Last updated on August 9, 2023
Travel today doesn’t much resemble travel 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago. A lot has changed about how people travel the world—the tools they use to plan travel, but also how they navigate the world once they’re on the road. When I left in 2008 for my yearlong trip, smartphones were brand-new and far from ubiquitous. In the span of a few years, both travel apps and online photo-sharing platforms (i.e. social media) is the norm.
Now, planning and organizing travel has never been easier, thanks to a myriad of travel apps at your fingertips. From flight and hotel booking, currency conversion, to transportation and local navigation, digital platforms have streamlined travel planning for all types of travelers. There are even a number of sustainable travel apps that can help you lower your travel footprint while also seeing a more local side of each place you visit.
The apps below are on my iPhone and work for all the different stages of a trip. These are my favorite road-tested travel apps that I have used to help visit many of the 70+ countries that I’ve explored since my first round the world trip in 2008.
And if you’re still looking for travel advice, head over to my master world travel resources page.
Best General Travel Apps
These travel apps will not only make your life easier but also help you discover new experiences and off-the-beaten-path destinations that you may not have considered before. With the right blend of user-friendliness and innovative features, these must-have travel apps are sure to be your faithful companions on the road ahead.
Google Maps is an essential app for every traveler. You likely already use it around your hometown, and it’s just as good in the vast majority of places you visit. With its reliable and accurate navigation, you can easily find your way around unfamiliar places. It offers various transportation options, such as directions for walking, driving, or public transport—and you can even ask it to route you on public transport via routes without stairs (in case you’re in a wheelchair or traveling with a stroller). You can also save maps offline for when you don’t have an internet connection.
You can also use it as an informal travel guide, searching for general things like “vegetarian restaurants,” “best things to do nearby”—then you can pick a place using the user-generated recommendations and reviews.
I’ve used a lot of VPNs over the years, and NordVPN remains the most reliable app to access the internet as if you’re browsing from the U.S. This may not seem important at first, but there are a large number of websites that block IP internet addresses outside of the U.S.—this is common with news and food sites, but also Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others.
NordVPN regularly runs great promotions and I’ve used it for more than five years now as an expat living in Spain, and it’s works 100 percent of the time with all of the major streaming platforms (if it doesn’t work on one connection, you can reconnect on a different one and it will). It works on both your laptop if you’re bringing one, and your cell phone.
I mapped an entire two month Eurail adventure primarily using Rome2Rio in 2023 and it was flawless. It uncovered routes and timelines I couldn’t easily surface anywhere else. Travel planning with this app becomes more accessible and convenient. It allows you to compare various transportation options—including trains, buses, cars, and flights, to determine the best way to get from one place to another.
Key Rome2Rio features include:
- Comprehensive database of worldwide travel options
- Price estimations for different transportation modes
- Booking options and links to official websites
- Accurate route planning with distances and travel times
Rome2Rio is owned by Omio, which I just don’t like as much, by the way!
If you’ve already traveled a fair bit, or have friends or family living outside of the country then it’s a good bet you have WhatsApp on your phone. If you don’t yet have it, download it and you’ll likely find a lot of your friends already there. I have an international cast of friends I can text with for free through WhatsApp. It’s a standard in the travel sphere because the app works on all smartphone systems. It works over wifi and for friends in any country in the world. Even outside of keeping in touch with friends, this is the go-to app for hotel and tour owners too. I used WhatsApp almost exclusively to reserve rooms, book accommodation, and communicate with the owners while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, for example.
App in the Air
App in the Air is a personal flight assistant that helps you keep track of your upcoming trips and flight details. It works best if you go all in on using it. It offers real-time updates on delays, gate changes, and boarding times, so you won’t miss any essential information.
Some of its useful features include:
- Offline access to your flight details
- Countdown timer for checking flight status
- Airport maps with terminal layouts and Wi-Fi passwords
- Loyalty program tracking for frequent flyers
Booking flights through this travel is also novel as it offers an AI driven search tool that travelers just love. It’s the best travel app that you’ve probably never heard of.
You’ve likely come across Seat Guru while researching where to sit on a certain type of plane. Whether you hate being near the loo or you get claustrophobic in the center of the plane, this app has you covered. It let’s you check out the best and worst seats so you can pick a good one for your next flight. I never pick my seat on a plane until I’ve checked the Seat Guru listing for the plane flying my planned route.
XE Currency is only currency conversion and rate app you need. It’s the best—the interface is dead simple to use, meaning you can convert across multiple currencies in a hot second. I’ve used it for well over a decade and have never felt like there was something else it needed to do. It does this one thing well, so put it on your phone.
Best Accommodation Booking Travel Apps
This is the first place I look for accommodation. Booking.com has a user-friendly platform for finding and booking accommodations around the world. It also offers a wide variety of accommodation types, including hotels, apartments, and hostels, so I always easily find a place that suits my preferences and budget. The interface is easy to navigate, with filters to narrow down your search quickly. It’s also widely used, so you can read reviews from other travelers to ensure that you’re making an informed decision—and that the place has the vibes you’re looking for in a place to stay.
