If you think about it, travelling has never been easier. If an 18th century traveller wanted to get to another continent, they had to set off unknowingly into the endless ocean on a make-shift boat. So whatever your view on travelling with technology, it is hard to deny the impact it is having.
A more globalised world, love it or hate it, makes for easier access to travel than ever before. With planes, trains, phones, and the internet, there really is no excuse; it’s not like you have to swim the channel or anything. The digital nomad era is here, and the latest addition to the repertoire is the smartphone app.
Here are the 8 best apps available, for the more techy-traveller:
Trip it is perhaps the ultimate in travel organisation, and takes the edge off all of our least favourite travel hassles. The app organises all of your bookings; planes, trains, accommodation, and restaurants. It uses confirmation numbers from emails to create an itinerary that is easy to access and update.
This app is perhaps best used for business travel, and for short vacations, where a huge weight can be lifted off your shoulders, freeing up time and energy for the more enjoyable aspects of the trip. It can be used for longer trips of course, but I don’t know if I would want an itinerary for my gap-year!
There is perhaps no better way to find what you are looking for than getting opinions from other people. Trip advisor allows you to draw on the rants, criticisms, and adorations of other travellers. With over 100 million reviews covering hotels, restaurants, and airlines, and attractions, the community is notoriously difficult to please, making it all the more useful in picking out the best-of-the-best.
The app is incredibly functional and highly rated, and offers a very genuine experiential pool of knowledge, helping you avoid dingy dives, and locate the hidden gems. Bookings are also possible, making Trip Advisor a one-stop shop for meta-travel advice.
Wordlens/Better Translator Pro
After using Trip Advisor to find a decent restaurant you may be dismayed to find that you cannot read the menu. Enter Wordlens, or Better Translator Pro (for Iphone, and Android respectively). These sci-fi technologies scan, and translate languages, to help avoid menu mix-ups, among other travel tragedy.
The technology, and therefore the apps are not perfect yet. Sometimes translations are grammatically inaccurate, sometimes the translation fails altogether. But apps like these will definitely help you to figure out the menu enough to suss out the vegan options. They also work vice-versa so you can use them to work out how to ask the waiter something.
Not just for menus, the smartphone app can be scanned over any written text, and (if it works!) will give an instant interpretation in your native language. The technology is relatively young, and the apps are currently only available in a limited number of languages. Expect that over time they will improve in quality, and in linguistic ability. Remember though; apps like this are NOT an excuse to neglect the local language!
The day has been long, and the amount of food you just ate warrants a lie down. There are many hostels in the area, but it is difficult to tell from the outside which ones are going to be a good, clean, enjoyable stay. The worst way to find out would be walk between them all asking prices, and conditions. There might just be an app for that!
HostelWorld is a database of over 35,000 rest-houses across the world. It can be used to search, and book hostels, and contains millions of user reviews to see what word on the street is. Finding a bed for the night is not difficult with this app; even after a KO-meal.
Anyone who has knowledge of smartphones must also have knowledge of Skype, right? So the service needs little introduction. The free video calls, and instant messenger platform also has an app. With it you can contact friends and family with nothing more than an internet connection, and a smartphone.
The app does not provide quite the flawlessly high quality of the computer version, but nonetheless it is a valuable little addition to the app list. At some point on your travels, as much as you might think it couldn’t happen, you will miss home. People at home will also miss you. Then you will give them a call one day and realise how quickly you run up a bill with international calls. Skype is a handy, free way to keep in touch with loved ones.
When you finally crack, and miss it all too much, or more likely run out of money and have to return home to compose yourself, you will need to book a flight. Booking a flight is of course, everyone’s favourite part of travelling. Turning up at the airport covered in smelly traveller scent, walking to a reception and booking an on the spot flight with a wait time of 14 hours. Yes, we have all been there.
With the Skyscanner app we never have to go there again! You can use it to search through millions of different flights, and thousands of different airlines, finding a time schedule and a price that suites you. Then, you can book it easily from the app. Problem solved, case closed; no more horrific airport nightmares.
This is for the slightly paranoid traveller, or for those who like to explore countries that are a little more unpredictable. To be fair, it can never harm anyone to have this app when travelling; it contains a database of emergency service numbers, such as fire, police and medical, as well as contacts for embassies around the world.
The app has a very smooth interface, and the database can be accessed offline without internet connectivity. Travelsafe Pro helps us stay safe, providing accurate and crucial numbers at the touch of a button. It even has the options of adding the service numbers to a widget on screen, for the really paranoid, or really in-danger.
Workaway/Coachsurfing (Bonus Apps)
Workaway and Coachsurfing are two of the biggest online travelling communities, and are an invaluable tool for anyone travelling on a budget, or looking to get a raw feeling of engaging with the locals.
Workaway allows users to respond to adverts of voluntary work in a variety of different fields. The work is exchanged for food, bed, and an authentic experience living with locals. The deal is often very fair, and both parties leave happy. Couchsurfing allows people to offer beds in their area (or often couches as the name suggests!), and travellers can stay for a night or two with a local.
Both of these sites are among my favourite web-based travel sources, and provide rich and diverse experiences. The apps unfortunately, leave something to be desired, and are a disappointment to their website counter-parts. However, to have access to these communities at the touch of a finger-tip opens up incredible options, and for all the flaws of the apps, they still make the list as a personal bonus recommendation!
It is important that technology becomes integrated with travel in a way that does not disrupt the experience. It should be used to enhance and improve your travels, not as an easy escape from any predicament. Sometimes, it is best just to follow your feet, trust in your instincts, and see what happens. For situations that you would rather not deal with, or in situations where more options are needed, apps provide a world of information and services, that travellers of the past would not have dreamed of!