If you are anything like me your phone has become an essential travel companion over the last decade.
Nowadays I can’t even think of travelling without one, it just makes things easier. However, we all know how useful our phones are heavily depends on the apps we use. With the market filled with millions of them, how can we find the gold nuggets in the mud?

I have made a selection of what I consider the best travel apps for backpackers that make my travels easier and cheaper. As I have personally used all of them extensively, you can rest assured they have all been tested thoroughly! So keep reading to find out which apps you should download before your next trip!

Best travel apps and resources

Transportation and logistics

Google Maps

Screenshot of Google Maps
Google Maps. Map data: ©2020 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009)

Moving around today is easier than ever, and that’s partly thanks to apps like Google Maps (or any of its alternatives). Pretty much everyone is familiar with it, but I still want to include it here because it just makes everything so much easier.

Not only you have instantly a map of any place you visit, but you also have access to public transport information, opening hours, restaurants, points of interest… While information is not always completely accurate, most of the time it gives you instant access to valuable information.

By the way, if you are travelling somewhere with limited internet connection don’t forget to download the local area! Google Maps can be very data-intensive.

Maps.me

Screenshots of Maps.me
Image courtesy of Maps.me

While Google Maps is great for destinations where you have Internet, even if it´s slow, Maps.me is a real lifesaver in those areas where you have no connection at all. I have used it extensively all over the world, especially in very off the beaten path areas like Central Asia.

You can download the maps of the areas you are going to visit in advance. They are usually quite small, so even the slowest connections are usually enough if you leave it downloading for a few minutes. The small size means less information, of course, but usually, they have everything you need. And you can always contribute by adding missing information!

Google Flights

I know, I know. Google Flights is technically not an app, but I wanted to include it here because it is extremely useful, and a surprising number of people don’t know about it. This also includes any of the possible alternatives, like Skyscanner or Momondo (include links).

Google Flights allows you to search for cheap flights anywhere in the world, and play around with dates, times, stopovers… in order to find the best deal. I especially like the grid view, a simple way of displaying all the prices of nearby arrival and departure dates.

Click here to visit Google Flights

FlixBus

Bus from Flix Bus
Image courtesy of FlixBus

FlixBus and its brother FlixTrain are one of my favourite options when it comes to travelling through Europe. They offer bus and train rides to many destinations for cheap. You won’t have a luxurious trip but it’s going to get you there. And, to be honest, they are often better than the alternative. I have travelled with them many times and it has always been a positive experience.

Uber

When Uber and similar alternatives came out it was a revolution. The taxi industry nowadays is much better than it used to in part thanks to the threat of these apps, and many offer similar services. No matter what you choose, the ability to get a ride at any time from your destination with a fixed price and a system that gives accountability to the driver is great. And it is especially useful in areas where taxi services are a bit dodgy or public transportation is limited. While I haven’t used it too much since I always try to walk or use public transport, the few times I have needed it has been excellent.

Hotels and accommodation

Booking.com

This is probably the king of accommodation apps. Probably most people already know about Booking.com, but I still use it almost every time I go abroad because it´s that good. Despite its sometimes clunky interface it still provides a huge array of hotels, hostels and now even apartments. Not only that, they have a loyalty program that, while simple, can get you discounts here and there

Agoda

Agoda is basically Booking.com for Asia. It used to be really good a few years ago, where you would find some places just in Agoda. Today it’s not as good in terms of exclusive offers, but it is still the king of the east. You can still find pretty good deals there, and it never hurts to check if there are any good offers in multiple apps. So, if you are travelling to Asia, I suggest you give it a try!

Airbnb

AirBnb homepage and mobile app
Image courtesy of AirBnb

While Booking is great for solo travelling or small groups, I think Airbnb is still the best option for four or more people. Renting a big apartment between a big group of friends is usually much cheaper than the equivalent number of rooms in a hotel, and hey, you have an apartment! It’s probably nicer, bigger, and you can usually cook, wash your clothes or sometimes even bbq! It is of course not limited to big groups. Sometimes some properties are only available on Airbnb, as I’ve witnessed quite a few times already. And they can give you a much better bang for the buck than a hotel room.

