all this and much more and allows you to keep track of your sightings – just like real-life pokémons!
This app is a must if you’re traveling to a nature-infused destination but from my experience it’s also interesting to do the same exercise in urban areas.
- Huge database of fauna and flora worldwide
- Revisit your sigthings at any time
- Visual map on where each animal/plant can be found
3Google Translate – Real-time translations
What most people don’t know about Google Translate is that since Google bought Word Lens, real-time translation is available, just by using the camera on your smartphone. Yes, real time! Just select a language, point the camera of your phone to printed words and the translation magically appears on the screen. Bam!
To use this feature, just click the camera icon in your Google Translate app. Comes in handy to navigate linguistic problematic situations like translating menus, signs, or documents.
- Quick rendering and translation
- The app adapts the translated text to the font and colors of the original text
- Includes dictionary for looking up words manually
4Airalo – Internet everywhere!
There are 3 basic things in life: breathing, eating and… an internet connection. And for satisfy your needs on the latter worldwide, meet Airalo.
In essence it’s a way to buy eSIMs for mobile data in almost any country. If you don’t know an eSIM is, it’s basically an embedded SIM card in your phone. You can digitally activate it for easy access to the Internet when traveling to different countries.
Now, I will say for most places it’s cheaper to buy a local physical SIM when you get there, but the advantage of Airalo is instant connectivity. You can sort out your internet needs even before you landed on your destination.
- Extensive coverage – get connected in 200+ countries
- Reliable service, with efficient customer support
5Uber – Getting from point A to point B
Uber is perhaps the easiest, safest way to get around anywhere. With literally two taps on your mobile you can be picked up anywhere you want. You immediately receive the exact time of arrival and information on the driver. The payment is done safely through the app and you can even choose to add a tip.
I am not even a taxi fan, I try to always walk or use public transportation when traveling, but I have to admit Uber turns the process of getting from point A to point B into some kind of sexy digital magic.
- Cheaper rates than a regular taxi
- Great modern interface
- Reliable and timely service
And back to money – we live in a capitalist world, don’t we? There are many ways to get lost in translation when you travel and one of the most anxiety-inducing, at least for me, is through money. Let’s say you’re in Vietnam and someone hands you a 2-million dong receipt. Instant mini-heart attack. OMG that must be a lot?! (spoiler: it’s not that much, less than $100 USD at Nov 2023’s rate).
A currency converter app becomes very useful to avoid getting scammed. Honestly, I don’t have a particular recommendation here. My only tips: pick one that updates rates almost in real-time and that’s either free or has a one-time fee – avoid monthly suscriptions. I use Currency Converter Plus as I really don’t like XE’s UI, but hey, that’s a personal preference.
- Instant money conversion for more informed purchases abroad
- Up-to-date exchange rates
7Google Photos – Save your photos on the cloud
A few days in Mexico City and bam!, suddenly I had 1000+ photos. And my last week-long trip to Madeira Island yielded almost 3,000 photos! How are we supposed to manage this sheer amount of digital information?
Selecting the best travel photos, organize them in albums, backing up for your computer or hard drive, all when are running out of space on your phone is a huge pain point for travelers.
To handle this photo madness, Google Photos is a smart way to keep all your photo collection organised. It has automatic backups and it’s even able to create videoclips and styled pictures from your uploaded pictures automagically (to be honest, this is borderline creepy). This is one of the best ideas to keep your travel memories I’ve seen!
- GREAT User Experience
- Automatic backups
- AI identifies objects, people and other elements on photos, making it entirely searchable
8CityMapper – Ultimate transportation app
Navigating the public transportation when you’re traveling can be overwhelming. Particularly in big metropolis like New York City.
While Google Maps does a pretty decent job getting you from point A to point B, it’s far ahead from the impressive features of Citymapper.
Not only it shows journey times and routes – with virtually all means of transportation possible, from buses and trains to shared bikes and mopeds – it also tells you which part of the train to board and the exit to take to make your way as efficient possible.
Add real-time schedules and offline transportation maps and you get an impressive smart tool to get around anywhere.
- Multimodal algorithm which combines fixed options (subway, trams, buses) and floating (shared scooters, moped, bikes + ride hailing).
- Real-time schedules and offline maps are a great addition
- Fun and light copy and UX (they also tell you how long a catapult would take 😊)
9Notes – Digital Post Its
I have a wandering mind. As a detail-oriented person, I can get easily distracted by anything. That can be a good thing whilst traveling: I’m usually the one alerting whoever is with me to funny or weird things happening around. But other times I truly need something helping me organise my mind.
The Notes app on my mind helps me put everything together, both on my life on and off travel. Grocery shopping lists. Memories of things that caught my eye abroad. Mini-bucket lists. Restaurants where I had a tasty meal. Or picture snaps with comments I want to incorporate in the blog.
To be fair, there are other specialized apps with extended features such as Evernote, Google Keep and Bear. I just use the default Apple version to avoid having yet another app.
- A note can be a high variety of things: documents, pictures, reminders or plain text
- Possibility to add tags to your notes for a quicker search
- Continuity: desktop and mobile app are synced seamlessly
10Maps.me – Offline Maps
What do you do absolutely need when you are lost? Yes, a glass of wine is acceptable, but a map would be even more useful.
Google Maps now has the option to save maps for offline use. but it doesn’t exactly help you when you’re hopelessly lost. Like the time we got lost following Google Maps directions in a main island in Croatia.
Downloading a map is still a great way to save on data roaming fees. Maps.me allows you to download a map of any location in the world and access it later when you’re not connected to your mobile network or if you don’t have WiFi. In other words, perfect for traveling.
- Fast and detailed maps
- You can still locate yourself using GPS even without an internet connection
I mean, we’re in the era of AI, so had to be mentioned right? I use ChatGPT on my phone to help me plan out my itinerary, start a packing list or – when on the road – give me fun facts about a specific sight or monument. It delivered accurate information 90% of the times, the other times hallucinated a bit (like when suggested me to take the train from Heraklion to Chania in Crete 🤡). So always verify the data.
That said, it’s still an extremely powerful that extends your knowledge in so many areas. Why not use it as a tool to enrich your travels as well?
Do you use these apps? Which other ones do you say is an essential app for any traveler? Let’s make this list bigger!