For those of you who know me, will know that I’ve been travelling passionately for over 14 years now. My trips always involve thorough research and while planning my itinerary is something that excites me the most, over these years, I’ve also realized that some mobile apps can make your trips seamless, convenient & efficient. I’m listing some such apps, with either global or regional availability, which have really helped me over the years in making my trips smoother & easier.
One of the more recently discovered apps, Mobimatter is an eSim app that has great network and coverage in most parts of the world. I used it extensively in Europe and it worked really well. Prior to Mobimatter, I would always buy a local tourist sim in the country that I was travelling to. However, there are several advantages of MobiMatter over the traditional local sim card.
It is an eSim and can be downloaded and activated even before you arrive in a country. This takes away the hassle of standing in a queue, buying a sim card and physically installing it in your phone
Packages provide coverage across several countries. For example, the same esim was valid across 6 different countries we visited in Europe and worked seamlessly in all of them
You have the choice of buying only data or data + calling, depending on your requirements
It only works on eSim enabled phones
In certain countries such as India, where data is already extremely cheap, Mobimatter’s packages are pricey compared to local tourist sim card options available
I cam across some other such eSim apps too (FlexiRoam…) but I felt that the packages offered by Mobimatter were the best so far!
This is one of my favorite websites for comparing car rental options in a country. It is an aggregator app that shows all the options available through different car rental companies along with the rental specifics such as milage, etc. Whenever I am planning a road-trip, I always compare all options on this website and choose the best. One big advantage of booking on rentalcars.com vs the actual company is that some additional benefits such as complementary extra driver, etc might be included for free. Rentalcars also has its own third-party insurance which is definitely cheaper than the one which will be available on the counter. Also, most bookings on rentalcars.com are cancellable and refundable until the last minute, providing more flexibility.
I’ve been using this one for years to buy car rental insurance that gives full coverage. They’re way cheaper than what you’d buy from the car rental company or over the counter and provides full coverage including the excess. I’ve never had to claim it so far so I can’t speak from first hand experience about their claim procedure, but I’ve read several reviews where people say that it is usually smooth and quick. More than anything, it gives you complete peace of mind when driving in a foreign country, at a much lower cost!
These ride hailing apps are alternatives to Uber in different regions, but providing improved interface, convenience, connectivity, and cheaper prices. Yandex Go works beautifully in Central Asia & East Europe (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, etc), Grab has a strong footing in Southeast Asia which also offers food delivery services, scooter taxi hailing, etc. Bolt is a fantastic alternative in the Baltic States, which also provides access to eScooters. As global apps, these are a lot more reliable than the smaller local players or public taxies, and cheaper than Uber, so it makes a lot of sense to use them. Of course, remember to get a local sim/ eSim when you travel to have accessibility to these apps on the go!
This is one of my favourite websites for checking the best way to get from Point A to B when building an itinerary. The website not only shows all the options available (flight, taxi, bus, train, self-drive) but also the time taken in the journey, the approx. cost of the trip, the timings available and booking options! Just choose your starting point, your destination and approx. date/ day of travel and voila!
Now, this one is for the unfortunate travellers like us Indians, who require visas to almost all key destinations and the processes are cumbersome, with too many document requirements. Specifically when it comes to Schengen visas, where we need to present confirmed flight tickets, hotel reservations, medical/ travel insurances and what not, without the confirmation of whether we will be able to travel or not, whether we will even get the visa or not, this website helps with all required documents, a perfectly built itinerary, at a minimal price. These documents are ‘verifiable’ as they claim, and many people I know have used them to get their Schengen visas approved.
An obvious yet important app is Google Translate that not only helps in voice translation (you can speak into your microphone in a specific language and ask Google to translate it in voice into another language), but you can also use your camera to scan text in a different language and translate it into the language of your choice. Perfect for reading menus! In countries like Japan, where people are extremely nice and helpful but not a lot speak English, this app is a must!
This is one of my favorite apps. Right before I travel to a country, I save the cities that I’m going to in my ‘favourites’ under this app and then check the weather for the next 3 days, which is usually quite accurate. Of course, it’s important to check the expected weather too before you travel, to make sure you’re well prepared with what to expect and carry your clothes accordingly. I’ve often found accuweather to be quite…well.. accurate about the weather
This is one of my favorite apps for tracking flights. Not only does it show the current status of your flight, it updates in real time the boarding gate, the delays etc. Also, if you’re checking 6-7 hours before your flight time, it will also show you the current location of the plane which is meant to board you (i.e. where exactly the airplane is right now, which city, airport etc.), which is really cool! Also, you can check the history of this specific flight in the last few days to see if it has been arriving on time or is usually late. The app also shows from historical data the average delay on your flight, to give you a rough idea of what to expect!
This is app for avid travellers! You input all the countries/ cities you’ve travelled to, the ones in your bucket list, and the country where you live, and it creates a colored map to show your inputs in a graphical manner. It tracks your progress of the coverage of the world and sets it against your ‘travel goal’, even allowing you to print (for a cost) the map! As and when you travel, just keep adding the cities and watch the colors change, and the ‘travel goal’ being achieved.