Hostelworld

Hostelworld, like Agoda, used to be pretty good and had its own share of the market back in the day. However, with Booking.com now showing hostels it’s just now what it used to be. The fixed fee that they charge can sometimes mean that you will get a worse deal, but it can still have some decent offers and from time to time a hostel not listed anywhere else. While I don’t use this app as much as in the past, I still think it has a lot of value, and it’s worth checking it out.

Dayuse.com

This one is a very niche travel app, but very useful. It allows you to book a hotel room not for a night, but during the day, for a couple of hours. It can be especially useful for very long stopovers, where you might have to wait for 12 or 16 hours. An airport lounge is usually quite pricey and not as nice as a proper hotel room.

This app actually saved my day when I had to go back from Japan after having surgery. We had a very long stopover in Hong Kong, and I could barely walk. We could not find a lounge with a private room that was free or affordable, so we decided to find a hotel room for the day. I managed to rest, recover and keep going back home. So give it a try if you need a room for a few hours!

Budgeting

Trabee Pocket

Screenshot of Trabee
Image courtesy of Trabee Pocket

I have used Trabee Pocket for years now. When I travel, especially if I do it for a long time, I need to control my expenses. That means keeping track of everything I spend money on, which can be quite annoying without the right tools.

Trabee Pocket is easy to use, very user friendly and it takes seconds to add a new entry. It has all the bells and whistles: it supports pretty much all currencies with automatic conversion, reports, categories… And while it might not be as advanced in some features like others, its simplicity is why I keep using it. It is always installed on my phone, and always part of my essential travel apps.

Trip Expense Manager

While I love Trabee Pocket, Trip Expense Manager is my app to go when travelling with friends. Why? Because it makes sharing expenses extremely easy. It is not the prettiest app, and it is Android only (sorry iPhone users), but it does the job. You can add expenses per person and it will automatically calculate how much each one owns to the others. It used to be one of the only options out there, and while new apps with these features have been released, it still works, and it’s still free, so it still is a must-have for me.

Photography

Golden Hour

Screenshot of Golden Hour
Image courtesy of Golden Hour

This app is very simple: lets you find the time and duration of the golden and blue hours, sunset, sunrise, etc. It also shows where the sun is going to be. It is fast and lightwigh, and does its job really well. For photography planning I have never found something better. There are other apps with more features, but they are not as neat, simple and usable like this one. For all that, it always has a place in my phone. The only downside? Android only.

Lightroom Mobile

One of the best mobile editors out there. While not as powerful as its desktop counterpart, Adobe Lightroom offers a huge array of tools when it comes to photography editing. When I’m travelling I often can’t access my computer. And while editing in your phone can’t really substitue a big screen with a professional editor, it is a very good substitute. No matter if it’s editing pictures for the blog, instagram or just for fun, I always come back to it.

Must-have apps

Google Translate

Yes, you probably know Google Translate, but that doesn’t mean it is one of the most helpful travel apps out there. This app lets you translate almost anything to many, many languages. And it has so many features! You can use your camera to take pictures or record text in real-time and it will translate it. I find this especially useful for translating menus in restaurants. I have done this in places such as Japan! And it translates way more than text! You can translate speech as well. It even has a conversation mode where it detects two languages at once, and it works surprisingly well.

There are not many good alternatives to Google Translate, but one that I found really good is DeepL. This is a text-only translation web and it only supports a handful of languages (mostly European). However, the translation quality is excellent. I often use it to read articles from foreign newspapers and is staggering how well translated everything is. I would recommend it instead of Google when dealing with more complex text. Of course, it is text only, so it works best when translating online news, webpages, etc.

