When I traveled to Sri Lanka last year, my usual go-to app (Foursquare) wasn’t helping me find a good place to eat in Colombo. But then I remembered that Zomato — a restaurant listings and reviews app — had originated nearby in India. “Maybe they’ll have something,” I thought.
Sure enough, there were more local users, restaurant listings, up-to-date information, and reviews on Zomato than Foursquare. Instantly, it became my go-to app for finding restaurants in Colombo.
Although global apps like Foursquare, Yelp, or Uber can be incredibly helpful abroad, local apps often provide more detailed, updated, or alternative information on what to do and how to get there. To help you make sure you’ve “packed” your smartphone properly on your next trip abroad, I asked travel bloggers from around the world what the best apps are for transportation, things to do, and places to eat. Scroll on for the best travel apps for Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Travel Apps for Europe
From an app that gives you access to all the best pastries in Paris, to more practical apps that tell you the cheapest, or fastest, way to get from Madrid to Barcelona, these are several great travel apps for your trip to Europe:
GoEuro is the Euro-centric version of Rome2Rio, letting users compare the cost, time, and duration of all their different transportation options from one city to another. Then, hop off the app to book a ticket. Considering whether it’s better to take the train, bus, or a flight to Paris from Madrid? GoEuro is your app. The only downside is that it isn’t 100% comprehensive yet.
Official Railway Apps
Where to use: All of Europe
Download: See below
The railway apps for specific countries are also helpful — especially if you have a rail pass and need to make seat reservations as you go.
- France: The SNCF has a number of train apps throughout France
- UK: In the UK, Trainline (iPhone | Android) comes highly recommended
- Spain: Renfe has a (slightly clunky-looking) app for booking trains in France (iPhone | Android)
- Germany: DB, the official rail line in Germany, has an app (iPhone | Android)
- Eurail: This is the official rail-planner app for Eurail passes (iPhone | Android)
- Norway: Use the official NSB app (iPhone | Android)
- Sweden: In Sweden, Routes North recommends Västtrafik in Southern Sweden (iPhone | Android) and STHLM Traveling / Res i Sthlm while in Stockholm (iPhone | Android)
According to former Madrid-based ESL teacher, Emily Kellner, you can get a discount for booking a full 4-person compartment on the train in Spain. If you’re traveling alone or as a small group, Compartemesa will help you find other travelers to fill up the compartment with and snag that discount.
This app will give you a weather forecast exclusively for the northern lights in Norway, along with a recommendation on whether to try to go see them, at what time, and in which city.
Although this is a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, The Fork helps you find restaurants and — if you book through them — you can sometimes get discounts on your dinner.
Paris Pastry & The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris
Where to use: Paris
Download: See below
If you’ll be in Paris, foodie-centric Paris by Mouth also recommends the Paris Pastry app (wait, an app dedicated solely to the croissants and pain au chocolat of Paris?!? Sweet.) and the Food Lover’s Guide to Paris by cookbook author, Patricia Wells.
In her column on The Points Guy, Madrid-based writer, Lori Zaino, recommends this app for finding locally-recommended things to do in 55 European cities. Although the guides cost about ~$4 per guide, it’s great for getting handpicked hotspots from locals who live there. She also recommends Pretty Streets for finding pretty areas to walk around — though it’s currently only available in Paris.
Travel Apps for Central & South America
In South and Central America, the following apps will help you figure out where to go, what to eat, and how to get there if your usual suite of apps are giving you the “no results found” page:
In South America, most restaurants aren’t on Yelp and a lot aren’t on TripAdvisor, but nearly all are on Restorando. You often get a good discount (like 20-40% off) if you book a table through the app. It’s also available for over a dozen major Latin American cities.
Tappsi allows you to hail safe taxi rides in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru from your phone or computer. It’s most widely used in Colombia, where it originated. There’s also a Costa Rican version called Taxiando (iPhone | Android).
All three of these apps are must-haves if you’re traveling to Brazil according to American expat, Josh Plotkin.
- Veja Comer & Beber (iPhone) is an app by the Brazilian magazine, Veja, designed to find restaurants and bars
- Kekanto (iPhone | Android) is like the “Brazilian equivalent of Yelp,” says Josh.
