5 travel apps that’ll upgrade your next trip

April 11, 2024

When travelling, I’m a firm believer in getting to know the local culture, food, music, history, and people as much as possible. That can take a little (or a lot!) of research… especially if you don’t know where to look. Luckily, there are hacks for that.

As someone who travels quite a bit, I'm always on the lookout for new apps to download that can enhance my journeys. Whether you’re a solo traveller or you're leading a group of friends, here is my list of five essential apps to add to your backpacking toolkit. They have a proven track record—I’ve used these in the last 13 countries I’ve visited across Europe (and I wish I had them when I was in Asia!)

GuruWalk

When entering a new city, it can be overwhelming to explore on your own—never knowing if you’re entering a tourist trap or a local gem. If you’re on a budget, making decisions can be even tougher since you just can’t do it all. GuruWalk is a website and app that allows folks to sign up for free walking tours. While there’s no fee to join a tour, it’s greatly appreciated (and probably proper etiquette) if you leave a tip for your guide. Upon confirmation of your booking, you’ll get a suggested range for the tip, which is typically between $5-10 USD. These tours usually last two or three hours, but I’ve joined some that have lasted six!

Aside from learning about the history of a location, this is your chance to ask the tour guide any questions you may have. In Istanbul, the tour guide told my group about an alternative to Galata Tower which had an amazing view of several mosques. In Portugal, a tour guide shared his favourite vegan restaurants. He also gave us recommendations for places based on the top tourist hot spots, local eateries, and best places for egg tarts.

Airalo

Did you really travel if you didn’t post it on Instagram or TikTok? If your phone service provider doesn’t have a good international data plan then Airalo is here to rescue you. My regular phone plan included an unlimited international 3G data plan, but it wasn’t reliable as things often wouldn’t load. Airalo, on the other hand, provides eSIMs with data plans that you can use during your travels.

I went to Europe for the first time in 2021 and I decided to spend three months there. In just my first couple of days in Spain, I realized that the data plan from my provider wasn’t going to be good enough. A friend suggested Airalo and I bought a 100GB eSIM. I’m glad I did because there were a few occasions when I even had to hotspot for friends while they were on work calls or when we were simply in areas with bad reception.

Meetup

Solo traveling can be fun but at times, lonely. I’ve been big on solo travelling since I graduated from university. Still, during those early days of solo wandering, there were times when I just wanted to meet people. I used Meetup at home to find activities, but it didn’t cross my mind to also use it when travelling abroad.

When I was in Berlin, I used Meetup to find some bachata dance classes and language meetups. This was such a lifesaver for me. It was a great addition to my list because now I’m able not only to ask my walking tours guide for his recommendations, but through Meetup I can meet other travellers, foreigners, and locals who each had their own tips to provide. Some events listed on the website or app can have a price but there are also plenty of free things too.

Facebook Groups

I’m sure plenty of people feel some type of way about Facebook, but there’s no denying that the groups feature in the app can also be very helpful. Anytime I visit a new country, I always look up “[City] Expat.” These groups of folks who have made a home in your destination are excellent resources for finding out if there's anything you need to be mindful of, or if someone else has the same questions as you. In Ecuador, I used a Facebook group to find other 20-30-something people who worked in tech and wanted to meet.

Expat groups can have their controversies, and I’m aware of that (and really, that’s a whole other topic for another time). Still, I’ll argue the benefit of expat-oriented groups online. These groups are especially helpful if you join before arriving at your destination so that you can find out any pertinent information in advance. For example, when I visited North Macedonia, I wasn’t aware that I had to register with the local police station (For security purposes and visa monitoring.) At first, I panicked. I then realized that my host had taken care of that for me. I’ve also used these groups to find out about language exchanges, which is another great way to meet fellow travellers and locals.

Flighty

I’m pretty sure I found Flighty through TikTok or someone’s Instagram story. If you’re anxious about flights, airports, or travel logistics, this app is for you. Flighty allows you to keep track of your flights in one app and it also gives you flight updates before they’re even emailed or announced at the gate. I’ve had multiple experiences when this app gave me updates about flight delays before they were even displayed at my gate. Still, I always double-check to make sure the notification is accurate because I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I miss a flight.

You can also share your flight with friends and family. They’ll be able to track you in real-time as you fly through the air en-route to your destination.

So there you have it. These are five apps I use on all my travels. And I wouldn’t leave for a trip without them. With these, I’m able to communicate, keep track of my flights, learn about the city, and connect with locals. Are there any other apps you’d suggest?

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