I love my iPhone. The world is literally at my finger tips – I can now get security reports, book flights, learn languages, keep in contact with loved ones, and even record moments for posterity, all using a device that fits in my pocket. The range of travel applications is already bewildering, and grows by the day, so here’s my selection of 12 best apps for traveling the world slowly. Apps like Tripit, Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon are all well rated, but I have deliberately not included these and others developed for the business or frequent traveller. Instead, for those of us who are adapting to life abroad, the ones listed here work longer term for helping to smooth your transition and make daily life a little easier. If you have any personal favorites, please feel free to add them to the comments section below.
SmartTraveler. (Free) The US Department of State app which gives comprehensive information, security alerts and updates, maps, US Embassy locations and more. One of the best resources for checking out countries before you travel, or finding help one you are there. An expat must have.
Packing Pro ($2.99) Become a packing perfectionist with this easy tool. Create lists of vital items for every family member and check them off as you go. Brilliant if you have multiple packing needs (i.e. multi-trip vacations, or forgetful family members). And it even tracks the weight for you, so you can decide whether or not those boots are really worth taking. The control freak in me is very, very happy.. Saving Grace Travel Packing Aid is a free version that works nearly as well.
Google Maps. (Free) Comes as standard on iPhones, is global, and will not only search by address, but also by business name. It gives you directions for public transport, driving or of foot, and a little pulsing blue dot shows you exactly where you are, so you’re guaranteed to get where you need to go. The bad news? It requires data, so you will be paying through the nose for the privilege if you are using it abroad.
World Customs & Cultures (Free) Includes custom, cultural information and facts on over 165 locations, has GPS locations for those who can’t be bothered to browse for their location country by name or flag.. Has a random custom section, which kept me entertained for hours..
Wifi Finder. (Free) It doesn’t getmuch better than this – the app is free, it has a 4+ star rating, it has 650,000 locations of free or paid WiFi worldwide. (There is a version that finds just free WiFi, but I prefer to keep my options open.) It uses data access to pinpoint your location, so you will be paying data charges, but only for the time it takes to find a free wifi host.
Skype. (Free) I am a huge fan of Skype, and it’s app for iPhone, iPad and iTouch is brilliant, especially now that it lets you access and call your iPhone contacts through the Skype platform. Like many of the others, it requires data access, but if you can get to free wifi, you can make free or inexpensive international calls. Be warned, if you use the video when away from a wifi connection, your data useage will skyrocket. Download it and create your Skype contact list and test the functionality before you go because there are glitches, but the effort is worth it.
World Nomads.(Free) The 25 language translator apps cover keywords such as please and thank you, numbers up to 10, and a few phrases useful for other travel conundrums (my favorite: “Those drugs aren’t mine!”) in easy-to-scan categories like Introductions and Travel Health. It’s basic, but is designed by experienced travelers, so if great for a quick reference guide.
Lingolook ($4.99 each) – Currently available in 8 languages with additional ones under development, Lingolook Travel apps are designed to help English-speaking travelers get by abroad with ease. These clever language guides feature basic keywords helpfully organized on 150 digital flashcards, with over 500 audio translations recorded by native speakers to help users perfect pronunciation. Google Translate translates words between more than 50 languages, and is free, but not specifically designed for travelers, so there is more room for error.
G-park. ($0.99) It’s designed to get you back to your car, but works for finding the quickest route back to anywhere. Fantastic for when there is a group of you, and you want to meet back at the start point at a later time – just ‘park’ the whole group’s location, and ‘find’ your way back later.
Share-a-bill.(Free for lite version, $3.99 for full) Designed for groups of individuals or families traveling together but wanting to divide the costs fairly. It allows you to define costs and participants for each event, and keep everyone updated by email. Burly debt collectors are not included.. Also fabulous for just keeping track of your general spending.
Moonpig (Free) Send personalized cards or postcards direct from your iPhone. One of my favorite apps for keeping in touch, it allows you to take a photo from your iPhone camera, and instantly create, address and send a postcard to recipients worldwide for a fee. Requires data connection, so take the pictures on the go, and create the cards when you hit a wifi hotspot..
Amazon Kindle (Free) The Kindle’s nice, but why carry two devices when you can download e-books directly to your phone? Have an iPhone AND a Kindle? Once you’ve bought the book, you can read it wherever you want. If only I’d discovered this before..
You may not automatically have international voice and data service as part of your cellphone contract, so check with your service provider before you leave. A final point to note – international data roaming is often very expensive, so remember to turn off your data roaming as you leave your home country and only turn it on when needed, as many of the apps have a ‘location services’ feature which will be using data to pinpoint your phone location even when the app is not being used. To turn off data roaming, go to Settings ➙Network, and then slide the Data Roaming switch to ‘off’.