There is no doubt that we now live in the age of technology and this is no different when it comes to backpacking, or indeed any kind of travelling! Before phones and the internet came along there would have been no choice but to pick up a map, just turn up somewhere to find a place to put your head down for the night and hope there is something worth seeing tomorrow. And while there is nothing stopping travellers today doing all these things (and actually it’s nice to switch off from technology from time to time and wing it!), there is a whole new world of apps, websites and even games which can help you save a heap of time and tonnes of effort. Having travelled for nearly 4 months now, we have definitely found that there are so many useful apps out there which have made our travels a whole lot easier - and to have all of them just a few taps away, all you need is a phone!
(To find out more about an app or to download it, click the app name ← which looks like this - or the app logo, and a link will take you straight to the right place!)
APPS FOR GETTING AROUND
Out of all the millions of app genres, those that help us get from A to B are probably the most useful we’ve come across during our trip so far. Even just having one app that can get you a taxi wherever you are will make life ten times simpler.
Grab and GO-JEK (South-East Asia)
These taxi apps are an absolute MUST for getting around in South East Asia (and in other continents there are similar apps such as Uber). I would say that these two, especially Grab, are probably the ones we have used the most since the start of our travels. We almost never get a standard taxi - the one time we actually did hail a cab was on the first day of the trip at Jakarta airport: we ended up paying WAY more than we should have and the driver dropped us in a dark back alley because he “couldn’t find the hostel”, despite asking 3 different people for directions! He knew EXACTLY what he was doing when he picked up 2 naïve tourists, but oh well, we learnt from the experience - and what we learnt was to not get a taxi unless absolutely necessary!
Anyway, Grab and GO-JEK (latter only in Indonesia) are perfect for zipping around a city or getting between destinations, whether that be in a car or on the back of a bike.
The vehicles are always in tip top condition
The drivers are pretty much always super friendly and keen to give you advice on the area.
They can’t rip you off because it’s all based on the price in the app
It’s SO much cheaper than getting a regular taxi
You can choose the location you want to be picked up from and they’ll come straight to you, which saves time and means you don’t need to walk around trying to find a taxi which is near impossible when you’re in a quieter area.
If you are really in the middle of no where (i.e not near a town), the chances are there won’t be many/any drivers around
In some places - like Bali - the local taxi drivers harbour an extreme hatred towards the app-taxi drivers for taking their business, to the point where grab divers can’t go into certain areas without the fear that their vehicle will be damaged. It’s a shame because we love grab and it’s still supporting the locals!
Because of the taxi mafia in Bali, sometimes grab drivers don’t want to pick you up or drop you off in a certain area, so when they turn up they sometimes try and charge more than the price in the app. This only happened to us a couple of times though and it’s normally when you’re in a larger group.
This is probably our second most used app but we only heard of it just before we started travelling. So, as the name suggests, it’s a maps app. “Why not just use the maps already on your phone” I hear you say? Well, with MAPS.ME you can download the map for an entire region/country, meaning that you don’t have to ever have internet to use it - perfect for when you are literally in the middle of nowhere! It’s pretty accurate, and the only downside we have found is that it tries to go on the route which is the shortest distance - which would be great if that was also the easiest, but it sometimes means it can take several hours more because the road is in extremely poor condition, or something along those lines! Also, don’t trust the journey time predictions - it’s never correct! I think it just assumes you’ll be travelling at the maximum speed limit the whole journey, which of course is never possible. But other than that it is an amazing app for when you’re wanting to get around or if you’re a bit lost.
Citymapper is an app which comes in handy when travelling around cities using public transport. I discovered it when working in London, and then whilst we were in Singapore, I realised it has a bunch of other cities on it. Not only does it have some Asian cities, it also has places in Australia, America and absolutely loads in Europe. The basic gist of the app is that once you choose where you want to go, it will give live travel information, prices and timings of a variety of different public transport options - which is sooo useful when you have no idea which would be the best way to get to where you want to go!
When we want to book flights there are so many sites that can show the prices/dates/times/airlines, and sometimes the best deals are found by by going direct, but we have found that Skyscanner is so convenient when you just want to see what’s available, to work out the logistics and to price up a journey. A tip when using this app/website - try and use it on a private/incognito window (it might be better to use the website in this case), as this means that your browsing can’t be tracked and therefore prices don’t go up every time you do a new search!
Apps for Finding Accommodation
Oh my goodness this is a category which has hundreds of options, where to start! Everyone has their favourite, but there are a few accommodation booking apps that we have found to be the most useful during our travels. We’ve found it’s good to have several apps which showcase different types of accommodations, as this not only means you can see places which might not be on the other apps, but you can also read different reviews - because sometimes a place might have a high rating on one app, but a poor rating on another (weird but so true!). So the ones that we’ve installed are:
booking.com - loads of different accommodation types, easy to read reviews/see pictures and prices, can filter easily, can save favourites into a list, normally pay at the property.
