Originally published on Concrete Playground.
Zero-cost tools for converting currency, defying language barriers and finding Wi-Fi everywhere you go.
Booking a trip has changed significantly over the last few decades — just 40 years ago, the only way to book a flight, really, was through a travel agent. It wasn’t until the early ’90s that travellers could take the reins and actually book a ticket for themselves online.
Thankfully, we have progressed. Gloriously. Travelling is only getting easier due to the evolution of highly useful, intuitive apps. These ten currently available apps will make your travels that much smoother. And the better news? None of them cost a cent.
FOR HEALTH MATTERS: TRAVWELL
Let’s be real. Health is an easy thing to take for granted while travelling. Powered by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, TravWell brings a great sense of calmness to travellers going overseas. We suggest downloading this well before departing. Users can select the destination they are travelling to, and the app will list which vaccines and medications to take. TravWell also has space to store photos and organise documents such as vaccine records. Plus, for every destination that the app covers, there are corresponding emergency services phone numbers on hand.
FOR CONVERTING CASH: CURRENCY CONVERTER PLUS
This app is one of the most popular out there, drawing over one million downloads worldwide. Currency Converter Plus hosts 191 currencies and regularly updates conversion rates. When you don’t have access to Wi-Fi in that Moroccan souk or Beijing market, the app’s ability to work offline definitely comes in handy. It can also convert currency to gold, silver and platinum, perfect if you’re indulging in a cheeky jewellery shop during your stopover in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. The calculator function is what separates this app from the rest. Say your Vietnamese feast in Hanoi costs 200,000VND, and you have $5US dollars you want to use — enter both into the app and it will calculate and convert simultaneously, saving you the brainwork.
FOR OFFLINE MAPS: MAPS.ME
As much as we’d like to assume that our orientation skills are on point, sometimes we get it wrong. Really wrong. And you end up six kilometres away from your hotel, in the dodgy depths of a city with no idea how to get back. MAPS.ME, to the rescue. The app is trusted by over 65 million travellers, probably because it’s usable offline. Simply download the map of the country or city you are visiting (when you have internet connection), and it’s there for good. Within the app, users can search for restaurants, attractions, ATMs and public transport. We’re not done. MAPS.ME also gives people the option to book accommodation through Booking.com. Alternatively, you can’t go wrong with offline Google Maps.
FOR EDITING HOLIDAY SNAPS: SNAPSEED
There’s an inordinate number of photo editing apps out there. A lifetime could be devoted looking for the best. Let us save you a little bit of that time. Snapseed, which was created by Google, is not only ridiculously easy to use, but also fun. It has 26 tools and editing features including the ability to adjust exposure, contrast, saturation, ambiance, fix skewed lines, alter perspectives, heal areas of a photo, add in text and throw on a filter. And when you’re all finished playing around, Snapseed provides the option to upload to your edited masterpiece straight to Instagram.
FOR CONQUERING LANGUAGE BARRIERS: GOOGLE TRANSLATE
Speaking of Google (again), it’s insanely hard to beat Google Translate at its game. The app offers the most languages out of any single translation engine out there — a mere 103. Now, translating words, phrases and sentences is one thing, but pronouncing them is another. Users can listen to translations before attempting and potentially embarrassing themselves. The app has evolved dramatically since its birth, now integrating a photo feature where you can hold your camera up to a text while Google magically translates it, given the font is readable. The fairy godmother of translators, we’re naming it.
FOR GROUP TRIPS: SPLITWISE
Travelling with friends can get tricky money-wise, no matter how much you try to prevent it. Attempting to recall who shouted what at NYC’s Please Don’t Tell and how much that friend owes you for dinner at Hong Kong’s Ho Lee Fook is too much to keep track of sometimes. Splitwise is a simple way to share bills, and keep track of what everyone has paid. Each person creates an account, and from there groups can be formed. Users then log in to see their balance, what is owed to them and what they owe to others.
FOR AIRPORT RELAXATION: LOUNGEKEY
LoungeKey is the ultimate airport lounge library. After entering an airport or city name into the app, a list of lounges on offer comes up. LoungeKey details exactly where lounges are located in an airport (don’t laugh, some are harder to find that you would assume), what facilities are included, and provides photos, trading hours and prices. There is also a ‘nearby’ function for when you are absolutely exhausted and just want to pop into the closest lounge.
FOR EXPERT RECOMMENDATIONS: GUIDES BY LONELY PLANET
There’s a lot of noise when it comes to travel guides and recommendations, but among all the madness is Lonely Planet — one of the most trustworthy and inspiring names out there. The Guides app incorporates advice from local experts, including must-see sights and essential tips for each location. There’s also an offline maps function, language phrasebooks and a currency converter. It’s an all-in-one app, currently covering 100 cities, with more to come.
FOR CONNECTIVITY: FREE WI-FI FINDER
If you don’t fancy buying a sim card in every country you visit, and therefore heavily rely on finding a Wi-Fi connection, this one’s a winner. Free Wi-Fi Finder promises exactly what’s in its title —free Wi-Fi connection spots, with absolutely no charges. The app lists locations in over 50 countries. You can search by state and city, or locate the closest to wherever you find yourself at that point in time. The app also gives users the option to list Wi-Fi spots themselves and assist other travellers. People-powered, we like that.
FOR FINDING THINGS TO DO: AIRBNB (FOR THE ‘EXPERIENCES’ FUNCTION)
Airbnb continues its rampage of revolutionising the travel industry. The app hosts a plethora of affordable accommodation options — apartments, cabins, igloos and beyond — opening up a world of travel to those who were unable to access it before. In late 2016, the app took things up a notch, launching Airbnb ‘experiences’. These are curated events, tours, classes and workshops created by local guides, inspiring people not just to travel to a place, but immerse themselves in it. Experiences span from two-day food tours in Seoul, three-day salsa camps in Havana or cocktail-making classes in San Francisco.