Must-have phone apps for travelers

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The smartphone is one of the most important assets at any traveler’s disposal. However, the first step to unlocking the full potential of this resource is to equip it with the right apps.

With so many options on the market (tens of thousands), finding the right ones can feel a little confusing or overwhelming. Fear no more; here are five of the best, based upon my experiences.

Google Translate

Let’s face it; there’s nothing quite as stressful as not being able to communicate with the locals in unfamiliar territory. Speaking English certainly gives you an edge in many countries, even if English isn’t the native language, but venture outside of a touristy spot or urban center and you may be lost in translation. Google Translate may become your best friend in these situations.

The app can translate text even when you don’t have an internet connection. It can also translate speech and text from images, such as road signs. With over 100 languages included on the text translator, you’ll never feel lost in translation again.

Download here: iTunes | Google Play Store

Waze

Waze essentially works like your standard Apple or Google maps, only so much better. As well as all the features you’d expect, from voice commands to live traffic reports, it actively finds the quickest route to your destination rather than the one that looks most simple. There are a number of other cool features such as least expensive gas nearby, and community feedback regarding routes, closures, traffic and more.

This is the perfect GPS utility that also helps you find parking with ease. You even can connect it to your Facebook events to get directions straight to those places of interest from your feed.

Download here: iTunes | Google Play Store

Uber

Okay, I know, Uber isn’t really a travel app, but it has changed the way I travel. Whether you like to admit it or not, Uber makes getting a cab easier than ever. You won’t need a local taxi firm’s number (remember those?) You won’t need to handle the concept of paying in a foreign currency or worrying about how much to tip. And you know that the car is coming for you. These features, plus Uber’s new safety features and customer support mean you’ll arrive on time, safely. When I was in Australia, I used Uber to get around Sydney and found the drivers were quite helpful and informative.

Uber can also be used back home, meaning you can keep on your smartphone 24/7. While it certainly makes life easier back home, it’s real beauty comes from those trips abroad. For convenience and cost, this is the way forward. Just make sure Uber is available in your destination first!

Download here: iTunes | Google Play Store

XE Currency

The XE platform is the number one currency exchange on the market. Unsurprisingly, its app has been downloaded by millions of travelers as it makes staying on top of figuring out what costs what easier than you ever thought possible.

It covers every currency on the planet (as far as I know) while it also works offline with the last known values, which will always typically be quite close to the live exchange. Whether using cash or your bank card, this is ideal for anyone on their travels, not least when you’re visiting several countries. With this app, you’ll avoid being taken by a poor exchange rate.

Download here: Apple | Google Play Store

QSun — Sun Safety Advisor

Being able to enjoy the sun is a highlight of any leisure vacation adventure. Nonetheless, you need to put safety first. Q Sun is the perfect way to do this. Simply input your details, and it will tell you the level of sun block (SPF) that is needed. I know that sounds silly, but skin cancer is an increasing issue, and cumulative exposure over the years can really mess you up as you age.

The app can work from your current location using GPS, or you can set it to another location. As well as today’s sun, you can plan ahead for a few days. Other features include analyzing your skin health from photos and tracking your sun exposure. These are cool features, but I wouldn’t use them in place of an actual doctor if you see something on your skin out of the norm.

Download here: Apple | Google Play Store

WhatsApp Messenger

When I was recently traveling abroad I used this app to remain in touch with everyone, even though on many days, I was in different spots than my family members. It’s great for when you split into multiple groups and want to remain in touch.

WhatsApp has more than a billion users globally, so it’s likely that you’ll encounter someone else while traveling who is also a user of the service. Having the app installed before your trip can be useful in case you make new friends and want to keep in touch without SMS. WhatsApp needs a data connection (mobile or WIFI), and uses the internet to send the messages versus the cellular network.

Download here: Apple | Google Play Store

Ereader such as iBooks or Kindle

Many people look forward to travel simply so that they will have some time to read that book that they’ve been wanting to find time to read. Gone are the days of lugging heavy books around on your vacation. With electronic books widely available, you can carry a whole library around with you to suit whatever interests you to read during the down times of your travel. Not only can you bring along your books, but many of these apps allow you to download PDFs. So, you can bring your itineraries and all other practical information or maps that you may have researched about your trip without having to carry a folder of papers. It is a good idea, however, to carry a small paper copy of your itinerary tucked away in your carry-on luggage just in case your device breaks or becomes lost, as well as email yourself a copy to store in the cloud.