When I think back on my first trip abroad, I am amazed I even survived. There were no cell phones (we used calling cards), no e-mail (snail mail had to suffice), no fancy translators (I had to use phrasebooks and fancy hand signals to communicate), and I had to read paper maps! Travel today is delightful compared to twenty years ago, but we have become more dependent on technology as we travel the globe. I hate to think what would happen if we ever lost our phones on vacation, but I know the apps we have found help us on every step of our journey, and we would truly be lost without them!
12 Apps to Download Before You Hit the Road
1. Trip Advisor
I use this app religiously before, during, and after our travels. TripAdvisor allows you to research restaurants, attractions, and hotels all over the world based on the reviews of fellow travelers. It has links to booking tools for hotels, vacation rentals and restaurant reservations, as well as an offline service called City Guides. City Guides can be viewed on the app without a Wi-Fi connection, and provides information for over 80 of the world’s major cities, including walking tours, famous landmarks, and recommended restaurants. Just be sure to download before you leave home to avoid roaming charges. One of my favorite features on TripAdvisor is “Near Me Now” which identifies anything nearby based on your GPS location. This is perfect when your kids swear they are dying of hunger and has saved us from many meltdowns.
We found this free texting and cellular phone app when we traveled to Italy last year. Viber is available over Wi-Fi and allows you to make calls and send texts to other Viber users for free. Don’t waste your money signing up for your phone company’s calling plan. Plenty of hotels and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi these days, so find somewhere to connect your phone and catch up with loved ones.
3. Google Maps
It’s amazing we actually navigated the roads of foreign countries before there was GPS. There were so many times we fumbled with paper maps, trying to navigate narrow backroads and decipher unfamiliar road signs. I don’t know how we survived. Google Maps gives directions via walking, driving, biking, or public transportation as well as travel times. This app gives us peace of mind when we travel and we rarely worry about being lost.
4. Weather Channel
We use this weather app every day at home, so it makes sense that we would use it every day on the road. We love that it provides us with hourly forecasts, a radar map, and 10 day forecast. It also allows you to add a list of your favorite locations so you can check on the weather at home or a future destination.
I am fortunate enough to speak Spanish, and know passable Italian and French. Our kids are studying Mandarin at school, but have learned some French, Italian, and Spanish along the way. My husband knows English only, so the app is really for him. LOL. The app is pretty amazing. It can translate over 80 languages, translate non-Latin characters such as Chinese and Japanese to Latin characters, and features voice input and output. The translation may not always be spot on, but it’s close enough and works better than other translators I’ve used in the past.
6. Gate Guru
This is another one of those apps I wish I had known about a LONG time ago. Gate Guru will allow you to enter and track your travel itinerary, find “real time” airport updates and flight status, and show you a map of your destination airport. It also lists the amenities available in each airport, from food to shopping to services, and allows other travelers to share their reviews. It is a lifesaver when you need to find something to do during a layover.
7. Units Plus Converter
Units Plus seems to convert almost everything you could imagine. Our favorite uses are for currency, temperature, fuel, volume and weight (helpful at the shopping market), and mileage. This app does it all with relative ease. The kids even use it to help with homework when we aren’t traveling.
8. Allergy FT: Allergy Food Translator
I love this handy app, and as awareness of food allergies worldwide becomes more prevalent, I can see this concept really growing. We have traveled with allergy cards for our son in the past, but this translator does essentially the same thing. You enter a food profile for the person with the allergy, along with their allergy, and the app translates the food allergy into either German, Spanish, or French (more languages coming soon). The idea is that you would show your phone with the translation to the food server so they would understand your food allergies. The app works without an internet connection, so you do not have to pay any roaming fees. Definitely worth a try if you are headed overseas.
9. Sleep Pillow Sounds
We always have a good laugh the first night at any hotel when our kids complain that cities are noisy. I don’t know what they expect, but the Sleep Pillow white noise app definitely helps drown out those sirens and loud noises at night. You can choose from many different sounds such as rain or waves, put on the sleep timer, and help your kids fall asleep. This is all available in the free version or you can upgrade to Pro which has 70 sounds, a longer timer, and endless sound combinations. I say if it helps them sleep, it’s all good.
Skype is another great app to take on a trip because it allows you to make video calls over Wi-Fi networks. I will be forever thankful that I had this app when I was sick in France and I was able to Skype with my parents back home in the States. It gave me the comfort of home in the palm of my hand. Skype is the perfect cure for anyone who is homesick.
11. Rick Steves Audio Europe
I have used Rick Steves’ travel books for planning many trips. I discovered his European Audio guides when we visited Italy. You download the app, and it allows you to add different travel guides to an audio playlist. Make sure you download them before you travel to avoid roaming fees. There are audio tracks available for walking tours, museums, and city highlights for many major European cities. We used his Colosseum tour for our kids and they loved following along. Free history lessons? Yes please.
If you fell ill in a foreign country, would you know how to tell someone? Would you know how to find Benadryl or Tylenol? TravelSmart from Allianz provides emergency contact and hospital numbers in foreign countries, a drug dictionary, and first aid terms with translation. We always have to be prepared for a possible allergic reaction with our child and this app may have become my new favorite.