Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Whenever I head overseas, I check to make sure my favorite travel apps are updated. You probably have your own favorites, and they may even vary with your destination, as mine do. Think of the apps you might need like you think of your packing list, which also changes depending on your itinerary, right? In most cases you'll want to make sure you have the apps installed before you leave home. Maybe your carrier allows you to download endless megabytes outside of your coverage area, but most don't. Here are some super-helpful applications for your phone or tablet. You can find these in your respective app stores.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program - The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows US citizens to stay safe and informed while traveling and living abroad - invaluable in uncertain times. STEP is offered through the Dept. of State Bureau of Consular Affairs, and you register your trip with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate closest to your destination. You will receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
Trip Whistle (Apple) or Travel Safe (Android) - You never expect to need emergency services while traveling abroad. It is engrained into every U.S. resident's head that 911 is the go-to emergency number. Not so in other countries, however. In an emergency when your adrenaline kicks in you might automatically default to what you know, and that would be unfortunate. Trip Whistle is your source for emergency numbers overseas; ensure timely help when you need police, fire, and ambulance service anywhere in the world with this free app.
Expert Advice: Apple users, make sure you are downloading Trip Whistler. Travel Safe in your app store is not an app for international emergency numbers.
FlightAware - If you have ever watched your airplane's flight path on the seat-back screen, that's FlightAware. You can see a live map of any flight on your device (you'll need the flight number) and check on delays, cancellations and gate changes. This app is handy for keeping tabs on your own flight when you have a tight connection, but it’s also useful when picking up folks at the airport, as you can track their flight and see updated landing times or delays.
Google Maps - You probably already have this on your phone. However, did you know it's useful in over 220 countries? Not every city is mapped to the same level of detail, but of the millions of businesses and places on the map, you'll likely find what you are looking for, regardless of your location. Download the map for your destination before you go, in case your connection is sketchy while you are in-country, so that you'll be able to use the map offline.
WhatsApp - I use this free app every day to communicate internationally. Avoid paying SMS fees for communicating overseas; it's not likely your carrier has a reasonably priced plan for that, and WhatsApp has no associated costs for use. Download the app, establish an account and add your people. WhatsApp offers calling, video chat, messaging, images, voice memos, gifs and files, as most messaging apps do. Many international driver, tour and other services will ask you to connect on WhatsApp for coordinating pick-up times, meeting spots and so forth. Gone are the good old days of wondering where so-and-so is when you're sure YOU'RE in the right meeting place.
Google Translate - True to form, and its reputation for having ways and means for you to accomplish almost any and every thing, Google will help you navigate unfamiliar languages. Instantly translate words, phrases, and web pages between English and 100+ languages. Less expensive (free) and lighter than a phrase book.
Netflix - If you have a Netflix account, it's likely you already have the app and are in the habit of accessing it for entertainment. You might not think of it as a travel app, but on a long flight or layover (or multiples thereof) you'll be glad you have it. If you aren't familiar with the app, just know that you can download your shows or movies of choice ahead of your journey, so that you can watch them offline anywhere. The app is free to download to your phone; however, you'll need a Netflix subscription to access content.
Calm or Headspace, to ease the journey. Travel can be stressful; even the excitement and anticipation of your wonderful vacation counts as stress in physiological terms. And if you're hoping to find relaxation on your trip, the stress might counter that no matter how relaxed you try to be. Add to that the disruption in your sleep caused by crossing time zones, red-eye flights, and (let's not forget) the other members of your travel party! Fussy kids, and chatty, hyped-up, or over-caffeinated companions aren't going to cut you a break for a nap. Thanks to apps like Calm and Headspace, you don't have to wait until you arrive at your beach chair, spa appointment or the plush bedding in your luxurious hotel room to find deep relaxation. Headspace and Calm are two favorites for breath and mindfulness exercises, reducing anxiety, encouraging focus, relaxation and sleep.
Mobile Passport - This is a must-have. Once you have used this to move ahead of torturously long lines when re-entering the US, and you won't leave home without this on your phone ever again. Mobile Passport Control is the first process utilizing an authorized app to streamline a traveler’s arrival into the United States. It is currently available to U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors. Eligible travelers voluntarily submit their passport information and answers to inspection-related questions to CBP via a smartphone or tablet app prior to inspection, and no sooner than 4 hours before landing. I enter my data and save for submission the moment my plane touches down. This process does not replace your passport, but it does take the place of painstakingly filling out customs forms. there are paid and free version. The paid version allows storage of your passport information, requiring you to enter only your trip data. The free version does not have passport storage, and you'll have to re-enter that every time you return from an overseas flight.
Your Airline's App - Whether you use multiple airlines or one, are a frequent flyer with them or not, having your airline's app on your phone keeps you connected to updates and alerts that might be issued while you are underway. The app will also facilitate your check-in and boarding, as well services like in-flight menus, wi-fi connection and entertainment purchases, and the tracking of your status as a frequent flyer.
There are many, many apps for the benefit of the traveller that cover safety, language, customs (the social kind, not the immigration kind), sites to see, mapping and tracking, and a host of other topics. Before your vacation, stroll through your app store and find something that might suit your journey. Tell me about it. And tell me the favorites you already use. 'til next week.
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