Stop Wondering and Start Wandering
You’ve scrimped, you’ve saved, and you’ve eaten more Ramen noodles than you’re willing to admit to at this age, but you have the cash and you’re going on vacation if it kills you. It might kill you, if you’ve ever watched When Vacations Attack, but not if you have these 10 amazing apps that will change the way you leisure.
Lonely Planet, also known as THE BOOK, is the ultimate source for guides to anywhere from Abu Dhabi to Detroit. They’ve gotten with the tech craze and their guides are now available as downloadable apps. You can get anything from the entire Central America on a Shoestring compendium to city guides for most major urban areas. Among their many beautiful qualities is their ability to function without data usage – great for when your vacation spot happens to be outside of your phone provider’s network. The “TOURIST” stamp on your forehead also gets noticeably smaller when you’re standing on a street corner looking at your phone, rather than a 1,000 page guide. Prices vary, but all are worth it.
Quite possibly one of the most useful apps, period, is AroundMe. It’s free and uses your GPS location to give you a variety of answers to the question “Where the heck am I and where is the nearest cheeseburger?” The AroundMe menu lists absolutely everything you could need in an unfamiliar location: banks, bars, coffee shops, gas stations, hospitals (they told you not to do it), hotels, restaurants, taxis, pharmacies…you need it, it knows where to find it. Plus,
it lists them by distance from your location and gives directions. If you don’t download this RIGHT NOW, you’re crazy.
The dodgy-looking Thai restaurant is either a spectacular hole-in-the-wall find where you will soon consume the best Pad-See-Eew in existence, or the root of your impending death. You’re not sure which, and as you debate, you can’t help but wish you could phone a friend. Now you can. TripAdvisor’s new app works offline and gives you searchable listings and reviews of basically everything ever visited by anyone, anywhere.
Catering to the anal-retentive, worry-wort nature in many travelers, TripIt is an ingenious app that collects and catalogs all of your travel itineraries. Once you book anything (car, flight, hotel, underwater knitting lesson), forward the confirmation to your account at firstname.lastname@example.org and sit back as a spreadsheet of confirmation numbers, flight times and details is assembled before your eyes. No more rifling through stacks of unnecessary paper or frantically searching your inbox. It’s almost like having a personal minion to order around. “Geoffry, check my flight status! And get me a latte!”
It’s all in the name. Thing thing uses your GPS location to find wifi points (both free and paid) in your vicinity, for when your thumb and index finger are cramping from swiping and tapping and all of the other tech things our fingers were never really meant to do and you just need a real keyboard for crying out loud.
One of the few not-free apps on this list, Georeader makes up for that in its novelty value. There is nothing crucially significant about this app, except that it’s awesome. It finds points of historical interest near you and then it just talks to you about them. Really. It’s like having your annoying cousin who reads too many guide books telling you all about why that building has the pointy thing on it, except you can turn this one off when it pesters you with too much knowledge.
The above apps are objectively good downloads if you’re traveling domestically. Smart phones are here to stay and it’s bordering on absurd how useful they are. If your vacation is across the pond (or multiple ponds), you’ll be out of data range and using the above apps with abandon can mean coming home to a phone bill in the thousands of dollars. Actual thousands of dollars. Instead, add these apps for international trips.
Text+ is a free app that effectively uses your wifi connection to send text and picture messages instead of cellular data. When you sign up, it gives you a different “text+” phone number to send out and imports your contacts so you can still text away whenever you have wifi service. The incoming text alerts can be a bit iffy, so check it often, but this app is a ridiculous money saver.
What’s an international trip without a visit to a hostel? Hostelworld is an online database of hostels and bed and breakfasts all over the world where you can read reviews and get the real details on any place before you book, including how hot those “hot water welcome every shower please for you” are. With the app you can search and book on arrival into a new city, then instantly get directions to your crash pad. Hopefully their English is better than whoever writes their advertising.
By now most people know what Skype is, but this app turns your smart phone into a MENSA candidate. Download the app, add money to your account, then use your wifi connection to make that same 2 hour phone call home to check on your dog and his abandonment fears for $2 instead of the $360 you’ll pay for roaming. Ouch. Calling someone else’s Skype is still free (using wifi), and calling cell phones is a paltry 2 cents a minute.
600 Baht, 50 lira, 18 kilometers, 21 degrees centigrade…won’t mean much to you unless you have a converter app. GlobeConvert is a free app that converts currencies, temperature, weights, speeds and other helpful things. Currency rates are updated whenever you’re connected to wifi or data, so even when you’re offline, you’ll have a good idea of whether or not that guy selling you the “authentic” rug is ripping you off. He definitely is, but at least now you know by how much.
What do you think? Did we miss any?
The illustrious author of this article, Stephanie Huey, is an itinerant writer, sub-letter of apartments and lover of craft beers. Her favorite sentences are those containing syllepsis or ones that mention Vietnamese food, of which is she is inordinately fond.