A few people have asked us about how we go about planning our trips and what sort of tools we use when we’re on the road. Lisa and I are big iPhone users but most of these tools are also available for Androids. Many of the apps are cloud-based so can also be accessed via a desktop computer or tablet.
In no particular order, here is our travel application hall of fame.
We’ve been using the Tripit app since 2011 to keep all of our trip bookings – airfares, accommodation, day trips, restaurants etc – in the one place. You simply email your booking confirmation from hotels, airlines etc to your private TripIt account and the app automatically populates the booking details into your trip summary. Depending on your attitude towards data privacy you can further automate this process by giving the app permission to scan your inbox looking for travel related formats.
It is super handy to be able to just grab your phone to quickly access upcoming items on your trip, ie flight details, address and map of tour airbnb place to show a taxi driver etc, without having to search through your hand luggage for hard copy documents.
Trips can be shared with fellow travellers, and also with family and friends back home in case they need to keep track of your planned movements.
Dropbox is a cloud based data storage service that you can use to access your files from any computer or device connected to the internet.
We use it to save scanned copies of key documents such as our passports, credit cards, drivers licenses and travel insurance policies. I also have all of my cooking recipes stored there in case I want to cook up a feast while on the road.
Dashlane is a cloud-based password management tool. The concept is you have a single Master password to remember to access Dashlane on your phone or computer. You then use Dashlane to create and store complex passwords for all of your accounts. It’s much more secure than having a single passwords for all of your accounts or having everything written down in a diary or your wallet. It also beats carrying around a pad full of post-it notes in your pack!
Dashlane can be configured to automatically populate saved password fields when they are required on your phone or PC. There are mechanisms to provide emergency access to your passwords to next of kin if required.
There is also the facility to save ID information (passport details, drivers license etc) which comes in handy when booking flights on line.
Credit card information can also be securely stored, which can then be used to automatically populate payment fields for you on-line purchases.
Pretty much everyone in Mexico and Central America uses WhatsApp for messaging. Set up a free account in case you need it. We really like the feature where you can tell if the recipient has received and read a message.
We also use WhatsApp and Microsoft Messenger to message and call family and friends back home.
Another great tool for calling home on the cheap is Skype. Wifi quality across Mexico and Central America is generally very good so the call quality on Skype is usually excellent. Call rates for international Skype-to-mobile and Skype-to-landline and more than reasonable. Especially if, like me, you can remember the bad old days of ‘insert another £2 coin’ into the pay phone to call home from London.
Unless you’re a bona fide maths genius like my son, you’re going to need a little help with some of the trickier currency conversions on your travels.
The Currency app lets you load in as many currencies as you want – simply key in the amount to be converted in the base currency and the app will do a real time conversion into all of your other currencies. If you’re off line it will use the rate table from the last time you were on line.
This is a shopping list app that you can share between people. Add items as you think of them. Remove them when you’ve bought the item. Simple concept, very useful in practice, particularly if you are travelling with a few other people.
Case study – Lisa has gone out to do some shopping and I remember I need something else for tonight’s meal. I simply add the item to the Bring app and it will be on the list when she opens it at the supermarket.
Microsoft Translator or Google Translate
Simply brilliant apps for converting between any languages. Input via typing or voice or camera and get an almost instant translation in text and/or audio. I have both apps. I use the Microsoft one for day to day use and the Google one to do on-the-fly translations of restaurant menus etc. via the camera. It’s like living in the future!
Pro tip 1 – download your target language before you travel so you can access the app in offline mode.
Pro tip 2 – sometimes the apps work quicker in offline mode, particularly if your data connection is a bit sketchy. We sometimes switch our phones to Airplane Mode to force the app into offline mode rather than persevere with a flaky data connection.
Get Microsoft Translator
Get Google Translate
Duolingo or Babel
There is no excuse for not learning some common phrases to use on your holiday to a non English-speaking destination. Both of these language learning apps are solid and have free and paid versions. Lisa prefers Duolingo (she has a 300+ day streak going) while my feet are in the Babel camp.
Our go-to map service. It’s not just for directions. Use it to find nearby services (restaurants, laundries, supermarkets) and then click through for reviews, opening hours etc). Before you travel, make sure you download offline maps for the cities/countries you’ll be visiting so you can access them without using your phone’s data.
Pro tip – save your accommodation address as a favourite location so you can easily navigate your way home from anywhere in the city.
Get Google Maps
We mainly use TA to check out restaurant and hotel reviews. Our rule of thumb is to look for establishments with an overwhelmingly high ratio of excellent to poor reviews. Current reviews are particularly useful.
Keep in mind, not all travellers will share your own standards and expectations. (I’m looking at you, reviewers who complain about the lack of English-speaking staff or menus in non English-speaking countries).
Also be aware that while the #1 ranked restaurant in a town is probably great, it will definitely attract an inordinate number of tourists of the type who rely on TA reviews, and as such may not provide as authentic a dining experience as a well-rated place lower down the ratings.
But to be fair, TA has helped us find many great places we otherwise would have missed.
We rarely travel with a rental car. Uber is our go-to service for getting around cities where walking or public transport is not practical. It helps avoid the inevitable taxi rip-offs and removes any language barrier from the ‘where to?’ discussion.
Note not all cities have Uber – check on-line before you travel to find out if Uber will be available at your destination.
Our 2019-20 adventure has relied almost entirely on Airbnb listings for our accommodation. We haven’t had a bad experience to date. We do extensive research into each place before we book including reading all reviews. We have a reasonably extensive list of must-haves and nice-to-haves which we use to vet prospective places.
We’ve been impressed with Airbnb’s response to the Coronavirus issues of 2020, with prompt adjustments to their refund policy which covered us for prepaid accommodation exposure we’d have otherwise been liable for.
Bill Splitter with Friends
We use Bill Splitter with Friends for keeping track of (and apportioning) shared expenses when we travel with friends and family. You can set up a shared group so that everyone travelling can view and add to the pool of shared expenses. An excellent way to keep the emotion out of the ‘who-owes-who-what?’ dilemma.
Get Bill Splitter
Let us know in the Comments section if there are any great travel apps we’ve missed.