When Kee and I first got to South East Asia, we were determined not to use our phones. I didn't want to be the people travelling that were constantly glued to their social media and missing out on the experiences that were actually happening in real time all around us.
We landed in Bangkok, and on our first morning, we used the hotel wifi to load up Google Maps and then determinedly set off into the busy streets to attempt to navigate our way around a full day of sight seeing.
We managed to make it to the first stop of the day- then we were immediately lost. We had no idea how to get back to the centre of Bangkok. We wandered around aimlessly for a few hours, had a big row about whose fault it was, and finished off the day with purchasing a SIM card with a LOT of internet on it.
And though I hate to admit it, through the next two years of our travels, access to the internet and useful apps became crucial for us. We were able to use maps to hop from one location to the next, use google to search the best local restaurants, and overnight trains and buses were made bearable with access to Podcasts and Netflix.
So without further ado, here are my top 7 must have travel apps!
1) Google Maps / Maps Me
Throughout our years travelling, the top app that we used every single day without fail was Google Maps. Within a few weeks of arriving in South East Asia, we were hiring motorbikes daily to roam freely across towns and cities, and Google Maps made that so much easier! We also used it to navigate our way to different restaurants we were recommended to us.
TOP TIP: I did find the internet in some places to be a little dodgy, so a great extra app is one called MapsMe. It allows you to download a map for an entire area and then use Maps like normal without needing internet! Game changer.
2) Money Convertor App
Especially if you are hopping between countries, this is a must have app. We had a pretty hectic schedule while we were visiting South East Asia and found we were switching countries (and currencies) approximately every two weeks. We found that getting our head around all the different currencies one of the hardest and most anxiety inducing aspects of travelling- we always had that horrible moment of arriving into somewhere new and needing to grab a taxi, but having no idea what a 'normal' price was. (When we first arrived into Northern Thailand, we grabbed a seat on a communal taxi after haggling extensively with the taxi driver. He wanted us to pay 600 baht each, which roughly equates to £15. We finally agreed on 400 baht (£10) and were quite pleased with ourselves- until we were later told that those communal taxis are a flat fare of 20 baht (50p). After that, we downloaded a money convertor app and it simplified EVERYTHING! Definitely a must have.
3) Translation App
I was a bit hesitant to put this one in because they can be a bit dodgy. When I was working in New Zealand, the tourists I used to serve relied so heavily on these translation apps but I found the words never seemed to transfer directly across, and always ended up making no sense! I had one downloaded to my phone anyway, and it did come in very useful once in Vietnam. Kee and I had been out for dinner and he, like a fool, ended up accidentally leaving his very expensive camera at the restaurant. We realised about an hour later and went running back. We were trying to ask the restaurant managers whether they knew where the camera was, but they weren't seeming to understand us. Kee had already given up and was leaving when I whipped out my phone and typed 'camera' into the translation app. Comprehension immediately dawned on the managers face and he ran and collected the camera for us! So though these apps aren't always reliable, they are useful to keep around.
Hostelworld is a must. No arguments about it. Hands down the easiest way to find hostels last minute! I used this basically every day whilst travelling (CEO of never booking ahead). Love the fact it also has reviews from other users so you get a real feel of what a hostel is like!
5) Uber/ Lyft
By now, I am pretty sure we all know what Uber is but just to recap it is a taxi service that you order through an app on your phone. This is a super useful app, and while travelling I found loads of similar alternatives! For example, in Asia the most popular option is Lyft. The thing I love most about these apps is they give you the price upfront, and once you accept it, it can't be changed.
Sidenote- when visiting countries, it is encouraged to use private taxis instead of companies to support local. While I massively agreed with this, sometimes the taxi drivers would see we were tourists and try to mug us off with prices. Therefore, I found the best thing to do was look up the predicted price on Lyft, then show it to the private taxi.
The Netflix app is a winner. The best bit about it (other than some real quality TV- The Crown, I am looking at you) is you can download episodes to watch later! This was so useful for overnight boats / trains when theres not always access to internet!
Okay, I have saved the best to last. If you don't have this app, go ahead and download it right now. Even if you are at home and not even travelling, this app is a must. Splitwise is an app that works out how much a group all owe each other, and cuts out that awful 'I paid for drinks last night, so could you grab this tonight?' situation. You all download the app, create a group and then add expenses. You can change who within the group you are splitting the cost with, and how much percentage you each want to pay. Then, when the next person adds a new expense, it automatically calculates it against the existing expenses! I was constantly travelling in groups and this made it SO easy! At the end of the trip, we would all just settle up with what we owed each other and go on our merry ways. Have I just changed your life? I think so.
Let me know if there are any travel apps that you discovered that you now feel you could never travel without!