As we dive into 2018 there are travel apps a-plenty available these days for both iOS and Android devices to assist the traveler - especially those traveling solo making a first time journey to any destination an almost worry free trip.
As a solo traveler I use many of these go-to apps as pocket companions because they provide me with access to information and translation on the fly as well as a range of entertainment to keep me company during a long flight, or on those lonely solo travel days. Many of these apps are available at no charge, which is even better for those traveling on a budget. So let's explore the best apps for solo travelers available today.
1. Google Trips
This app is gold for any traveler. The app is available for Android and iOS devices. Google Trips can organize your airline tickets and hotel reservations and offers a range of editorial guides to more than 200 cities. It can even make personalized recommendations based on your Google history.
One great advantage of Goggle Trips is that it works off line. Travelers can download everything they need for the trip prior to leaving home, including everything from maps to walking directions without having to spend money on expensive global roaming charges or international data plans. In order to access Google Trips, users are required to log in with their Google account. If you don't yet have one, its easy to sign up. Once you've signed up, forward and email reservation confirmations you have previously made from your other email account where your reservations were initially sent.
Tap into a future trip and you will find a colorful grid of options to explore. Reservations organizes your flights, hotel information, and any rental car reservations you may have made. A section called 'need to know' offers up useful information about getting from the airport to the center of the city, information pertaining to the local currency and what to do in case of an emergency.
One of the best features of the app is 'things to do' which builds custom itineraries based on how long you will be in the area, popular destinations and anything that you may have previously starred or saved on a Google service. You can select a general itinerary like '24 hours in Singapore' or drill deeper into guides that focus on shopping or museums for example. Each guide can be edited to include other destinations you are planning to visit.
If you have a live cellular connection when out and about, Google Trips will access in real time information about which destinations are open or closed. It's so intuitive, it will also make adjustments based on the time of day and weather. For example, if it starts raining the app will recommend indoor activities. If you want an 'I’m Feeling Lucky' type of recommendation for your day then tap the red 'magic wand' button and Google will offer up a random highlight from the city.
Worth noting, if you have privacy concerns about Google tracking your every step around the world, Google Trips is likely not the app for you. However if you are comfortable with trading privacy for convenience, then I know you will find Google Trips to be a must have travel companion, especially for the solo traveler.
2. Google Translate
The newest version of Google Translate for Android and iPhone allows users to use the built in camera on their device to translate text, in either real time or by using a photo that has already been saved.
At the time of writing, the Google Translate app for android and iOS supports more than 100 languages and has the ability to translate 37 languages via photo, 32 via voice - using 'in conversation mode' and 27 in real-time video using 'augmented reality mode'.
How To Use Google's Instant Translate
For instant translation using your phone's camera, the user must first download Google Translate and any languages that they'd like to save for off line use.
Once the application and languages have been installed, launch the app. In the top-left corner, select the language option and tap the text's original language. Do the same in the right-hand corner with the language to which you'd like the text to be translated.
Tap the Instant Translate camera icon, then point your camera at the text that you would like to translate such as a traffic sign, restaurant menu or storefront sign. The translation will appear on the screen.
Take a Photo to Translate Text
In order to translate text via a photo, launch the application and select the language option in the top left corner. Tap the text's original language. Next, do the same in the right-hand corner with the language to which you'd like the text to be translated. Tap the Instant Translate option. Then tap the Camera button to take a picture. Use your finger to highlight the text that you'd like translated. Google will instantly translate your selection.
Translate Images Already on a Device
Translating images already on your device is a very similar process as taking a picture. Launch Google Translate and select the language option in the top left hand corner. Tap the text's original language. Next, do the same in the right hand corner with the language to which you'd like the text to be translated. Next, tap the Camera button > Import. Choose the photo that you'd like to translate and then highlight the text selection that you'd like translated.
Using the Translate app, users can utilize the phone's camera to translate text in the world around you including signs or handwritten notes.
Translate using your camera
For some languages users can translate text just by pointing the phone’s camera lens. Translations of small, badly lit, or stylized text may be less accurate.
Open the Translate app. In the top-left corner, tap the language shown and then tap the language you are translating. In the top right corner, tap the language shown and then tap a language you read. Tap Instant translate to Instant translate. If it’s not there, tap Take photo. Point the phone camera at the text you want to translate. If you have downloaded the language and it’s available for instant translation, any text is translated on your screen.
To turn on instant translation, tap Toggle instant translation Toggle instant translation. You might be asked to download the language if you haven't previously done so. If instant translation isn’t available or you can’t download the language, tap Take photo, then highlight the text you want to translate with your finger.
Notes: To pause the camera, in the bottom right corner of the screen, tap Pause. For some languages, like Arabic, the Pause icon might be different. To resume, tap Play Resume.
Perhaps I am stating the obvious, however no matter how devoted you maybe to traditional printed books, there is no denying the fact that carrying a Kindle is a lot easier than lugging 10 hardbacks around during your travels overseas. With the Kindle app you don’t even need the Kindle, just your smart phone or compatible tablet.
4. XE Currency
If you’re like most of us and can’t figure out what 1,234,268 Vietnamese dong is in US dollars at the drop of a hat then download and use the currency exchange app XE to figure it out for you. Remember to update the exchange rates just before you go, to make sure you have access to most accurate rates.
Everyone has their favorite weather app, personally I prefer WeatherPRO. Its an extremely detailed app providing information including ski weather, beach weather including UV Index and water temperature. More importantly it’s accurate.
Apart from being essential for touching base with friends and family back home especially if you are traveling solo, the magic of video calls lets you make everyone back home jealous of your adventures abroad. Best of all, it’s free.
Whether it's legal in the city you are visiting or not, Airbnb is a household name in most parts of the world these days. The app is popular due to its ability to undercut hotels by offering a cheap rate, coupled with a more authentic experience by staying with a local, or in their home exclusively. The app offers a feature called Trips, where you can select experiences to choose from during your stay.
Active in around 83 countries and 674 cities at the time of writing, Uber is the global king of ride sharing apps. Much like Airbnb did for the home sharing space, Uber pioneered on demand services which can be particularly handy when traveling overseas. Users can quickly request a car directly within the app after perusing an assortment of differing vehicle rates and fare quotes. You can connect with your personal driver, track the approaching car’s location and securely pay your fare using a credit card - no cash required. Rather than trying to find a taxi or a taxi stand, Uber provides a great alternative to hunting around for transport.
9. Tunnel Bear
If you are looking for a way to keep your information secure when connecting to free wi-fi hotspots around the world, then you really need a VPN - Virtual Private Network. VPNs hide your IP address and location and can 'tunnel' you to another country. There are lots of apps to choose from but TunnelBear is particularly easy to use, and has a free version for those who do not use much data - like us oldies, or for those who just want to test it out before going premium.
TripAdvisor is the go-to app when it comes to travel. Users can quickly view millions of reviews, opinions, videos and photos of just about anything related to an upcoming trip including bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines and more. TripAdvisor’s 'Near Me' function helps the user to find well reviewed places close by, but the best feature the app has to offer is the number of countries it supports, making it what I consider to be a compulsory guide for any traveler. Additionally, users can ask specific travel questions in the forums provided, or you can add your own reviews.