09 July 15 -

Less is more: Everything a modern-day traveller needs in tech.

I’m just back from my latest overseas adventure. Three weeks of food and fun in the US and Mexico.

But you know what hit home the most? It wasn’t the jet lag. Nor the post-holiday blues. It was the fact that the way we travel has significantly changed since I first headed overseas around 15 years ago.

Gone are the days of travelling with a suitcase full of stuff you’ll never even use. Stuff you’ve packed ‘just in case’.

Back at the turn of the millennium, I used to lug around a 60-litre backpack, a day pack, another carry-on (for purchases), a Sony Mavica and a case of floppy disks, my MiniDisc player with a folder of MiniDiscs, copious amounts of bulky chargers and cables, headphones, piles of paper documenting pre-arranged travel and accommodation. I could go on, but you get the point.

Fast-forward to my latest trip and my luggage – compared to the friend I travelled with – looks like this (that’s me on the left):
suitcase

What’s coming with me? A 35-litre carry-on bag (no more waiting at the baggage carousel!), a passport, a cash card, my sunnies and a smart phone.

What’s changed? Well, two things.

  1. Me. I’m definitely savvier when travelling, no longer feeling the need to bring everything but the kitchen sink. You might also call this experience. I’ve learnt what I don’t need to take, as much as what I do.
  2. Technology. Smart travellers are minimalists. They use technology to inform their journey, meet interesting people and get ‘off the beaten track’ (a phrase guidebook publishers love).

So, in the quest of a less is more approach to life, here are my go-to travel apps. Some are obvious – Twitter and Gmail don’t need any introduction. But combined with the list suggested here, they become a formidable part of your travel toolbox.

So, grab your passport, your phone and a SIM card, and let’s hit the frog ’n’ toad!

Flights + accommodation.

Hands down the biggest benefit of travelling these days with a smart phone is knowing you are only a few taps away from getting to your next destination, or having a roof over your head for the night.

I prefer to book the first flight and night’s accommodation before I depart. It means I have somewhere to stay and can get my bearings. But the rest I leave in the hands of the travel gods. Here are the apps I use for this purpose.

flight+accomo

Airbnb

A go-to app for places to stay. If you want to avoid impersonal and generic hotels (and, let’s face it, most are), then Airbnb is a revelation.

I want to stay in neighbourhoods where real people live, not transient business-folk or out-of-place tourists. With Airbnb, I get somewhere to stay, local knowledge of the best things to do, plus the charm of being welcomed into someone’s home – international hospitality at its finest!

Kayak

Kayak is my preferred search engine to find the best prices for flights, cars and even hotels (sometimes, you have no choice but to book a hotel). It compares prices across other search engines and it’s got a fantastic user interface to filter your searches quickly and easily.

World Mate

No more photocopies, no more scrap pieces of paper, no more fuss. World Mate is my best friend. It collates all my travel and itinerary information into one convenient app.

Once you add your itinerary details (as simple as forwarding an email), the app notifies you of flight times or gate changes, and reminds you to book accommodation. It can even provide weather updates, convert currency and keep you connected to LinkedIn if you’re travelling for business.

Passbook

Similar to World Mate, Apple’s Passbook is handy for freeing your wallet of tickets, booking vouchers and boarding passes.

Affiliated with an ever-increasing range of airlines, Passbook gives you the ability to store all your boarding pass documentation in the one spot. It bundles important information into a simple QR code, which you simply scan as you walk through the airport gate. Easy.

To-dos + maps.

Although I like to travel on the fly, I find that being organised allows me to enjoy the moment more, and not get flustered when things go awry. These two apps are practical and essential. Not only do they save me a whole lot of stress, but I feel secure knowing they have my back.

to-dos-+-maps

Any.do

You’ll find to-do lists aplenty on app stores. I’ve given a fair few of them a go, only to be disappointed because of three reasons: usability, product bloating or lack of functionality.

Any.do is the exception. It straddles the fine line between all three and also comes with elegantly effective reminders. Best of all, it syncs with Google Chrome, so you can view your to-do list on your phone or laptop.

So when it comes to packing, or keeping notes of recommendations for things to do, this app is a super-useful tool.

Ulmon Pro

Previously known as CityMaps2Go, this mapping app is a must have. Ever been lost in a city without access to cellular data or a Wi-Fi connection? I have.

Rather than getting vague directions from the next person you see on the street, Ulmon Pro allows you to pre-download a map of an entire city before you head out on your expedition. This app has been a lifesaver to me on many occasions, particularly in developing countries where internet access is hit and miss.

What to do + where to go.

If there’s one travel category that apps have made a helluva lot more fun, it’s sight-seeing. No longer will you find yourself in a foreign city, scratching your head not knowing what to do or where to eat… These apps make you feel like a local!

where-to-go

 

Foursquare

Foursquare is amazing! You tell the app what your interests are (cuisine / drink of choice / how much money you want to spend) and the app does the rest. It scours your local neighbourhood for the best places close by, reviewed and rated by people just like you.

Yelp!

An incredibly useful online service (used predominantly in the US), Yelp! is like the ol’ Yellow Pages on steroids. Whether you’re looking for the contact details of a business or a review of a local restaurant, Yelp! gives you insight as well as info.

Twitter

An oldie but a goodie, and worth including for a couple of reasons:

It’s a great tool for reaching out to locals and asking a question. For example:

“To all the SF / Bay Area peeps. Where does one go for great house music? Any notable parties in May? #sanfrancisco #house #disco #dance #dj.”

