By Tracey Dowdy
For me, one of the best and worst parts of travelling outside the country is being disconnected from my smartphone. Though I love the freedom of being untethered, it’s not always convenient. I currently live in Canada and frequently travel to the U.S. to visit family and friends, but since Canadian wireless prices are among the highest in the world, my phone gets shut off before I cross the border.
My wireless provider offers a U.S. plan as a 30 day add-on but it’s expensive and rarely worth the cost, especially for a day trip. There’s also the option of purchasing a local sim card, but again not the best option unless I’ll be travelling for more than a day or two.
However, there are times you need access to maps, currency exchange rates, first aid advice, or you just have to find out whether the menu says “grilled chicken” or “fried iguana”.
These apps work offline, ensuring your vacation stories are more “Remember the time we almost got lost in Lima?” instead of “Remember the time we got on the wrong bus and ended up sixty miles from our hotel?”
TripIt is about to become your new best friend. Like “braid each other’s hair and have sleepovers every weekend” besties. Simply send all your travel email confirmations to email@example.com and the app automatically creates a custom itinerary for you. You can sync information with your Apple, Google or Outlook calendars, get maps and directions, and share plans via email or social media.
Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry
Avenza PDF Maps
Google Maps has always been my go-to maps app since apparently I was born without the gene providing a sense of direction. When I die, scientists will study my brain and say, “You know what, she was right. That gene is totally missing.” A second great option for travelers is Avenza PDF Maps, which offers a massive selection of up-to-date, detailed maps from around the world. The app includes thousands of free maps and specialty maps are available as in-app purchases.
Platform: iOS, Android, Windows
Sticking to your budget while travelling can be a serious challenge if you’re dealing with unfamiliar currencies and what may seem like a bargain can be anything but if you aren’t careful. XE Currency is simple to use, updates to current exchange rates every time you connect to Wi-Fi, and you can convert between currencies from a single screen.
Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry, Firefox OS
Renting a car can be costly and if you’re travelling in a major city using public transit is often a much better choice. HopStop offers subway, train, walking, biking, taxi and bus directions for over 600 cities world-wide. The app provides door to door directions, station maps, schedules, travel times and approximate cost, so you can easily determine the most efficient, cost effective or scenic route. Transit delays are updated in real-time, so you won’t get stranded if you’re trying to get back in time to catch your tour group.
You’ve arrived, now what? Developed by two former Google employees, Triposo takes crowd-sourced information and organizes into a concise offline travel guide. Download the data pack for your chosen destination before you leave and, voila!, lists of activities, recommendations on where to stay, where to eat, sightseeing, a phrasebook, maps, a currency exchange guide, and more. Best of all, it’s free.
Platform: iOS, Android
American Red Cross First Aid
My sister had to go to the E.R. while travelling in Spain, my friend Gabrielle was hospitalized while travelling in Hungary and my husband needed emergency care while on a volunteer project in the mountains of Arizona – all perfect examples of how valuable a first aid app can be. The American Red Cross First Aid app offers detailed, step-by-step directions for dealing with many simple emergencies and offers helpful videos as companions to written instructions.
Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle
Free Wi-Fi Finder
Most McDonald’s and Starbucks’ offer free Wi-Fi, which is great if you’re in a city or town, but if you’re hiking to Machu Picchu or relaxing in the vineyards of Provence, those hotspots likely aren’t an option. For the times you absolutely need to get online, Free Wi-Fi Finder uses your phone’s GPS and network triangulation to provide a list of over 145,000 locations worldwide offering free Wi-Fi access including a “Near Me” option to help narrow your search.
Platform: iOS, Android
There are over 1.4 million apps in Apple’s app store and Android offers a whopping 1.5 million, so I’m sure I’ve missed other great options. What are your favorite or must-have offline travel apps?
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.