One bonus for using this travel accommodation app? It offers a loyalty program that accumulates rewards the more you use it. So you can earn 10-20% a good many hotels in their search engine, and even score free breakfast. This loyalty is partly what has allowed Booking.com to outstrip the competition for me in terms of finding good deals.
VRBO offers a great alternative to traditional hotels, giving you a unique opportunity to stay in local homes, apartments, and even villas, treehouses, and more. VRBO connects travelers with property owners and managers for vacation rentals. I like the apps user-friendly interface for browsing and filtering properties based on location, dates, price, and amenities. Naturally it has property descriptions, photos, and reviews, and it also has in-app communication between you and the host
A very large portion of my travels these past 15+ years was as a backpacker. If you’re a budget-conscious traveler, Hostelworld is a must-have app. It specializes in listing and booking hostels. This travel app is slick, and it offers a clear and easy-to-use interface, allowing you to search for available hostels by city, price, and amenities.
Backpackers are also pretty candid, so the ratings provided by fellow travelers offer a clear idea of what to expect before booking. As an added bonus, Hostelworld often features exclusive deals and discounts for app users, which can saves you even more money during your travels.
Best Transportation Travel Apps
While Google Maps is a go-to in general, these transportation apps offer you a bit more help getting from here to there.
Uber is my go-to app for ridesharing (although I also use local versions in places where Uber doesn’t work). That said, Uber has availability in many cities across the globe, and you’ll find it convenient for transportation. You should download this app to your phone and set up payment before you leave. That way it’s ready to use when you need it—even if that’s in a sketchy neighborhood of a sketchy city at dusk (true story).
Citymapper is an excellent app for navigating public transport in several major cities. While Google Maps does a good job, Citymapper does a terrific job at just that task. Some of its features include:
- Real-time departure information
- Step-by-step directions
- Alerts for any disruptions in service
To get started, input your destination, and Citymapper will provide you with various options to reach it, including buses, trains, and walking routes. If you’re a budget travel, using this travel app saves money since you always find and use the most efficient routes and transportation methods.
If you’re roadtripping in the U.S., then ditch Google Maps and embrace the wonder that is Waze. Although I often use Google Maps around town for quick trips, Waze is an incredible travel app for navigating long road trips.
The key features? It offers real-time traffic information, turn-by-turn directions, and various features to help optimize your route. Waze relies on user-generated data, allowing drivers to report accidents, traffic jams, road hazards, and police presence, providing up-to-date information to fellow users. It also suggests alternative routes to avoid heavy traffic and provides estimated arrival times.
- Bikemap: Bikemap is a travel app that provides over 11 million mapped cycling paths worldwide. It allows users to rent bikes and explore new cities responsibly. The app offers user-generated routes in 100+ countries and encourages contributions to expand its database. Bikemap has nearly 8 million users and helps lower carbon footprint during trips.
- BlaBlaCar: BlaBlaCar is a ride-sharing app that provides a faster, more direct, and sustainable alternative to trains and car rentals. It is popular in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Australia, with limited availability in the US. The app offers trusted carpools and bus routes along popular routes. Make sure to download the specific BlaBlaCar app for the country you’re traveling to (as there are different apps for each country where it operates).
Language Translation Apps
If you’re traveling the world, it’s a fair bet that you’ll face language barriers during at some point during your trip. Google Translate is a handy travel app to have on your smartphone. It offers translations in over 100 languages and works offline with 59 languages. You can translate text, images, and even spoken words, making it an invaluable tool for navigating foreign countries. The image translation feature is amazing for reading a menu in a new place.
Some of the key features of Google Translate include:
- Offline translations: Download language packs for offline use.
- Camera translations: Point your camera at text and get translations instantly.
- Conversation mode: Have bilingual conversations with real-time translations.
- Handwriting: Write text in 93 languages and get translations.
I live as an expat in Barcelona, Spain, and I use Google Translate as my go-to when there’s a breakdown in my Spanish and my ability to get my point across.
If you prefer voice translations, iTranslate Voice is a great option. It supports 40 languages, and the travel app allows you to speak directly into your phone, translating your words to the desired language. It’s ideal for quick conversations, getting your message across, and understanding locals.
iTranslate Voice features:
- Instant voice translations: Speak into your phone and hear translated phrases.
- Text translations: Type in text and get translations in real-time.
- Language detection: Automatically detects the language of your input for even quicker translations.
Travel Budget Management Apps
Managing your budget while traveling the world isn’t always the most fun part of travel, but the right budgeting app can make or break a long-term trip. If you’re keen to track your travel expenses, you have three main travel budgeting app options. While there used to be a fantastic on built by long-term travelers (Trail Wallet).
TravelSpend is a user-friendly budgeting app that helps you keep track of your expenses during your trip. You can easily categorize your spending, and the app shows you a daily summary of your expenditures. It’s a feature-rich app that includes:
- Real-Time Budget Tracking: Monitor your spending as it happens, and see how much you have left in your budget.
- Multiple Currencies: The app automatically converts expenses to your chosen currency.
- Customizable Categories: Organize your expenses into custom categories so you can see where your money goes.
