A good smartphone and my five top travel apps are all I need to make travel easy and to save money.
But apps don't weigh anything so I have a few more that I take along as well.
My phone is central to my travels. When I returned from my Western Canada trip last August I swore off my DSLR camera.
I didn't use it! It was simply extra weight.
I don't pretend to be a photographer. My phone takes more than adequate photos. Especially since I upgraded to a Samsung S9. It takes hi-res photos and is great in low light. It was a shocking purchase for a die hard iPhone user since the beginning of iPhone time.
So, from here on, my phone is my camera and, of course, so much more. It can hold guide books, novels, a translator, and maps. I can write notes in it or record them.
There's an app for just about everything you could dream of but there's no need to clutter your phone either. Here's a list of my top five travel apps plus eleven more that I consider to be best in their class.
My Top Five Travel Apps
Some of these apps have a small annual fee. Solo Traveler is an affiliate for these apps and will make a small commission if you purchase from one of our links. You pay no more but you will support Solo Traveler in doing so.
- Lastpass. I use this app more often than any other. I use it every day whether I'm traveling or not. As the name suggests, you remember one password to get into Lastpass and it holds all your passwords. My tech guy who has done the research and is hyper security concerned says that it is secure. As of today's date the service costs $24/year. You add the app to your computer, phone, and tablet. When you go to a site that requires sign-in, it will auto-fill the information for you. But wait, you say. My browser does this for me. Ah, but your browser is also holding that information within it so that it can be stolen. Lastpass keeps your information secure and unavailable online. It also generates ridiculously difficult passwords for any site you sign into. I even use it to hold my credit card information so that I can auto-fill when making online purchases. This means I don't tick off the box allowing companies to hold my credit card information. I love this service! Get a free Trial of LastPass
- VPN. This is another app that I use a lot but mostly when I travel. A virtual private network is a download onto my phone, tablet, and computer that allows me to securely use public WiFi. Why? Because then I can book accommodation over public WiFi with my credit card and know that my data is secure. It allows me to do many things. When I lost my credit card I could go into my account online and see whether the card was being used. I can securely do my banking online. I use StrongVPN. At about $5 a month, it's a wise investment. Read VPN for Travel: What, Why and an Easy Setup Guide
- Booking.com. According to an analysis by Frommers, “Booking.com remains the top direct booking site. It smokes all competition…” It is also the booking site that is most used by the Solo Traveler community according to our reader survey.
- Whatsapp. Whatsapp is similar to Skype. It's for texting, calling phones, and video – all free. The nice thing about it is that you can create a group so that you can provide a status update to a group of people, your family and friends, with one text.
- Google Maps. Google Maps gives you walking, driving, or transit step-by-step instructions that make getting around easy in any new destination. I used it throughout my trip around the Adriatic and it was great, even in Slovenia and Croatia. Google Maps has a cool, voice-command option that is great for solo travelers on a road trip. With voice commands, you can use it totally hands-free. Here's a link on how to use voice commands on Android and another for using Google Maps by voice commands for iPhones. Google maps is heavy on data use but you can use it offline once you have the map saved. And just note, I still really like and use paper maps too.
More of the Top Travel Apps I'd Never Go Without
- Weather. When I went to Las Vegas for the Society of American Travel Writers convention I was one of the few people who had an umbrella with me. Yes, I took an umbrella to the desert and yes, there was a massive rain storm. It had been predicted. It’s one thing to know what the weather is typically like at a destination and another to know what’s likely to happen. I start tracking my destination's weather about a week before leaving. And I check it each morning to make sure I pack what I need.
- FlightNetwork. On three occasions, FlightNetwork has saved me a lot of money. Hundreds of dollars. They saved me almost $200 on a $500 flight to New York City. They don't just offer price alerts, they also have Price Drop Protection which they say has earned their customers over $3.2 million in credits. This service takes the guesswork out of when to buy your tickets.
- Skyscanner. I have used Skyscanner for years and still compare prices between FlightNetwork and Skyscanner. I also like their “anywhere” option. Instead of putting a specific destination into the search box you can put in “anywhere” and get a list of destinations from the cheapest to the most expensive.
- Open Table. This app lets you find restaurants based on location, popularity, price, and availability. You can read restaurant reviews, see menus, know approximately what a meal will cost, and make reservations on the fly. You can also earn points with the app that will, with time, give you a credit for a free meal.
- Skype. There are times when I want to connect with home and this is where Skype comes in. With Skype and free Wi-Fi which is so easily found these days at libraries, coffee shops, and fast food restaurants, I can make a call to anyone really inexpensively, text chat, or, of course, video chat.
- Camera+. This is my favourite camera app which I used all the time before getting the Samsung S9. I discovered it thanks to a photographer. Using Camera+ you can use either the horizon level or grid to get a straight horizon line. The grid is also useful to position the horizon at the perfect 1/3 or 2/3 mark. (Read Better Photos: Taking, Storing and Sharing Your Pics) It shoots in 6×19 mode which is my preference-I really don’t like the 4×3 ratio that my iPhone uses. I should also mention that the app's editing functions are also great, especially the clarity mode.
- Google Translate. This app has many purposes. You can use it to translate signs by using your phone’s camera. You can also use it so that you can talk to someone using your phone’s microphone. Simple step-by-step instructions will guide you through every application.
- Audible with a Free Audiobook. I love listening to talking books as I travel. They are great for road trips, long flights, or just sitting and relaxing in a park. Your phone and a pair of earbuds are all you need. Sign up and you can get Audible and a Free Audiobook. If you love it like I do, you'll pay $14.95 a month for a new book every month. If you don’t like it, you can cancel at any time.
- Twitter. Put Twitter on your phone and as you travel you can search the hashtag of your destination to find out what's going on there. I did this for Prince Rupert. I sent a Tweet in response to one I found interesting and ended up meeting with a scientist to learn about the whale program on the northwest coast of Canada.
- Instagram. As is the case with Twitter, you can search for the hashtag of your destination. Photos will likely pop up showing you highlights you might not want to miss.
- Netflix. If I'm traveling for a while I usually end up spending some time watching Netflix on public Wi-Fi. If I'm out of country I have to turn on my VPN to get it to work – which takes you back to app #2.
If you're interested in the gear I use to travel, you might also want to check out:
- Gear & Books – all Solo Traveler Tested
- Bare Minimum Packing: Here's Your Packing List
- Solo Travel Deals