I remember my first real international trip. I was in high school and was abandoning my family for a month in Europe with my english class. It was 2001. Facebook was barely a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg's eye and the world had certainly never heard of an iPhone. I nearly lost all my photos when I left a bag of film in a drawer in a hotel in Italy. I missed trains because I struggled to read my map. I had no idea what anyone was saying 90% of the time. C'mon...I had to pack CD's!
Flash forward to 2014, and on my trip to Thailand I could check my email in the jungle and post elephant selfies in the blink of an eye. I could call my parents and friends and see their faces. I got updates on the status of my planes, trains and automobiles. I ordered kao phad and tiger beer in Thai like a champ. I had to try to get lost.
Long story short - things sure have changed. Travel has never been easier and there are tools literally at your fingertips that help make any adventure (near or far) a little more seamless. Here are a few of the apps I always go back to when I'm on the road.
Nothing is worse than having a long layover and spending half of your time just.trying.to.find.coffee. Gate Guru is an app I use every time I step foot in an airport. It can track your travel plans (thanks TripAdvisor!), but most importantly, it is a hub for just about any info you'd need about the airport you're in. Weather, flight updates, maps of the terminals, lists of what amenities are in which areas, and even tips from other users cracking secrets like where to get free wifi, the fastest security line and where not to get totally scammed on a taxi ride. You'll never struggle to find a stiff drink or a neck pillow in a rush again.
I'm a sucker for a good sleep/meditation app. Maybe I have at least three on my phone right now. Don't judge. Calm is the perfect tool for combating the noise of a new city, thin hotel walls, noisy trains, your snoring plane neighbor or the giant Irish dude sleeping (loudly) two feet from your face in your dorm style hostel room (been there). You turn it on, and up pops a beautiful video of the oasis of your choice while nature-y sounds drown out the chatter. Just make sure you're plugged into a power source or you'll wake up rested but with a dead phone.
This app might be my favorite. I've converted at least a handful of friends into "wazers". A crowd-sourced traffic/navigation resource, waze uses information from other drivers to provide updates on real-time traffic flow, speed traps, accidents, etc. It also automatically navigates you around those problems to ensure you're taking the fastest route to wherever you're headed. Obviously this means it works best in cities where there are lots of people using it (hello, L.A.!), but the more you use it, the better it gets. You can also use it to share your whereabouts with friends and family. It's pretty great. Just trust me.
this american life.
Don't get me wrong. One of my top five favorite things to do in life ever is make situationally appropriate themed playlists. But even the best jams can get old on an epic road trip. That's when I turn to the This American Life app. I love it so much I've talked about it before. Packed with literally every podcast since it's inception, you can stream Ira & co constantly and never run out of new material. Nothing makes a road trip more enjoyable than really, really great story telling. Except a Lauren Keeler playlist. Obviously.
Nothing fancy, this app has saved me from severely blowing my travel budget at least a dozen times. It makes following the exchange rates for just about any international currency really, really simple. It converts everything for you, and beyond that it provides a profile on each currency to ensure you can avoid looking like a crazy tourist (most of the time). It's been a lifesaver!