Smartphones are indispensable in our daily lives. While in our country, I can check the weather, plan a route home that avoids traffic, research restaurant reviews, and update my Facebook account (not while driving of course) without thinking twice about how to connect to a network.
Having the right smartphone apps can enhance your travel experiences. As I have shared in previous blogs (7 Tips to Save Your Cell Phone During International Travel and 8 Must-Have Smartphone Communication Apps for Travel), it is wise to leave your smartphone in ‘Airplane’ mode while out of the country.
Therefore, it is very important that phone apps used while overseas work offline, or with Wi-Fi. Here, I share some more apps I have found particularly useful while traveling.
Currency – (Free) or XE Currency (Free).
Having a foreign exchange app is important to understand how much you’re actually getting for your dollar. Before traveling, check the exchange rate of the countries that you will be visiting. Updated currency exchange rates can be updated with a Wi-Fi connection while abroad. Right now, the euro is incredibly low against the US dollar. Time to go to Europe!!
I’m seeing travel sales – because of the lower euro – as added bonus extras: free or discounted airfare to Europe, free dining and beverage credits, free gratuities, free upgrades. Rather than lowering the prices, cruise lines and tour operators are adding value with extras. Keep an eye out for these.
The airfare market has been very tough to Europe for years. I remember years ago, when L.A. to London flights were $499 roundtrip. Now, add $1000 to that price. Although the airlines are not joining in with sales from the depressed euro, look for deep air discounts when packaging with a cruise or tour.
iBooks – (Free)
How do you access the London Tube map on your phone without using Wi-Fi? How do you find your way in a foreign land without cellular data? Before you leave home, research the cities you will travel through, and download PDF files of maps and guides into your iBooks app.
Transportation maps and city maps are especially helpful. While researching online for your trip, save important files as PDFs and open them in iBooks for easy access offline. The London Tube map, the Paris Metro, the Venice ACTV / Alilaguna maps – you will always know which transportation line to take.
This also works great at home in areas with large crowds (stadium events, Disneyland) when cellular data is overwhelmed with too many users, and you can’t download information you need. Store it ahead of time in your iBooks, and you’ll have instant access.
Nothing says ‘tourist’ more than staring at paper maps while walking down the street. Finding your way around with the map on your phone is more discreet, making you less of a target.
FlightAware – (Free)
This app can track your flight – even offline while you’re on your plane. Even more helpful, FlightAware will track your incoming flight progress. Severe weather affected many flights in the northeast this winter. You may not be flying in or out of one of these cities…but your plane could be. Delays for your incoming flight will affect your travels.
Having this information in advance can help you re-route before they ever announce the cancellation of your flight. You just got inside information that put you ahead of 150 other passengers trying to get onto another flight, or book a hotel room for the night.
Remember, if you book with a professional travel consultant, one simple phone call can help you out of difficult situations such as flight cancellations, or cyclones interrupting your dive boat trip in the Great Barrier Reef. (In these situations, travel insurance can also save your vacation).
Kayak – (Free)
One of my favorite flight search programs on the computer, Kayak is also a handy app. Search for one-way, roundtrip, or open jaw flights. Kayak will return flights with single or multiple airlines, and send you to their website to book (it is a search engine, not booking engine). I usually use other apps for booking cars and hotels… I’ll share more in a future post!
Bank apps – (Free)
Did you pay the electric bill before leaving home? Your bank likely has a smartphone app. Set up your login and learn its features before you leave home. *Access any financial app or website cautiously with unsecured Wi-Fi networks due to the risk of identity theft.
MyRadar – (Free)
Access updated weather radar statistics to plan your in-country travels. We found this app particularly useful in Orlando with sudden thunderstorm activity. Color Doppler on the maps gives you information on where and how severe the storms are, and tracks their movement. **This app works only in the 48 contiguous United States– not Hawaii, Alaska, or Puerto Rico.
Wi-Fi finders– (Many are Free)
There are many apps for finding Wi-Fi networks. Some have downloadable maps for access offline (this is a must!). Your cable or cellular network provider may also have Wi-Fi hotspots and network maps.
Around the world, many airports now have free Wi-Fi. Starbucks, McDonald’s, and some Burger King stores also have free Wi-Fi internationally.
Alarm App / World Clock App – (Free, part of iOS)
If your smartphone is kept reliably charged, the Alarm app is great for those morning wake-up calls, or tour time reminders. Using this app is usually better than trying to figure out an unfamiliar hotel alarm (remember those anti-bacterial wipes!). Beware of the low battery, however. If your phone is out of power, your alarm will not work! For flight wake-up days, consider setting two alarms.
With the World Clock, you can keep in touch with family back home at times relevant to their lives – when the kids are home from school, or before bedtime.
No one appreciates a call or text at 3 am…except perhaps our military families who only have moments to spend with their deployed loved one, who is unable to call at other times. (#SupportOurTroops. Thank you for your service.)
Your smartphone clock can be accurately set to your new local time zone manually with your phone in Airplane mode. As you travel between cities, make sure to manually update your clock in the settings menu. This is important whether traveling by plane, train, automobile, or one of my favorites…cruise ship.
Can’t find your hotel key in your purse? Need to search under your hotel bed? (A very good idea at check-in, by the way). Need to hike back to your car as twilight turned to pitch black after you were photographing the sunset at Kilauea’s Pu’u ‘O’o Crater? You always have the flashlight on your phone. I use my phone light as a flashlight much more often than I use it for a camera flash.
Podcasts – (Free)\
Audio guides help get your eyes out of the guide book, to help you enjoy the city you are exploring. When in Europe, I use #RickSteves podcasts. Rick Steves has hours of free audio podcasts that can guide you through St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, or down the Grand Canal in Venice.
Enjoy the views from the Acropolis in Athens. Use guidebooks as research tools before your trip. Once there, take time to truly experience each location.
Connect, and Be Transformed.
What are some strategies you have used to stay in touch while traveling? Do you have any favorite smartphone apps?
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If you have a special trip you’ve been dreaming of, we want to help! We believe that anyone should be able to travel, regardless of medical disabilities.
Please contact us, and we can help you customize the perfect vacation that can accommodate everyone in your family!
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