Having recently given a couple tips to traveling friends, I thought it was worth posting what’s become most valuable to me now that I’m on the road, and often on a limited bandwidth diet/poor wifi connection.
Sidenote for app developers: I have a newfound appreciation for apps that have a great offline experience. Its amazing how many apps just silently fail instead of telling people they need to be online to function.
Google Maps: saving places for offline use has been a lifesaver! Before I arrive in a new place, I download the city to my phone and save all the places people recommend along with where we’re staying and spots I’d like to visit. I add custom labels so I know which restaurants were recommended by whom, or which little yellow star is our AirBnB. GPS works without data so I have often relied on this to help us find our accommodation when we first land, plus its nice when we are our and get hungry – I can quickly see which nearby cafes have been recommended by our friends.
Google Translate: this also works in offline mode, and has been critical at restaurants and in grocery stores. You can either type in the text you want translated, or point your phone’s camera at a menu or street sign or food packaging and it will translate for you. The night before we head to a new country I make sure I have the local map and the local language downloaded. The caveat is that some languages seem to be handled better than others – it was great for French and Spanish, but pretty terrible for Finnish.
Citymapper: This is my preferred app for navigating public transit. It will give you routes based on fastest time, the least amount of walking, the least exposure to rain, etc. It will also estimate Uber/taxi prices relative to public transit, and tell you how many calories you’ll burn based on the amount of walking. I far prefer their UI for walking directions over Google or Apple – I seem to have an easier time knowing which direction I need to go. The only issue is that its not available in all cities, but they add more all the time.
AirBnB: If we are staying someplace for a week or more, this tends to be a better option than a hotel. You get a kitchen, better wifi (usually) and access to a washing machine, plus the price works out to be cheaper than a hotel for longer stays. One of the nicest things is that you can communicate with your host via the app, so I don’t have to worry about int’l text fees or the fact that my phone number changes with every country. Also, in the case of language differences, it appears the app is helping translate.
Expedia: There is rarely a lower price for a hotel room on any other site, and the app is much easier to use than their website. Plus, booking through their app gets you extra points, which I’ve already redeemed for even more discounts on hotel rooms.
Trip Advisor: But before I actually book anything on Expedia, I check the reviews on Trip Advisor, who has more hotel room reviews than any other site. I’m certain that these reviews have saved us from some miserable accommodation, because I refuse to stay anywhere where the review mentions “bugs”, “filthy” or “poor wifi”. And I review every place that we stay in case friends are looking for recommendations/places to avoid.
Foursquare: As much as I appreciate the detail of Yelp’s content, it just isn’t used as much in Europe so Foursquare has been a great help in determining if a place is decent or awful. According to The German, anything rated 8 or above is good. I do still review all the good spots on Yelp (or the really, really bad ones) to help the other vegetarians out there.
Cuppings: Where to find hipster coffee, worldwide.
Fancy Units: It has pretty much everything in there – currency, volume, length, temperature, weight, etc. I’ve tried a lot of these kinds of app, and truthfully, I don’t love any of them but I’ve been happiest with the UI of this one. I do wish I could find one that includes clothing & shoe sizes. If you’ve used a good app for this, let me know.