Hostelworld - Aimed towards Hostels (as the name suggests), good for finding cheap dorms but also has private rooms, might appeal more to those on a budget, can save favourites.
Agoda - sometimes cheaper (they do discounts and send gift cards for frequent bookers) sometimes not cheaper, we’ve found it occasionally has places available that aren’t on other booking apps, normally pay online before arrival.
Airbnb - really cool for finding a different accommodation experience - most places on here are rooms in someones house, sometimes cheaper but most often not (they normally add cleaning fees, but not always), we always find places on here that aren’t on other booking apps, you can get the chance to stay in a really exciting place and meet some fantastic locals.
Another interesting accommodation option is an app called Couchsurfing. We haven’t used it a whole lot yet, but we’ve heard some really good things. Like Airbnb, with this app you get the chance to stay with a local, but the difference is that it’s free - you don’t pay a thing to stay there - so if you’re on a budget it’s going to be so useful. Of course, hosts are going to want to know that the person they’re inviting into their home is not going to mess the place up or just use them for a free bed, so you have to create a profile, you get rated and it’s a little hit and miss when trying to sort somewhere to stay last minute. However we definitely want to try and use it more during our travels!
Apps for Planning
As much as it would be nice to just wing it the entire time and hope it doesn’t rain, hope that a restaurant isn’t gross, or that there is definitely something to do in that town, sometimes it’s better to plan a little when visiting a destination. There’s some really good apps that just make life that little bit easier when organising your thoughts or when you are on a schedule and don’t want to waste time. Of course there are some times when it’s so much funner not to plan and just wing it - you can sometimes find the best places this way - so we don’t always use these apps, but it’s good to have them just in case.
I’ve only discovered this recently and I wish I’d had it installed before embarking on this trip! PackKing is basically a packing list app, but what makes it different from just making a list yourself is that you can select things like the type of trip and how long you’re going for etc, and then it will generate a list of possible items to pack based on your choices. Then you just choose what you want and the quantity from that list, and then you can check them off as you pack (a list lover’s/my absolute dream).
Tripadvisor is so well known as one of the best places to find out what other people thought of a restaurant, attraction or experience, and it’s proved extremely useful on our trip - sometimes determining whether we go to a place or not. We use it mostly for finding out how to get to a place and whether it’s actually worth the journey. It’s also so good for getting a vibe for a place you’ve never been to before. While it’s also well known for finding reviews on eating places, we generally don’t use it for this as we like to walk around and find a place which we think might be interesting, but it’s good for when you’re hangry and just need decent food quick.
Guides by Lonely Planet
If Trip Advisor and all the other reading of blogs etc hasn’t helped you decide what to do in an area, then another app which could be helpful is Lonely Planet Guides. The Lonely Planet books are on every traveller’s bookshelf and you wish you could pack them all, but books are super heavy and bulky and not what you want taking up valuable bag space, so what’s better than having these guides in your phone? Pluses also include detailed descriptions of top attractions and how to get there, prices or whether they’re free, and some wonderful pictures to make you excited for where you’re about to visit. They only downside we’ve found so far is that it hasn’t got all the places we’ve needed (but that’s a given). For example, we were really stuck with what to do in the town of Miri in Borneo, but this guide isn’t on the app so we had to go elsewhere to get inspiration. However you can vote to see guides put on there so doesn’t mean it won’t be added later on!
BBC Weather and AccuWeather
Ok, so this might be a given, but a weather app or two never did any harm, and in fact has helped us so much when deciding what to do for the day. We’ve found it’s best to have more than one (for cross referencing) and the BBC Weather and Accu Weather (which came with my phone) have proved the most reliable so far. Both will give forecasts for several days ahead, and they also give quite detailed information such as percentage chance of rain and hourly forecasts and updates. Definitely a must when travelling anywhere, but especially in Asia where the weather is crazily unpredictable!
Google Keep (or another list app)
I am a sucker for making a list, and my preferred method would be to write it down with pen and paper, but when trying to keep physical objects from taking up space in my bag, Google Keep is the most helpful thing ever. I’ve been using it for years and I love how you can take general notes, make checklists and save links easily, with being able to pin important notes to the top. It’s also so useful that everything I make a note of get’s saved to my Google account, so if my phone is ever lost or breaks, I don’t lose my lists (the wonders of cloud storage). Not only is a list app good for organising your thoughts or getting all those things you have to do in writing to just work on one by one, it’s also so useful whilst travelling for jotting down tips and recommendations from other travellers you meet along the way. I’ve used it for countless ideas from people for destinations to visit or places to stay in!
Not technically an app, but nonetheless a useful website and fantastic concept, Workaway is used for finding work/volunteering opportunities in return for lodgings and food with a host living locally in an area you want to visit. We haven’t signed up yet ourselves, but after hearing from so many good things from many people during our travels, we fully intend to get involved with this service. You’ll have to pay for a membership, but it’s possible to browse different hosts and opportunities before signing up. We’re looking forward to giving workaway a go and I’ll update this post when we have!
