1. Google Maps
When it comes to getting you where you need to go almost anywhere in the world, Google Maps is the best tool for the job. It handles everything from giving you turn-by-turn walking routes to using public transit in most major metropolitan areas to helping direct confused taxi drivers (a situation we encountered regularly in Southeast Asia) to point-to-point navigation while driving across Europe. The only place it didn’t work for us was in South Korea, but then we used Navermap. What’s nice about Google Maps is that it works even without an active data connection—although you usually need one to get started. Free. (iOS & Android).
Type in a phrase or take a picture of what you need translated and Google Translate will usually give you a fairly accurate result. We found it was great for deciphering menus (we once used it successfully to order an entire meal in China), translating historical markers, and learning obscure words and phrases on the fly. It also translates words in real-time when you hold your phone in front of a sign, which is a great feature (although you have a decent data connection for this). Text-in-an-image translation isn’t available for every language (like Cambodian Khmer script), but when it works, it’s fantastic. Free. (iOS & Android).
3. Tap & Say
Every time we’d travel to a new country, we always tried to learn some of the basic polite and useful phrases like “good morning,” “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and (most importantly) “I’m sorry.” The free version of Tap & Say helps you to learn the basics for 10 of the most common languages—and if you want to know more, it’s only $2.99 per language. (iOS & Android).
Finding a place to sleep is a never-ending job for the world traveling family, and Airbnb was a great way to discover affordable apartment-based accommodations that allowed us to spread out a little more than we could in a hotel room. Airbnb apartments were especially great for longer stays when having access to a kitchen was a key consideration for staying on our budget. Free. (iOS & Android).
Although staying in an apartment has its benefits, sometimes the world traveler craves the hotel experience—usually when a really late or exceptionally early arrival is unavoidable—and for those times Booking.com is an excellent tool to find a place that’s clean and reasonably priced. Free. (iOS & Android).
TripIt is an indispensable tool for tracking your journeys, especially when traveling in a group. Sometimes it takes a fair amount of manual editing to make your itinerary easily readable (that is, removing duplicate entries) and the number of alerts it sends can be a bit much (via text, email, and the app itself). But when it tells you that your plane has changed gates before the airport agents even know, all that is forgiven. Free, but a pro version is available for $49 per year—definitely worth it if you travel a lot. (Many platforms).
7. Trip Advisor
Yes, Trip Advisor is ugly and massively user unfriendly, but this website (along with its companion app) is used by literally everyone who travels. Chances are if you’re looking to go somewhere, even somewhere you think no one has ever been before, there’s probably a review of it on Trip Advisor. Free. (iOS & Android).
8. Field Trip
Field Trip excels at finding interesting restaurants, sights, and unusual locations that are close by to wherever you’re standing. The app aggregates information from many blogs, so the flood of information can be repetitive and at times overwhelming (although you can turn off notifications to get a break). With Field Trip, we found a few really cool things we would have normally overlooked, like the best restaurant we’ve even eaten at. The drain on your device’s battery can be significant, too, but it’s worth a look. Free. (iOS & Android).
A personal favorite. I’ve called Findery a social network for places—and it is—but it’s also a lot more than that. It’s a great community of people who love to tell stories, discover new places, and share experiences. It’s helped us discover some really interesting spots that were often just off popular tourist routes. I’ve even added a few of my own. Free. (iOS & Android).
10. XE Currency
XE Currency is a fantastic tool for converting almost any world currency (it supports more than 180!) to any other world currency. Very useful for staying on your travel budget. Free with a pro version available for $1.99. (Many platforms).
Keeping in touch with friends and family back at home is that much more fun with video, and we found Skype to be consistently the most reliable app for this job. We also used FaceTime (for iOS devices only) and Google Hangouts) on different occasions with mixed success. One downside to Skype is that it didn’t always work well in poor connection situations, and many places that offer free wi-fi don’t allow patrons to use Skype. Free. (iOS & Android).
We knew nothing about LINE until we visited Asia, where it seems like everyone—even businesses—use it. It’s a communication app that combines texting, voice, and even video calling. What’s nice is that calls between LINE users are free and, unlike Skype, it worked really well over even the dodgiest (that is, Edge network) connections. On the downside, it does push out a lot of sponsored messages. Free. (iOS & Android).