XE Currency Converter

As a coin collector, I love finding out what kind of coins other countries use. However, that doesn’t mean I like exchanging money. Depending on the destination and on where you exchange you have to deal with horrible rates, scammers or people not accepting your notes because they are not perfectly ironed. On top of that, knowing how much something actually is in your home currency is always challenging, especially if you travel often to different destinations. I personally always check the current exchange rate whenever I have to make a substantial purchase or exchange money. And for that, XE Currency Converter is the best app I have found out there. Free, simple, easy to use and always up to date.

Express VPN (or any VPN)

Express VPN on multiple devices
Image courtesy of Express VPN

If you are travelling to a country where Internet is restricted, a VPN app is really useful when trying to visit websites that are blocked. Of course, you have to be really careful about using this kind of software, countries have different stances on it. In the most restricted ones, like Turkmenistan or North Korea, I would be very careful with what you do online. However, in countries with a more relaxed attitude, you might need one to get to even basic websites. For example, Wikipedia was blocked in Turkey for a while! I have personally used Express VPN for a while, but there are plenty out there that do the job. Just pick the one that you like best!

Tracking your trip

Polarsteps

Polarsteps running on a phone
Image courtesy of Polarsteps

This is one of my favourite travel apps. I have always been obsessed with tracking my trips. I love having a neat summary of my trips with photos, descriptions, maps… I have done this manually in the past and I have tried countless apps. Polarsteps is, in my opinion, the best one by far.

You can both track your location and add previous trips. In every destination, you can add a “step”, kind of like a milestone. There you can upload your photos, videos, add text and even the sights you visited. The app will create a wonderful view of the trip, displaying your travels on a map, that you can share with friends or family.

You can also make photo books with your trips really easily. I have not used that feature yet but I have seen the result, and it is quite nice. In summary, Polarsteps is a beautifully presented “travel journal”. The first time I used it years ago I fell in love with it, and now I use it to track all my travels, feel free to have a look at them! Oh, and Ilona also uses Polarsteps too, of course.

Countries Been

Screenshot of Countries Been
Image courtesy of Countries Been

This is another of the super simple travel apps I love. As you can probably figure out by its name, Countries Been just keeps track of the countries you have been to. It also supports regions and cities, but I personally just use it for countries. Why? Because then you can see how much of the world you have “painted” in a 3D globe view. I just love it! I really like that you can also mark the places you have lived on and the ones you want to go to. Might not be the most useful app out there, but it always has a place on my phone.

Places Been

Screenshot of Places Been
Image courtesy of Places Been

While I don’t use this app as much as the other ones I think it still deserves being on this list. It is really complete. Not only you can add countries you’ve been to, but also cities, airports and even UNESCO sites. This is actually the reason why I have on my phone. I sometimes struggle trying to remember which sites I have visited. This app really helps a lot. It also has the possibility to add National Parks of a bunch of countries, but you have to pay for it.

The only issue I have with this app is that the adds can become annoying. You will get a full-screen ad every few places you add. But, hey, it’s free! And you can always buy the pro version to make it ad-free. It will also unlock several features, like 3D maps or detailed statistics.

Offline entertainment

Pocket

Pocket is one of the best apps if you travel to a country where roaming is either too expensive or not available. These days, we are lucky because our SIM cards work everywhere in the European Union, just as if we were at home. But outside that region? We need wifi, which can be more or less reliable.

Pocket allows you to store articles you found online in the app and read them later, when you’re offline. It’s perfect for long bus or train rides. Just store all those articles you wanted to read and catch up on them later. It’s also great for storing those destination blog posts and then looking them up while you walk through a city.

Spotify

Spotify in multiple devices
Image courtesy of Spotify

This one is, personally, one of these apps I always have installed no matter what. I have been using Spotify since 2014. Ever since then it has always travelled with me. Music is a big part of my life. I went to violin lessons for years, I still play around with my Ukulele from time to time. And of course, I love listening to music. I spend a lot of time doing so every day, as Spotify statistics remind me every year. When I was a kid I had a Discman, and later on an MP3 player. So, the ability to have pretty much anything I want to listen to in a tiny device is almost a dream come true. If you pay for premium (like I do) you can also download music, so it is available offline. As you can imagine, I often use this option, since the connection in the middle of the Uzbek desert is not the best.