Apps for a Bit of Fun
As well as being useful, there are apps which are so much fun as well! They come in all sorts of different forms, and below are some of our favourites.
Geocaching is an app we’ve had for a while - it was such a good boredom buster when we were at home and now we’re giving it a go abroad. The general gist of Geocaching is that it’s a physical scavenger hunt - ‘caches’ are placed by people and logged in the app/on the website, and then people like us just go and find them! Usually they are in places of interest and they can be all shapes and sizes, from teeny tiny to big boxes full of random little objects placed by visitors. Commonly they will have a little piece of paper in for you to sign your name when you find them, and sometimes they’ll have something called a “trackable travel bug” inside, which is an object that has a code on. When you find one you can take it to then place in another geocache, and then log the code and location so you can track it’s journey from cache to cache. It sounds a little complicated, but it’s so much fun! When you are struggling to find things to do, it’s one of those things that gets you out and about and beats the boredom.
This app is a really great concept - it uses your location to track your travels, showing you exactly where you’ve been and the distance you’ve journeyed. You can also add photos to each destination, which is so nice to look back on, and you can share the link to your trip so friends and family at home can see where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to! If you start it a few months in like we have, it can be a little time consuming to add locations you’ve previously been to on a trip, but once you’ve got the app it’ll just automatically track so it’s easy to just add each step. It’s a nice little app and something to look back on after your adventure.
So this app doesn’t quite fall into the category of ‘useful’ but nonetheless, it’s an app that is nice for looking at where you’ve been too and how much of the world you’ve visited. All you have to do is tick the places you’ve travelled to, and the app will highlight these on the map while also telling you the percentage of each continent you’ve covered, which makes you realise how big the world is! And it’s as simple as that.
If you’re a plant lover, then Pl@ntNet is a good little app for identifying the vegetation which you just really want to name of! All you have to do is take a picture of part of the plant, be it the leaf or the flower for example, and then the app will bring up all possibilities of what it could be. Then you just have a scroll through and find the one it looks like it might be and voilà, you’ve identified the plant! It’s updated by it’s users, so not every plant is on there, but it’s interesting to find out what the plant you’re looking at might be.
Who doesn’t love a good book to while the time away, but it’s just not practical to carry all you’re favourite reads around with you whilst travelling, especially if it’s for a long time. One option is taking one and swapping it in hostels or with other travellers when you’re finished, but an alternative that’s worth a try is the Amazon Kindle App. And the good news is that you don’t have to buy a kindle to use it! Downloading it on your phone means you can have an entire library in your pocket. Don’t worry about not having internet, you can download books individually so you can still read when you’re on the beach.
1 Second Everyday
This is one of my all time favourite apps. 1 Second Everyday is an amazing app for looking back on your memories - you just add up to 1 or 1.5 seconds of video everyday into your timeline, and then compile it into one complete lovely video! It’s a very simple concept but actually is such a brilliant and feel good way of storing memories - just make sure you remember to film a short video everyday. If there was one app I would recommend to a fellow traveller, this would be it.
Picolo and Heads Up!
Games are one of the best ways to break the ice when meeting fellow travellers, and I’d definitely recommend bringing along a pack of cards when going on an adventure. But when space is limited, its always worth downloading games onto your phone, and Picolo and Head’s Up are two of our favourite. Picolo is a drinking game we discovered whilst at uni - we played it at basically every pre drinks get together! It’s a cross between ring of fire and truth or dare and is so much fun! But if you don’t drink (or even if you do) then Head’s Up is such a fun game to play and is guaranteed to get you all laughing within minutes. The general gist is that one person holds the phone to their forehead whilst the surrounding players describe or act out the word or object which comes up on the screen, which then has to be guessed by whoever is holding the phone. It’s so much fun and can be made competitive by playing in teams. Every time we have played it it’s always ended up in tears of laughter!
One thing that happens when you’re travelling is that you end up missing all your favourite TV shows! Hopefully you wouldn’t mind this so much because you’re off having a great time exploring new places, but sometimes it rains and you’re stuck inside being bored and you just want to catch up on Love Island or watch a film on Netflix. British tv channel apps (and probably ones from other countries too) don’t tend to work abroad, and although Netflix is available in some places, many countries don’t allow you to connect to the server. So to get your movie fix you’ll need to download a VPN app to convince the server into thinking you are back home, and one app I have found works a treat (on Android) is called VPN Melon (however there are loads out there and you might need to download a few before finding a decent one). Once you’ve got it downloaded, all you have to do is connect and you’re free to watch to you’re hearts content! Believe me, it’s so worth it for those days when you just need to lie in bed and watch a Disney movie.
There you have it! All the apps for your travelling needs, all in your phone ready to help you out in a sticky situation. Even though these are the apps that we use frequently, it’s worth saying that we also hate being glued to our phones! So while technology is super useful, it’s also great to just wing it and go with he flow - besides, that’s what people did before phones and apps were so accessible!
Thanks for reading!
Ellie and Will