Travel expands the mind, broadens your palette (and your palate), opens your worldview and, for many, drains your wallet. But travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it can often be a more enriching experience to show up with a budget, because it means you look more closely at the places you spend cash, you talk more with the people around you, and step outside the boundaries of a cruise ship or an “all-inclusive” resort.
If you want to get out more out of travel, or just need to keep a close eye on what you’re spending, we’ve gathered a set of apps that will help you pack, travel, eat, and explore while keeping your budget manageable (and helping you manage your budget). Some are about saving money directly, while others allow you to circumvent costs like cabs or forgetting something important.
Next time you’re planning a trip, here’s what to have on your phone:
PART I: Before You Go
The best way to guarantee a good trip is to plan out some of the important bits. Where you go when you get there, where you eat, who you talk to… play all that by ear. What you’re packing? Plan that out.
1. Trail Wallet
Part of traveling on a budget is creating a budget and sticking to it. Trail Wallet is a budgeting app designed for travelers. You can plan out your budget before you go and then enter your expenses. This way, you know exactly what you’re spending and what you have left and can focus on what you’re doing, not how much it’s costing you.
To live out of a suitcase, even for just a few days, first that suitcase must contain everything you need to live. Packpoint is an app that asks you where you’re going, why you’re going, and what you’re doing and then generates a packing list, automatically, to get you started. You’ll probably need to customize it depending on your personal needs, but it’s a good start and reminds you of all the little stuff we can so easily forget.
PART II: Tickets
Part of travel is transit, so have a few apps to find, compare, and book tickets handy. And don’t forget, it’s not just flights you should book; there’s also trains and buses.
While it’s not the quickest app to update, Rome2Rio is the most comprehensive. Punch in a starting destination, an endpoint, and it generates an itinerary for you that includes all modes of transit. If you can’t get a flight, it’ll find you a train, a boat, or a bus. It’s especially good for areas where you’re not familiar with all the forms of transit and may need a little help getting around.
If you need a dependable source of cheap flights, Kayak remains one of the best out there. It’s been working to get better, too — especially when it comes to tracking down hidden fees and other frustrations that can eat into your budget. If you just need to get on a plane for the lowest possible price, Kayak will help you hold onto your budget to spend on the fun stuff.
PART III: Food
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Coffee and Hemmy. || I finished Anthills of the Savannah; my review will be on Goodreads soon. It was probably my least favorite of Achebe's novels so far. Anyway, with all the 'serious' stuff I'm doing right now (writing, preparing my PhD research) I figured I'd read something relatively light and guaranteed to be entertaining. A Moveable Feast also happens to be one of the last works by Hemingway that I haven't yet read—I've kept this beaut sitting on my shelf and waiting for me for a long time. No longer.
On the road, feeding yourself, especially since you won’t usually have access to a kitchen, can become both an opportunity to learn more about the culture you’re visiting and a way to blow through your budget fast.
Eatwith is all about eating local cuisine. You find a dinner party, chef class, or other experience, book a seat, and get to experience hyper-local cuisine while interacting with people who live where you’re visiting. Travel is all about meeting people, after all, and this puts you at the center of the most human experience: breaking bread with others.
Yes, if you open Yelp overseas, you will be mercilessly teased. And also yes, the site’s user reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt. But for feedback and ratings, Yelp is still a good way to get a basic idea of what people think of restaurants around you. And if you have a great experience, make a point of adding to the app.
PART IV: Lodging
Unless you’re camping in a park (or paying hostel owners five bucks to let you camp on the roof of the building), you’ll probably have to pay for a roof over your head at a hostel, hotel, or resort. Sometimes, booking on the day of can be more expensive in person than online. Other times, you’ll have an issue with your perfectly pre-planned reservation and need to find a backup.
Having a few apps handy is key.
If you really want to get to know a place, meet the people who live there. Really, the whole idea of travel is to get to know your fellow humans better, and Couchsurfing is designed to make that happen. The app unites people who have a floor or couch they’re willing to let travelers sleep on with travelers who need a place to sleep for a night. You should probably get verified on the app, which costs a small fee, but it also gives you access to events where you can meet locals and other travelers, and better explore your city.
Sure, they don’t have the most sterling reputation, particularly when it comes to race. But Airbnb is working to improve and can absolutely save you if you’re in a new city and your hotel turns out to have lost your reservation. It’s also great if you just want to live the local life without all the rigamarole of a hotel. Value per dollar, this is a great pick.
PART V: Transit
Public transit is a blessing for travelers on a budget, getting you to your destination for far less than a cab. But to get the most out of local buses, light rail, and trains (without getting lost) you’ll need to know how to use them.
Citymapper is on a quest to map the public transit networks of every city in the world, from buses to bike rentals, and its thorough maps, constantly updated by users, offer quite a bit of leeway in figuring out how to get around. If you’re on foot, looking for a subway, or just don’t want to hail a taxi, this app will help you make sense of a new city.
Slightly less detailed, but more comprehensive, is Moovit — which also has a handy itinerary feature so you can get a rough idea of what it’ll take to get across a city without a car. It claims to add a new city every eighteen hours on average, but you may find some cities are more accurate than others. Still, this is a great way to get around, and the itinerary feature can make all the difference between “getting there” and “getting stranded.”
PART VI: Language
While any traveler learns to speak a few basic phrases in the local language, there’s going to be times where the phrasebook runs out. When that happens, have an app handy to bridge the language gap — especially if you need to negotiate in order to score fair prices.
1. Google Translate
Much like Google Maps, Google Translate‘s two big virtues are that it’s completely free and shockingly comprehensive. Particularly handy are the downloadable “language packs” that will get your phone ready so if you lose signal, you can still translate snippets of audio and clearly written signs. It’s not perfect, but you can certainly get the gist.
Machine learning can fall down on the job, so when that happens, turn to a trusty phrasebook. Bravolol is designed to both teach you a new language and serve as a backup for your language skills, with dictionaries and phrase books built into the app. That way, you’ll know the basics of the language where you are and never feel completely lost.
PART VII: Maps
Paper maps will always be cool, but when you’ve got your phone handy, you’ll quickly know exactly where you are. Even if you don’t have wifi or cell coverage.
Granted, Navigon isn’t cheap compared to other map options, but its maps are preloaded onto your phone to save data and are available on a country-by-country basis to save memory. If you’ll be driving or biking, a GPS is handy and if you’re going to be somewhere remote, preloaded, detailed maps are a must.
2. Google Maps
If you want to go the free route, Google Maps offers offline maps too and plenty of other features for getting around. That said, it’s slightly more data dependent than some map apps, so either have a good overseas data plan, or be ready to stick with offline features.
PART VIII: Emergencies
As a rule, traveling isn’t a risky behavior. But accidents — from lost wallets to medical emergencies — do happen, so preparing for them now means not worrying about them (as much) later.
1. Medical ID
If you’re suffering from a medical emergency, you may not be able to tell a doctor everything you need. Medical ID, fortunately, keeps all your important data on the lock screen, so doctors can quickly scan it. You may not need it, ever, while traveling, but better to have it and not need it, as the saying goes.
2. Google Pay Or Apple Pay
Mobile technology is hugely advanced in surprising places around the world. In some cases, it’s easier to pay with your phone than it is with your cards. So, before you head out, check to see what mobile payment options are commonly accepted in the country you’re visiting, download them, and set them up with a credit card you’re leaving at home, being sure to let the card company know you’re traveling.
That way, if your wallet is lost, you can still pay the bills.