Google Maps / Waze / 2Gis
Now, these are quite the obvious ones. Instead of paying for a gps when renting a car, I prefer using Google Maps or Waze for the routes. Google Maps is also very cool to see the best way to get from Point A to Point B within a city, based on whether you wish to use public transportation, rent a taxi, or just walk. The best part is, if you wish to take the public transportation, google maps will show you the exact location of the bus/ metro station, the name of the station, the bus or train number to be taken, the ‘direction’ of that bus/ train for one to better understand which one to board, the exact time it is supposed to arrive at the starting point and drop you at the destination, and the route it will take. Waze seems to have better accuracy in the routes to be taken, the time expected and updated road closures/ accidents & delays. 2GIS works in certain countries such as Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Cyprus…) where it has better accuracy than google maps due to local specificities.
Skyscanner (alternate to Kayak)
I always use Skyscanner for comparing the flight ticket prices between different third-party platforms vs the company website of the airline. But more than anything, my favourite feature on Skyscanner is their ‘everywhere’ option, where you can check which destination you can fly to at the cheapest prices. If you’re undecided about where to go on a holiday, just choose your starting point, the dates of travel and ‘everywhere’ in your destination, and Skyscanner will sort all the destinations for you based on the flight prices. Pretty cool, eh?
While these are global companies providing tours in every city and I always recommend opting for local companies instead to boost local business as well as save on costs, Viator & GetYourGuide have several positives – reliability & trust being at the top. Also, if you’re the type of person who likes to DIY, these two websites act as a great guide to understanding the activities available in the city you’re travelling to. They act as the perfect starting point of your research! Also, in may tours, you will see the name of the local companies that are operating those tours, and you could just get directly in touch with the local companies instead, who will be happy to provide you the same tour at a better price. Probably not the most ethical thing to do but sure works great for budget conscious travellers!
Headout / Klook
While quite like Viator & GetYourGuide in terms of providing guided tours & day trips, Headout and Klook also specialize in providing cheaper prices for tickets to certain attractions. Before buying tickets from the websites of the attractions themselves, I always check for cheaper options on these websites and many times, I’ve found options with skip-the-line tickets on Headout/ Klook at the same price as a normal ticket from the attraction’s website. Upgraded options, for free, who wouldn’t want that?
Bookaway / 12GO
These two websites, each having a stronghold in different markets, are great for booking local transfers which include inter-city public transportations such as buses, trains, ferries & even private transfers. Both 12GO and Bookaway cover Asia and Europe, and both have their main Asian office in Bangkok. The main difference between them is that Bookaway also offers ticketing for Central and South America.
This one is for the hiking enthusiasts! A website that gives a detailed list of hiking trails available in the city you’re travelling to, along with the distance to be covered, difficulty level of the trail, estimated time required, route map of the trail, site conditions, and the sights you can expect to see on the way, along with real-people reviews from those who’ve attempted these hikes, this one is my go-to when I’m travelling to a destination where I plan to hike.
XE dot com
This is my favourite currency conversion website and I always use it to understand what to expect when exchanging currency at a foreign destination. Several times, I’ve realized that the destination airport is likely to give you a better rate of conversion for your money vs the origin airport, especially when it comes to the more ‘exotic’ currencies. Xe.com has always helped in clarifying if the rate you’re getting is competitive with the market rate or too low, so that you may decide if you wish to proceed with conversion or wait to find a better option.
Agoda (alternate to booking.com)
While its stronghold is mainly in the Asia-Pacific region, Agoda provides good alternatives to booking.com in terms of the prices. It also offers flights + hotel bookings & activities, thereby competing with Expedia, Cleartrip & Makemytrip but my favourite part of Agoda is the option to book ‘day use stays’. This is a great option for those who might need a room for a few hours but not the full day / overnight. When hotels don’t give you early check-ins or late check-outs, why not book a day-use stay for those extra hours you need to kill before or after your flight?
These are two pretty cool websites which provide immersive experiences and act as a good alternative to viator/ getyourguide by letting you choose your itinerary and a local guide to show you around. All you need to do is register your interest by putting in certain details – your city of travel, your dates of travel and your general interests. Based on your requirements, the local guides registered on the websites will get in touch with you and share their prices / itineraries/ recommendations for a private guided tour. The best part about this is that you can go through the profile, background, experiences, and reviews of the various guides who contact you and choose the one you feel will best suit your needs. They’ll get their own transportation, and boatloads of knowledge, to give you as authentic an experience as possible!
While I haven’t yet used any of these websites, I certainly found the concept very interesting and I plan to use it on my next trip, especially to a country that offers good cultural & culinary experiences. From cooking classes (not my cup of tea) to getting invited to eat home cooked local food, these websites will connect you to the people in the city who would be happy to host you, prepare a nice meal for you in their homes, and give you an opportunity to mingle with them and immerse in their cultures/ daily lives. Travelers can also purchase cooking classes and visit marketplaces for cooking ingredients with their hosts.