If you’re getting ready to depart on a study abroad program, or you have the time and money to take international vacations for fun, there are some essential travel apps that you should download before you head out. While you don’t want to use up all of your phone’s storage with hundreds of useless apps, the ones listed here are almost guaranteed to come in handy when you’re out of the country. Plus, they’re all free!
Hopper: If you’re not in a rush to book your tickets, using the Hopper app to watch flights to certain locations on certain days can end up saving you a lot of money. You can input where you want to go, what type of ticket you want (one way vs. roundtrip), and your travel dates. The app, which gathers data on millions of flights, will watch your selected trip and notify you of the best time to buy tickets. When you do decide to buy, you can do it right through the app instead of having to open up airline webpages or Expedia. If you know that you’ll be headed to Europe for a study abroad trip in the fall, let Hopper do all the flight watching for you, starting as soon as you know exact dates. The sooner you start watching your flights, the happier your bank account will be. Hopper is available for both iOS and Android devices.
- Similar to Hopper is Skyscanner. When you search for flights, hotels, or rental cars, Skyscanner compares dozens of websites to find you the best prices. Skyscanner is available both online and in app form (for iOS and Android devices). It might be worth it to check both places once Hopper suggests you buy a flight. Skyscanner may pick up on a deal that Hopper misses!
Maps.me: You’ll likely get a cell phone that works in the country you’re visiting, particularly if you’re going to be staying for a long period of time, but you might not buy into a data plan, meaning you won’t have access to a variety of maps. Maps.me provides maps offline; you don’t need to have access to a cellular network or be connected to the internet to figure out where you are in a foreign town. While you won’t see a blue dot pinpointing your exact location (you’ll have to use it the old-fashioned way and read street signs), it’s important to be able to get from one place to another on your own without getting lost. Take ownership of your personal safety when exploring a new town and become familiar with your surroundings. Maps.me is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Google Translate: Picture this: you’re in a foreign country, you don’t understand the language at all, and you’re trying to order something from a menu without ending up with the squid. Google Translate can help! Even if you’re offline, the app will still translate between dozens of languages without a wifi or data connection. If you’re in a country that uses a different alphabet (and even if you’re not), you can draw in the characters or take a picture of the text that you need translated, and provided the other language is one of the 37 (photographed) or 93 (drawn) languages that is supported, you will still get a return. Google Translate is available for iOS and Android devices.
Uber: Uber is already commonly used in the United States, but you can use it to get around in other countries too, especially if you don’t have a rental car and public transit is nonexistent or the timing is wrong. Uber is a ride-hailing service; the app detects your current location, you input your destination, and voilà! Before you know it, you have a personal chauffeur pulling up. All payment is done through the app, too, so you don’t have to worry about busting out your credit card or carrying around a wad of cash. Before committing to using Uber abroad, however, you should find out if unmarked cars are safe or if you should stick to marked taxicabs. While you’re probably okay in Canada, getting into an unmarked car in some parts of Brazil could be dangerous. Uber is available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
XE Currency: It’s hard enough to keep track of one exchange rate, but if you’re on a trip where you’re country hopping (for instance, studying abroad in London but spending weekends in Paris), you’ll have to keep track of more than one foreign currency. This app shows you the most current exchange rates and lets you calculate prices without having to break out the calculator. Instead of wondering the American equivalent of 15,000 Japanese Yen and trying to do the math in your head, you can find out quickly that it converts to just over $130.00. It will make shopping, eating out, and paying cab fares much easier. XE Currency is available for iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, and Firefox devices.
Duolingo: Duolingo isn’t like other translation apps; instead, it aims to teach you commonly used words and phrases in foreign languages. It’s a bit like going to French class for the first time since you’ll learn basic greetings, how to ask questions regarding getting around a city or using public transit, and the words for a lot of different foods. If you’re not a language savant, fear not! Duolingo guides you through simple language and grammar lessons in over 20 different languages. It’s more like playing a game than going to school. You’re not going to learn a new language overnight, but you will learn some useful phrases. Plus, you’ll (possibly) earn the respect of the people you try to communicate with for at least attempting it in their native language. Duolingo is available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
WhatsApp: WhatsApp allows you to text friends and family over a wifi connection. If you and the person you’re talking to both have iPhones, it’s like using Messenger. When you’re in another country and don’t want to pay for local data, though, finding a coffee shop with free wifi or tapping into the wifi connection at your school will allow you to communicate with anyone else who has WhatsApp. It doesn’t cover just texting, though. WhatsApp also allows users to make voice calls and video calls directly through the app, provided you have an internet connection. You can create groups to stay in touch with your whole family at once, share videos and photos, and even take photos and videos directly through the App. Instead of buying a local phone that only allows you a certain number of texts or using your phone and having to pay for each text you send, WhatsApp lets you do it all for free! WhatsApp is available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
HotelTonight: HotelTonight is available for iOS and Android devices. If you find yourself stranded far from home with nowhere to sleep, HotelTonight is going to be your new best friend. The app lets you book a hotel room at low rates with no warning. HotelTonight is similar to Hotwire; hotels don’t advertise their lowest rates on their sites, but when they have rooms that are empty and need to be booked, they’ll share that information with HotelTonight (and Hotwire) and reduce the rates so that the rooms get sold. If you’ve traveled to another city for a day trip but missed the bus back to your home base, for example, HotelTonight can ensure that you have a safe place to sleep without adversely affecting your bank account. It is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Venmo: If you’re out with friends and don’t want to worry about splitting the check or you’re at a place where you’re not allowed to split the check, Venmo is the app for you. It allows you to make payments and request payments from other Venmo users and is securely linked to your bank account, credit card, or debit card. You can “cash out” money that you’ve been paid in Venmo and have it moved to your bank account so that you’re not storing money in the app, or you can keep the money in the app if you foresee transferring money to other Venmo users in the future. The app provides a secure way to transfer money without actually having to exchange cash, and if you connect your Venmo account to your bank account or debit card, you don’t have to pay to use the app. (If you pay using a credit card, there is a 3% fee.) Venmo is available for iOS and Android devices.
The best apps for traveling aren’t particularly high tech, but they will help you out if you’re in a bind. Need to quickly figure out how to say “I would like one train ticket to Marseille” in French? Try Google Translate. Did you get lost while deep in the center of Frankfurt? Open up Maps.me and look for the nearest street signs to find your way back out again. Want to know the right time to buy your one-way ticket home? Hopper is the app for you. Though there are hundreds of travel apps out there, these should keep you covered for the duration of your trip.