The Travel Apps I Can't Live Without
These apps are my superpowers when I'm traveling abroad. Especially as a solo traveler, these applications help me stay safe and make the most out of my time. I'd suggest purchasing a sim card in each country in order to have have full access to these tools while in transit and elsewhere.
Disclaimer: While my phone has been the best tool for helping me get around and make the most out of my excursions, I never take it out on busy streets or stand staring at it on corners or in public places. Do not make yourself a target for pickpocketing, robbery, or worse. I find it is best practice to hop into a coffee shop or convenience store when I’m out and about and need to use it.
The days of roaming the streets looking for a bed are long behind us. I attribute most of my travel success to this application, because it’s usually the first resource I look to when I’m going to a new place. Simply punch in the city you're going to, and find a hostel that is within your price range and in the neighborhood that you’re interested in (see below for tips on finding neighborhood info on Tripadvisor).
The most important thing about booking a hostel for me is location and rating (I always go for a hostel that is either ranked as Very Good or Superb). If you only have a short stay in a city, you want to limit your time in transit to a minimum, so you can get to all the things that you saved your money to do! Typically the first hostel I stay in when I’m in a new country becomes the foundation for my entire trip. This is the hostel where I start to plan out my route, find other backpackers to travel with, and really start to learn the culture of the place I’m visiting. I find that hostels that include bars tend to be more sociable and loud, while classic homestays tend to be on the relaxed side and feature excellent local food.
Whether you're in the mood to party or in need of a break, choose a hostel according to your living preferences. For example, if I’m traveling in the summer, I look for hostels with air conditioning and if possible, a pool. I also prefer hostels that are associated with corporate style chains like St. Christopher Inn in Europe and UK, Vietnam Backpackers Hostels in Vietnam, and Pariwana Hostels in Peru, because they tend to be extremely organized, clean, and have very good customer service. Hostel chains may sometimes be a few extra dollars than other standalone hostels, but chains also tend to include extra amenities like day trips, tours, and local travel agents on staff, so you can rest assured that your itinerary will be packed with safe activities and efficient travel routes.
I always try to find hostels that include free breakfasts and kitchens so I can prepare my own food using ingredients from local markets. I also tend to book dorms that are all-female as opposed to mixed, just because they tend to be a bit tidier and quieter during the night (no offense boys).
Did you know that not all countries have Yelp? Actually, Tripadvisor is much more highly regarded then Yelp outside of the United States, and many businesses and restaurants will post a decal sticker on their doors if they depend on reviews to promote business. One area of Tripadvisor that I find particularity helpful is the description of neighborhoods in big cities. Buenos Aires, for example, has lots of different neighborhoods with very specific characteristics. If you’re hoping to stay out all night dancing you may want to find a hostel in Palermo, and if you’re trying to experience a more traditional Argentine lifestyle, you may want to stick to San Telmo.
I usually cross reference the neighborhoods descriptions with my Hostelworld app, to make sure I’m choosing a hostel in the neighborhood that will best suite my goals for the trip. You need to be careful in big cities like Lima, Paris, Los Angeles, New York, and Berlin, where you could end up at a hostel that is far from the sites you are hoping to see.
CityMapper and Google Maps
Citymapper does a good job of planning out your day using up to date public transportation lines. I even use it in my current hometown of New York City! The app does a better job of giving real time arrivals and departures than any other transit app that I’ve used. Citymapper is always adding new cities to their roster, but currently covers most big cities in the United States and Europe. For all other cities, including Southeast Asia (where I visit often), I use Google Maps and it tends to work well. I have an unlocked phone and always buy a sim card in a new country so I can use data like I do at home, but if you do not, you can always take a screen shot of your travel route and save it to your phone to help guide you when you’re on the move. I also pick up a paper map and mark my hostel’s location, in case something happens to my phone and I need to ask a local to help me find my way back.
While a paper map can be a good source of information and doesn’t require charging, it can also make you look like a tourist, and thus, a target. Remember to consult your map in safe areas like private shops or businesses, and never bury your nose in it on public streets.
The popular car service app now operates in 633 cities worldwide, and is constantly expanding. The best part about the app is that you don’t need to struggle with language barriers or cash conversion like you would a local taxi. They know where you're going, and you can use your credit card without needing a local bank account. Due to their robust background checks and helpful customer service departments, Uber tends to be the most reliable form of transportation I’ve found while abroad (and at home).
While I do believe in supporting local taxis, they can be where many tourists experience the highest rates of scamming. Be especially careful in Vietnam, where scooter taxis in cahoots with the local mafia have been known to rob tourists who jump on the back of their bikes. In most cities, the staff at your hostel can tell you which color taxis and scooters to use, and which to avoid.
Converting money in a foreign country can be a tedious, stressful, and confusing endeavor. With conversion rates constantly in flux and merchants relentlessly on the hunt to cheat tourists, handling money in a foreign country can be a challenge, but this app makes everything a bit simpler. The app is always up to date with the current conversion rate, and features a clean and simple interface. Before venturing out, I always familiarize myself with some common increments of money, like the value of local money in 1, 5, 10, and 20 US dollars. Especially when you are haggling for the best price on an item (which you should be doing pretty much anywhere besides restaurants), it’s best to be confident in your understanding of the local currency, in order to avoid being scammed.
Okay, this one may not apply to all but I have found it to be immensely helpful along my adventures both at home and abroad, so it's a personal favorite. Tiny scanner works just like a scanner machine by converting a photo of a document into a readable PDF. I’ve used this to take photos of my passport, visa, and travel documents to send to hotels, my family, and consulates.