The app has a forever free option, but you’d likely need the paid monthly premium version if you’re using it a lot, or for long-term travel.
TrabeePocket is a simple yet effective app to manage your travel budget. It not only tracks your expenses but also helps you plan your travel budget before setting off on your journey. Key features of this budgeting app include:
- Expense Tracking: Add expenses quickly and easily, complete with photos of receipts.
- Budget Planning: Set a budget for your trip and allocate amounts for different categories.
- Currency Conversion: Supports multiple currencies, making it convenient for international travels.
Tripcoin is another excellent travel budget management app, perfect for those who prefer a visually appealing interface. The app focuses on making budget tracking enjoyable and easy. Some standout features of Tripcoin are:
- Visual Data Representation: View your expenses in colorful charts and graphs for better understanding.
- Offline Mode: No need for an internet connection; track your expenses even when you’re off the grid.
- Expense Filtering: Sort and filter your expenses by date, category, and currency for a comprehensive overview of your spending.
It’s not quite as feature rich as TravelSpend, but it’s free, so that’s a help for those traveling on a tight budget.
Best Travel Apps to Find Local Experiences
I love EatWith, a travel app that connects you with locals who host unique dining experiences. Whether you’re jonesing for a home-cooked meal or an exclusive cooking class, this travel app has you covered. The app offers a wide range of cuisines and experiences to suit anyone’s taste buds and dietary preferences (I’m vegetarian, for example). It’s easy to browse something neat near your and then book directly from the app. Using EatWith let’s you can immerse in the local culture, make new friends, and savor authentic flavors. It’s a win all around.
Viator is one of the most well know places to book local tours and activities nearly anywhere in the world. It has a website, of course, but also an easy-to-use app that allows you to browse, compare, and book numerous excursions. Viator let’s you:
- Find exclusive deals on exciting activities
- Read reviews from fellow travelers
- Save your favorite experiences for easy access
Things you can book include guided walking tours, food crawls, scenic boat rides, private sightseeing adventures, and so much more.
GetYourGuide is a rival to Viator, and although some local tours overlap on both sites, there’s a lot of unique offerings on GetYourGuide. On a recent trip to Norway in June 2023, I found a fantastic day cruise to the fjords on GetYourGuide and it better fit my schedule than Viator. So, that means you should check both apps to really understand what you can do in each new place—you’re looking at over 50,000 activities to choose from. App features include:
- Comprehensive reviews and photos of experiences
- User-friendly booking and cancellation process
- Attraction tickets, city cards, and local transportation
GetYourGuide covers everything from skip-the-line passes to top attractions to guided food tours. This versatile app is a valuable resource for enhancing your travel experience and exploring your destination like a local.
Best Misc Travel Apps
Some of these apps aren’t exactly travel-specific, but they can be essential tools to help some aspects of your travel experience.
Evernote or Trello
In my early years of round the world travel, I used Evernote for every aspect of my life, trip planning included. I used folders for each potential location I planned to visit at some point, and over the years I clipped interesting articles and advice into country folders. Then about 10 years ago I started using Trello for business, and found that it was effective for planning trips too! Now I use boards for all of my trips, and future trips. The fact is, if you’re already using a project management system, assess if there’s a way use it for your travels.
Packing Planner App
I love this app when planning for everything from short trips to long-term travel too. And it’s free! While Packing Planner App is only available on iOS, this travel packing app helps you get everything sorted and into your bag. I especially like the potential for helping me re-pack after I have spread out in a guesthouse. It’s pretty, useful, and free.
US Public Lands
If you’re traveling the US and plan to camp, then this app is just about the best investment you’ll find, the app details all the public land in the US where camping is free. US Public Lands provides comprehensive information about national parks, national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, wildlife refuges, and other public lands.
The app offers a user-friendly interface with maps, detailed descriptions, and key features of each public land area. It includes information about camping, hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, picnic areas, visitor centers, and recreational activities available in each location.
One of the app’s notable features is its offline functionality, allowing you to access maps and information even without an internet connection. This is particularly useful when traveling through remote areas with limited connectivity.
Skype and Google Voice
I have used Skype for years and it’s a trusty standby. Skype-to-Skype calls are free, and calls to your home country cost mere pennies. Though I often use Google Voice for free when I need to call a phone, there are times Skype is more reliable (and vice versa) so having both is beneficial. It’s also a standard in business as well, and it’s how I connect with my clients while traveling. Although you can connect with family through WhatsApp, and even hotels, there are times when you might need to call ahead to the somewhere in the next country you’re visiting, so perhaps you don’t have a local SIM card yet.
If you’re backpacking the world, or even just traveling for a week or two somewhere chances are you will need to pass the time. RadioLab is my favorite podcast, ever. It has accompanied me on trains across India, buses in Guatemala, and all the flights and places in between. I love podcasts as a way to pass time on transportation where reading is tough. Other podcasts I love are listed here.
Essential Travel Planning Resources
🛏️ Find great accommodation.
Booking.com is essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too. Use these pro tips to find the best travel accommodation.
📍Navigate more effectively.
Rome2Rio is super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more. If you’re booking a rental car, I’ve always found the best deals on RentalCars.com.