Love it or hate it, Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with family and friends back home as well as tap into new groups who share your experiences. We used with great success for meet ups with fellow traveling families and crowdsourcing information about upcoming destinations. Free. (iOS & Android).
Forecast is the best, most accurate weather forecasting app we’ve found. It’s not a web app, it’s an app you install from the web. Just visit http://forecast.io on your mobile device and you’re good to go. It works on both iOS and Android, but It can be a little sluggish over 3G networks. Free.
Organization is essential in such an adventure, and Evernote really helped to keep us organized through shared notebooks that included destinations, visa requirements, restaurants, and anything else that might be relevant to where we were traveling. Free, but upgrading to Plus ($25/year) or Premium ($50/year) is totally worth it—try a month of Evernote Premium for free. (Many platforms).
17. ITA Software by Google
The On the Fly website and its corresponding apps present a matrix of nearly every single available flight from most airlines. It allows you to find the cheapest flight within a given time frame—as much as 30 days in advance. It’s a great resource to have if you’re stuck in an airport and need find an outgoing flight from your destination before you’ll be allowed to board the plane. Free. (iOS & Android).
18. A Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A Virtual Private Network is a useful thing to have, and not just for travelers. It encrypts all the data sent and received between your device and the host network, allowing for greater personal security when using the Internet. We used one anytime we were on mobile devices or laptops. There’s also the added benefit of being able to have your computer seem to be geographically somewhere else so you can watch streaming movies and television shows from back home no matter where you are. We used two different VPNs, Private Internet Access ($40 per year) and Anonymizer ($80 per year), but there are many out there. We ran both through OpenVPN Connect (Free on iOS & Android). It can be a little tricky to set up a VPN for the first time, so be sure to run a test or two before you start your trip.
Sending postcards from foreign lands is a time-honored tradition. But some foreign post offices aren’t all that reliable (I’m looking at you, Bali), and Postagram is a great compromise—plus you get to use your own photos. Free, but sending postcards costs between $0.99 and $1.99 depending on where the card is going. (iOS & Android).
20. Tiny Scan
Every once in a while, some business back at home will rear its head. And sometimes, that will require you to sign a document. And for those times, there’s Tiny Scan, which makes that not only possible, but really easy. Free. Pro version available for $4.99. (iOS & Android).
21. Schengen Visa Calculator
On June 14, 1985, legislation in Europe called for the elimination of border checks. This means you can move freely in and out of 26 different European countries without being stopped at the border, which is great. But this also means that when it comes to visas, those same countries are treated as a single territory known as the Schengen Area, and non-Europeans are limited to how much time they can spend inside Schengen (citizens of the U.S., for instance, can only stay for 90 days every 180 days). Calculating your days can get confusing, but fortunately there are a few apps that help you track how many days you’ve been in Schengen and how many days until you have get out. Our favorites are Check Schengen Visa (Android) and Schengen 90 (iOS). Both free.
Some of the best walking tours we enjoyed during our travels were free walking tours from Sandeman’s, a company that started in Berlin and now operates in 18 major European cities. In addition to its famous free walking tours (and they are free, but the guides—and every one we had was excellent—work off tips), they also offer a number of paid tours for other experiences, like the Red Light District of Amsterdam and a Belgian Beer Tour in Brussels. This app tells you which cities offer which tours and helps you book any of their tours in advance. Free. (iOS & Android).
23. World Clock
There are many time zone apps out there, but our favorite is the World Clock from timeanddate.com. When you’re traversing numerous time zones quickly, it’s handy to have one place to go to see what time it is anywhere in the world. Free. (iOS & Android).
In some countries we traveled in, a simple taxi ride was an exercise in frustration. So when we learned that Uber operates in many cities throughout the world (there’s a list here), we gave them a try and found the service to be a nice counterpoint to yet another miserable taxi experience. Free. (iOS & Android).
You’re going to want to binge-watch those new episodes of Orange is the New Black when you’re on the road. Keep in mind that you may need a VPN (#18) to be able to view shows broadcast from countries that you are not actually in. Free. (iOS & Android).
Okay, so this family travel thing is pretty great. But being around each other for every moment of every day can get intense—and that’s when it’s a good time to break out the Minecraft. $26.95, or try Minecraft Pocket Edition (iOS & Android) for $6.99.
Disclosure: We were given a free trial of Anonymizer to use during our year-long travels. Links to Airbnb, Booking.com, and Evernote contain affiliate and/or referral links.
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