Imagine what travel was like before smartphones, apps, and the internet. You would have to pack paper maps and book your lodging over the phone. What about those long plane or bus rides? You wouldn’t have a phone handy to pass the time.
Well, thank goodness that’s a thing of the past. Now there are a ton of smartphone apps that backpackers depend on to make traveling easier and more enjoyable.
Here is a list of the best travel apps (according to me) that every modern backpacker should install on their phone before their next trip.
1. XE Currency Converter
Knowing the exchange rate between your home currency and the local currency is a must. The XE Currency Converter app give you up-to-the-minute exchange rates.
Not only does this app calculate the conversion for your home currency, but it also allows you to create a list of up to ten different currencies on your dashboard. This way, when you’re leaving Japan for Thailand, you’ll know how much those extra Yen are worth in Thai Baht.
The XE Currency Converter app is free for all platforms including web.
2. Google Maps
I don’t know what I’d do without Google Maps when traveling. I’d literally be lost. Google Maps not only will get you from point A to point B, but it also has pictures, hours, reviews, and so much more.
One of my favorite parts of Google Maps is the ability to save places and create lists. I usually create a list on Google Maps for each destination that I travel to, and populate this list with all the places I want to visit.
Also, did you know you can download offline maps in the Google Maps app? This allows you to get directions when you don’t have an internet connection. This comes in handy when you are traveling in places where you don’t have cell phone service.
Although I never recommend booking your hostel through Hostelworld, the Hostelworld app is, hands down, the best hostel search engine. Hostelworld reviews and ratings are a perfect way to filter through the mess and find the perfect hostel.
When searching for a hostel, I tend to crank the rating up to 8.5 or above and tick the free WiFi box. I go through the results and take a look at 3 or 4 hostels with the most reviews. Finally, based on a handful of reviews and the pictures, I’ll make a decision on which hostel to stay at.
Whether you are a budget backpacker looking to stay in hostels on the cheap, or are looking for the very best hostel with all the amenities, the Hostelworld app is going to be your best friend.
Hotels are a last resort for backpackers. If hostels aren’t your thing, the Airbnb app is a essential. With Airbnb, you can stay in a wide variety of homes and private rooms virtually anywhere in the world.
In most cases, you’ll get more bang for you buck with Airbnb. If you want a cheap private room to yourself in Rome, hit up the Airbnb app and you’ll probably find dozens of options. Want an entire house for you and your friends in Hawaii, Airbnb is going to be your best bet.
This one may be biased since I’m a huge fan of audiobooks. When I have a long bus ride or flight, you can usually find me listening to an audiobook on the Audible app.
Audiobooks are preferred over physical books for backpackers since audiobooks take up absolutely zero weight and no space in your bag.
Similar to Audible, the Spotify app is a great way to entertain yourself with on-demand music on the bus, train, plane, or metro.
Spotify has two flavors: free and paid. You’ll have access to millions of songs in both cases, but if you do choose to go with a Spotify membership, you’ll be able to download all your songs onto your phone for offline listening. This comes in handy when you are in remote locations where you cannot stream Spotify.
7. Google Translate
If you are traveling to a country where you don’t know the language, the Google Translate app is a must. I can’t tell you how many times this app has helped me when backpacking in foreign countries.
The Google Translate app has gotten pretty sophisticated over the years. Not only can you translate words and phrases by typing them in, but you can also use your camera to translate text on signs and documents in real time.
The conversation feature is another invaluable part of the app. You can have a verbal, bilingual conversation with someone who speaks another language. The Google Translate app will translate what you say and speak it out loud in another language and vice versa.
Isn’t technology amazing? Not knowing another language is no longer an excuse for not traveling somewhere!
Knowing at least some basic words and phrases in a foreign country is a responsible thing to do. You’ll get props from the locals for at least trying to know their language.
Duolingo is an app that helps you learn foreign languages for free. Daily lessons keep you disciplined, allowing you to practice what you know while teaching you new words and language concepts.
With dozens and dozens of languages to choose from, the Duolingo app is critical for learning a new language before and during travel.
9. Priority Pass
Assuming you already have the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which gives you complimentary Priority Pass membership, the Priority Pass app is a no-brainer to install on your phone.
Priority Pass is a network of airport lounges around the world where you can enjoy WiFi, free snacks, beverages, and more. A Priority Pass membership is just one of many perks for having the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
If you’re not familiar, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card offers a wealth of travel benefits including 3x points on travel, an annual $300 travel credit, no foreign transaction fees, travel insurance, and so much more.
I love my Sapphire Reserve credit card. While it has a pretty steep yearly fee, it’s pays for itself if you’re a frequent traveler.
Unless you’re traveling in India where a taxi ride is super cheap, your primary mode of transportation should be public transportation like the bus, train, or metro.
However, there are indeed times when an on-demand ride hailing app like Uber is necessary.
The days of haggling with taxi drivers are over. Uber’s rates are fair and are usually less than what you’d pay a traditional taxi driver. Best of all, Uber is cashless so you don’t have to carry around lots of cash in the local currency.
And because Uber doesn’t exist everywhere, you have similar ride hailing apps available like Ola, Grab, and Gojek.
More Travel Apps for Backpackers
While there are a ton of travel apps available, these are just the ones I use regularly. Off the top of my head, I can also think of FlightAware and States iVisited (a shameless plug for a travel app I made years ago).
What other travel apps for backpackers do you recommend? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!