If you are anything like me and just needs music, Spotify (or any of its alternatives) should be on your phone. And no matter if you are in a long train ride, a 12-hour flight or waiting for your turn in a Visa centre, you can always entertain yourself.

Netflix

Netflix on multiple devices
Image courtesy of Netflix

I don’t really thing Netflix needs an introduction. This media streaming service is so prevalent nowadays that it has shaped our culture. It symbolises the end of the TV era and the beginning of the streaming one. Watch whatever you want, whenever you want. While it has been steadily losing third-party content for a while, with all major publishers wanting their own piece of the streaming pie, it is still the most popular one. And, of course, it also offers the option to watch things offline! Which is the reason why it’s included in this list. Internet is not exactly reliable in many destinations after all. Similarly to Spotify, Netflix is a great ally to combat the boredom that comes from an endless flight, train ride or any of the many situations in travel where we just have to wait.

Organization and planning

TripIt

TripIt is very useful for longer trips or ones for which you’ve already made a lot of reservations. You can forward all of your reservations to TripIt and the app will automatically extract the information and add it to your itinerary. Then, when you open the app, you can see a timeline with all of your reservations and details about them.

TripIt supports a lot of airlines and hotel reservation sites. That means that you just need to send the e-mail and it extracts all of the information. When it comes to smaller bus companies, for example, this sometimes doesn’t work. But don’t worry. In that case, you can quickly add the information manually and then, when you click on it, access the original e-mail from the app. No more browsing through your inbox or having to print everything.

Keep

There are many note-taking apps out there. However, I always end up going back to Keep. Why? Simplicity and ease of use. Plus it syncs with your Google account. It supports creating lists, drawings, voice recordings… and making a new note is extremely easy. You can also share notes with other people and edit them together. On top of that is completely free. No ads, no premium subscription popups, no annoying notifications.

Of course, being this simple means it lacks some of the fancy features other apps might have. Evernote, for example, might be better if you want to organize your notes. Ilona and I actually use Evernote for organizing our notes about the blog. However, for everything else, at least for me, Keep is king.

In your pocket

Screenshots of In Your Pocket
Image courtesy of In Your Pocket

We first discovered this app when we were in Lithuania. In Your Pocket is a handy travel guide on your phone that lets you browse through information about the city you’re visiting. It’s very useful to get an overview over the main sights in the city and it also helps you discover unknown tourist attractions you wouldn’t have thought about visiting. In Riga, for example, we decided to visit the Ethnographic Open Air Museum after seeing it in the app. In addition, In Your Pocket gave us all the information on how to get there, so we didn’t have to search for the bus ourselves.

Right now, the app mostly supports European cities, with some places on other continents (like Johannesburg). I suggest you download it and see if there’s anything useful for your next trip. Oh, In Your Pocket also supports offline use, so you can download all of the data you need before you go. And the best part? It is free!

Misc

1 Second Everyday

1 Second Everyday on a mobile phone
Image courtesy of 1 Second Everyday

This is one of these weird travel apps that you discover accidentally and immediately fall in love with the idea. 1 Second Everyday let’s you record a 1 second video that represents each one of you days. After doing this for a while, you can create a compilation and stitch a bunch of them together. The result is actually amazing. While you can use it for your daily life (and there are many people who do exactly that) I think it’s perfect for travelling. I find making travel videos extremely hard and time consuming. I love the final result, but I just don’t think it’s worth it. With 1 Second Everyday I can get a middle ground, where I end up with a pretty cool video of my experiences without investing too much time on it.


And that’s it! Those are what I consider the best travel apps out there. I hope you find the post useful, and please comment below if you have any must-have travel apps!

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1 Comment

  1. also this app is super super great to use. its called ” ATM Fee Saver” and it shows ATM with their fees and limits. i used it in spain,italy and later mexico. it was so easy to use and i really saved some money with it =) check it out

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