“Travel Apps” are the worst.
The good ones ruin the mystery and magic of a place, or overexpose tightly held secrets; the bad ones are just advertising hiding behind a thin veneer of “information.”
Skyscanner, Rick Steve’s, Lonely Planet, Nat Geo, Blah, blah, blah. I’m not against using any of them per se – some are institutions – but they all deliver the same experiences. If you want a cookie cutter trip, by all means search the “travel” section for popular apps. Then read Buzzfeed to catch up on world events.
Just because I hate travel apps, doesn’t mean I don’t use my smartphone like a travel ninja. Far from it. I just use regular apps. Dating apps. Surfing apps. Currency trackers. Invoicing software.
So, here are five everyday apps with my tips on how to travel hack them for travel in ways that fuel your once in a lifetime adventure:
Tinder Is Actually a Language App
Free. $2.99 for unlimited swipes and swiping in any location regardless of GPS location
Tinder is incredible. Before you grab your pitchforks, hear me out. If you somehow don’t know about it, Tinder uses magic GPS elves, your Facebook account, and a few search settings to…find people that want to hang out with you. Anywhere in the world. *mind blown*
Seriously, think about that. If you’re a solo traveler (I often am) and you’re not great with the talking and the words (especially in a foreign language) this app can help you break the ice. And, I’m not talking about hooking up. Get your mind out of the gutter.
When I spent 6 weeks in Colombia I made my profile a request for a language exchange – Spanish and English. Yes, all of my conversation partners were women. Yes, they were attractive. So what? Within a few hours of landing I had a half dozen conversations going – in Spanish – and even plans to meet a few people for a coffee and a chat. That’s incredible.
Just remember what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Don’t be a creeper.
Best Use: Keep your location setting low (less than 10 miles), and your age range tight (within 5 years either way). Couple this app with Google Translate, and you’ll be chatting away in no time.
Alternatives: Hinge, Happn
Appy Hour: Locals are Cheap Drunks
Free: Regionally specific (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Travel is about experiencing the essence of a place, preferably with people that actually live there. So, why are you on a museum bus tour that picks you up at the hostel? Ain’t no locals on that bus…except the driver. Hopefully. You know where the locals are? At a bar having an awesome time for a fraction of what you paid for your “complimentary” hot chocolate.
Appy Hour is one of a new breed of city-specific happy hour apps (designed for Reykjavik by The Grapevine, Iceland’s largest English speaking publication). It uses actual insider info – Gabriel lives in Reykjavik – to let you in on the cheapest place and time to grab a drink. Filter your search by price or location – either option saves you loads of money – and get ready to meet some locals.
Best Use: Gear up a few hours before your big night out. Confine your location to one area so you can go to another nearby bar if the vibe isn’t right.
Alternatives: Happy (NYC), Scoutmob.
Free. Paid upgrade
I have a Charles Schwab checking account, so I can use any atm in the world for free. The fees come out of my account, but at the end of the month, Schwab refunds ’em. Score. The only thing that takes a little getting used to, is your first atm withdrawal in a new country. 1 million Vietnamese Dong may sound like a fortune, but thanks to XE Currency Converter I know it’s only $45 US.
Drag to create a dashboard of customized currencies, and you convert from one to another, to another in seconds. The best part is that it works offline (it just doesn’t give you up to the second fluctuations).
Best Use: Load obscure currencies and turn it into a bar trivia game.
OneReceipt Makes You Money
If you’ve ever been to Europe you know the dirtiest curse in any language – VAT. Short for “Value Added Tax,” the VAT is exactly that – a random surcharge added to purchases. But what a lot of people don’t know is that you can get that money back at the airport. You just have to keep your receipts. And that’s the problem.
Paper receipts are a pain in the ass. They degrade over time. They crinkle. The ink fades. But more likely you’ll just toss them out by mistake, and without that receipt, the VAT – often between 14-20% – stays in the country. Boo.
OneReceipt is the answer. Simply snap a photo of your receipt and OneReceipt links with your Gmail or Yahoo account to compile all of them together in one easy to find place. At the airport, simply show the customs agent your neatly organized receipts (and the goods you purchased) and you’ll definitely intimidate them into reimbursing you accordingly.
Best Use: Every country is different, Iceland for example requires a purchase of 6000 kr ($50) to get a VAT refund, while in Greece it’s 120 Euro. Know before you buy.
Magic Seaweed is the Ultimate Weather App
Yahoo Weather is a good app: reliable, informative, adequate. But if you want to take your trip planning and preparation to the next level, download Magic Seaweed…a surfing app.
Bias Alert: I surf, so I’ve been reading surf forecasts and weather charts for years (you know, those confusing graphs and buoy readings next to the comics section at the back of the newspaper). Don’t worry, this app isn’t about that.
MSW is amazing. It has:
- Detailed maps (with directions to obscure spots that Google Maps hasn’t even heard of)
- Guides to nearby accommodation, food & drink, and stuff to do
- Up-to-date photos of beaches and surf spots to give you a sense of the place and the surrounding area (not to mention getting you super excited)
- Popular destinations even feature detailed “Stormrider Guides” with seasonal info, weather trends, pricing, shoulder seasons, tips, hints, packing advice
Magic Seaweed guides are basically the best travel guides around. Seriously.
- AirBnB – AirBnB is better than HostelWorld. There, I said it. It feels good to get off my chest.
- Whatsapp – Everyone uses this. Plus it’s a nice way to get in touch with someone without giving your last name.
- Duolingo – A good way to kill time on a bus.
- Foursquare – The best wifi password finder on Earth.
Travel is what you make it. Ditch the travel apps and get creative with apps that real people use to meet…real people on your next trip.
- Tinder is better than Rosetta Stone
- Magic Seaweed is an all-in-one travel kit
- Drink like a local with Appy Hour
- XE Currency and OneReceipt will keep your expenses on track
Obviously there are a thousand other ways to use everyday apps as sweet travel apps. Tweet me your tips and how you travel so I can add it to this list. Don’t worry, you’ll get a big fat sloppy kiss (and a mention) coming your way!
Image: Jan Vasek (Stocksnap)