This single post allowed me to find the most amazing dance party in San Francisco, and it made me look like a rock star to my travel buddies.

It helps you find out about what’s happening right now, wherever you are… simply search the name of the city you are in, and Twitter gives you up-to-the-second insights and breaking news.

Swarm

A guilty pleasure, Swarm is what Foursquare once was. It’s a dedicated app for checking-in to all the places you visit and seeing where all your friends are checking in. As a traveller and a foodie, this app is my personal diary and roadmap of all the amazing places I’ve ever visited.

Get around.

Bon voyage to exxy hire-car companies and unpleasant taxi rides. Getting around town is easier than ever.

get-around

Uber

Another household name that probably doesn’t need an introduction – Uber is nothing short of phenomenal. It has well and truly disrupted the taxi industry. Once you’ve travelled in an Uber, there’s no going back.

Ready to go? Set your pickup location in the app, specify your destination and in minutes, your own personal driver picks you up. The cars are clean, modern and comfortable. The drivers are friendly and happy to have a chat; you even get offered water and mints. Tipping is not required (yes!) and when you’re all said and done, simply get out the car and be on your merry way – your trip is charged to your credit card and your receipt is emailed to you. Go technology!

Lyft

Another disruptor in the taxi space, Lyft is Uber’s slightly lower-fare competitor. It’s a great service but is only available in the US (for now). Lyft cars are easily identified; just look out for the one with the pink moustaches : {

Getaround

Crowd-sourcing at its finest. Need a car? There’s probably someone close by who has a car just sitting there, waiting for you to rent it. If you need a car for an hour or longer, hire one that suits your budget. No more hassles dealing with rental car companies and paying exorbitant day rates. Most of all, no more pesky insurance paperwork.

Capture the moment.

Travelling is about experiences and memories, not carting around stuff. Leave that bulky SLR at home, and use these handy apps instead. Not only do they make your photos schmick, they organise them beautifully, too.

Capture-the-moment

Enlight

Essentially Photoshop in your pocket. Whether you want to crop or brighten your photo, or tweak that photo to the nth degree. Enlight is my curve-adjusting, filter-adding, pre-Instagram bestie.

Carousel

I’m still on an iPhone 5 (by choice, actually) and with all these apps, physical memory is scarce. Carousel (little brother to Dropbox) is my space-saving and photo-organising saviour.

Once you’re connected to a wi-fi connection, Carousel automatically uploads and neatly organises your newest photos into a dated photo album, which you can peruse or share with family and friends. After it has uploaded and backed up your photos, it’ll determine which photos you no longer need on your phone and ask if you want to delete them.

Don’t worry, they’re safe in the cloud – allowing you to free up your phone’s memory and keep taking happy snaps.

Keeping in touch.

No matter where you go, or how long for, it’s always nice to keep in touch with family and friends back home. It’s also extra-nice to be able to communicate in languages you don’t understand (even if you get the gist, you sometimes need to get specific). Here are the apps I use when communicating abroad.

keep-in-touch

Whatsapp

Provided you’ve got an internet connection, Whatsapp is a free way to send text messages, voice messages, video messages or even animated GIFs to your loved ones.

Turn off your roaming, avoid horrendous international phone call charges and get creative when communicating with the folks back home. Similar apps are Viber and Skype.

Gmail

Okay. There’s nothing new about this mainstay. But just because you’re going on holiday, doesn’t mean you can escape the dreaded email. Super-handy for receiving booking notifications and itineraries, keeping your inbox in check and saying “hi” to your mum.

Google translate

Qué? No se lo que estas diciendo… Ahh crap! I can’t converse in anything other than English, meaning sometimes there’s a communication breakdown. But with ‘El Google’, conversations are recorded and translated in real time.

Starving, but can’t make out what’s on the menu? No stress. Just take a picture and Google will magically translate the gobbledygook into familiar terms.

Duolingo

The Duolingo app reinvents the way we learn new languages by gameifying the experience. It requires a little forward-planning, but if you’re looking to have meaningful conversations with internationals, brush up on your Spanish (or French, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Irish, Esperanto, Turkish, Norwegian or Ukrainian) before you head over.

Voted App of the Year in 2013 by the AppStore and Google Play.

Spending money

Bum-bags, fanny-packs, uncomfortable money belts?! Get outta here! Keep your finances secure, your bank fees to a minimum and spend freely and conveniently with these digital wallets.

 spending-money

Qantas Cash

Qantas Cash allows you to load funds in Australian dollars and choose what currency you want to withdraw from. It’s a great alternative to using your standard Visa/MasterCard for withdrawing cash. The exchange rates are fair and the international bank fees are minimal compared to what your bank will charge.

Another nice perk is acquiring Qantas Frequent Flyer points when purchasing from with international merchants.

XE Currency

Travelling across borders and dealing in different currencies can become confusing and it can be difficult knowing what your AUD$ is worth. XE Currency, gives you a simple currency converter for up-to-the-minute exchange rates.

***

So, it all sounds brilliant: super-simple travelling without a bunch of stuff weighing you down. Apps to make your life easier, find the fun, get around, keep in touch.

But there’s an unanswered question lurking about: What if you lost your phone?

There’s no doubt that would be a bummer. I think I might even cry. But shit happens. Everything is replaceable, even iPhones. Just remember to back up before you go.

Thank goodness for the cloud.