Travelling long term used to mean heading off into unknown with only a beaten up copy of the Lonely Planet to lug around the world for guidance. Now with most people owning a smartphone of some description, there’s a multitude of clever apps for long term travel that’ll enhance your adventure. Here’s a few of our essentials that have proved their mettle after 6 months solid use on the road.
The classic language app that keeps getting better with each update. Packed with useful features which include being able to snap a picture of text for translation and the ability to save your most used phrases. This easy to navigate app has proved invaluable and gets used pretty much every day. Download the off line language pack before you arrive at your destination so you’re ready when you need a translation in a pinch. It’ll certainly help when deciphering restaurant menus and it may mean you swerve ordering the rams head stew (complete with googly eyes) like we did in Ecuador.
Most of us would like to keep a travel journal but often find it difficult to keep up with daily entries. If that sounds like you then this could be the app you need. Polar Steps tracks your movements in the background via GPS (using only 4% battery per day) and produces a cool interactive map of where you’ve been. You can update each location with text and upload photos. You can then choose to keep private or share with friends across various social networks. It works off line then syncs when you’re next on a wifi connection for ease. We only started using it recently but already find it a lot more convenient than a daily journal.
Better usability than Google Maps, Maps Me has become an essential app over the last four months. On point GPS and packed with the most random (but useful) local sights and attractions, this has got us around the biggest cities and the tiniest towns with ease. It really earned it’s stripes when we got lost in the Colombian jungle for hours with a local guide. He didn’t have a clue where we were, but Maps Me saved the day by finding a small unmarked trial that lead us back out to civilisation. Priceless.
Essential for those epic 20 hour bus journeys when there’s nothing but Rambo 1-5 cranked up to an obscene volume, dubbed in Spanish playing on multiple screens.
Whatever your interests you can plug in and switch off to whatever madness is going on around you. Some of our favourites have included Serial series 1&2, My Dad Wrote a Porno, and the short true stories told by ordinary people on NYC’s, The Moth.
These guys charge the owners 15% and take a clip of your cash, but they also have the biggest listing of Hostels worldwide and will undoubtedly throw up some options even in the most remote and random locations.
Using the online reviews it’s easy to decipher where the party hostels are vs those with a bit more of a laid back vibe. One posting from a particularly raucous hostel in Mancora, Peru simply read “shagged all the boys, got VD. Happy days”. We decided to book down the road instead.
I started using this about 6 months before we left and while it’s no substitute for practical conversation I found 20 minutes a day had given me a somewhat decent foundation of Spanish vocabulary. I try to keep it up as we go, wifi permitting as find it helps keep me focused on actually learning new words, rather than hashing out the same generic phrases. If they made an off-line version it would may be top of the list. On a side note the developers have just released a new app called Tiny Cards which helps you remember any topic using flash cards. There’s thousands of subjects to choose from already with more being added each week.
We save everything onto the cloud as often as possible to avoid losing any precious photos or projects. A couple we met in Chiclayo, Peru had their bag snatched in the market one morning last week, containing all their Galapagos photos they hadn’t had a chance to back up. Obviously devastated, it was a trip of a lifetime and those memories were priceless. Anything can happen to your camera/phone etc so it’s a big priority of ours to keep our data safe. Aside from backups, it’s great place for storing copies of your passport and any other important documents you may need that you don’t want to carry with you on the road.
When you’re crossing the border at 4am having just woken up on the bus, realise you still have 58000 Colombian pesos in your pocket and a man offers to exchange them for $9 US dollars, you can quickly pull out your XE app and tell him ‘no way sonny Jim I know your game, i’ll take $19 US dollars and not a penny less!’ He may try and bargain you down but remember you have the power of technology on your side. Just make sure you don’t get your phone jacked..
My Dad’s a bit of a Luddite and setting up a scheduled Skype call is often more trouble than it’s worth. With WeTalk I load credits onto the app via ApplePay and simply call him on his mobile where ever he is, (usually the pub). This means I don’t interrupt precious drinking time and can be free to call whenever it suits. You can also do this with Skype using their Skype Credit feature, but WeTalk is cheaper and the call quality seems to be pretty damn good on the sketchiest of wifi connections.
If you have an essential app you think we should be using please drop us a comment below.