Although it doesn’t include dictionary entries for local slang, SpanishDict’s offline dictionary, pronunciation, and translation features make it a great app to use while traveling in Spanish-speaking Latin America.
Where to use: Costa Rica
Yo Viajo will help travelers figure out bus timetables and routes within, as well as to and from Costa Rica. This app also helps you figure out prices, durations, and provides reviews of the trips — but from what I can tell, you can’t book directly through the app.
Although you can absolutely use global apps like Booking or HotelsTonight, Despegar is a regionally focused hotel and flight app for Latin America.
Travel Apps for Asia
I could easily have made this post just about travel apps in Asia — especially since so many are being developed in India and China alone. However, the following apps for Asia will help you navigate some of the region’s more popular destinations:
When I asked several Chinese, and Chinese-American, friends about essential apps in China, all of them said WeChat. Although primarily a communication app, WeChat has evolved to support millions of “micro apps” that allow you to do everything from make payments to friends to hailing a taxi. Although the English version has fewer functions, it’s still a must-have if you’re spending any amount of time in China.
OpenRice is a local Yelp alternative (originating in Hong Kong but available throughout Asia) for finding restaurant reviews and making reservations. However, the Chinese apps aren’t in English — making the desktop version in translate mode the only viable option for most of us travelers.
Where to use: India
Download: See below
To find great places to eat and things to do across India — with local recommendations — use Burrp, Zomato, and Timescity.
- Burrp (iPhone | Android) helps you find restaurants along with discounts and events, like happy hours, across all major Indian cities.
- Zomato (iPhone | Android) gives you restaurants and reviews.
- Timescity, in addition to finding and booking restaurants, also has an app for films (and obviously, you’ll want to catch a Bollywood film while in India!)
Where to use: Singapore
Download: See below
Singaporean based food-blogger, Olivia NG, recommends Sugar, Chope!, and Burrple for finding the best places to eat in Singapore.
- Sugar (iPhone | Android) offers food discounts
- Chope! (iPhone | Android) for restaurant reservations
- Burrple (iPhone | Android) and let it lead you to the newest and hottest restaurants in Singapore.
According to Time Out Japan, the popular Japanese restaurant search app, Teriyaki, is now available in English. For finding the best ramen, sushi, and curries throughout Japan, Teriyaki will steer you well.
While in Thailand, you can use Wongnai to find the best restaurants and spas (which you’ll want to do!) throughout the country.
Literally the only time I’ve ever ordered food delivery while abroad was when I had access to Vietnammm, Vietnam’s food delivery app. Although probably more useful for expats than travelers, it’s great for getting food delivered from across HCMC or Hanoi. For food delivery across Southeast Asia, most bloggers point to FoodPanda (iPhone | Android).
“It’s like Uber (with car or motorbike) but you can also get them to deliver you food, cigarettes, ice cream, drinks, and even massages” says Monica Grey of Globe Trottica, currently based in SEA. Basically, it’s an on-demand everything within Indonesia.
You may have heard that Uber recently pulled out of China and sold its operations to its biggest competitor in China: DiDi. Unfortunately, DiDi’s app isn’t yet in English (but if you read Chinese or want to figure it out, go ahead and download). However, Grab, which is available throughout Asia, is the best local Uber alternative. My favorite part, though? You can hail motorbike taxis. Win!
Transportation Apps in Asia
Although Grab was the biggest (and most widely available) transportation app in Asia, there are a bunch that will help you navigate buses, trains, and metro systems that I came across:
- Asia Metro can be used to navigate metro systems throughout Asia
- GoThere.sg (Singapore) costs $2.99 but is”well worth it” according to Demistify Asia
- Metro China (China) helps navigate Chinese trains
- Subway Korea (South Korea) for figuring out Seoul’s metro system
- Tokyo metro app (Japan) for navigating the subway in Tokyo
- Hyperdia (Japan) for all inter-city trains in Japan
- Bangkok Transport Map (Thailand) gives you routes on the MRT and subway
Travel Apps for Africa
In a region where schedules are often just suggestions, and so much exists off the (Google) map, apps aren’t even necessarily the best way to find local recommendations or information in many sub-Saharan Africa countries. However, there are a couple that could be handy throughout your stay — particularly in South Africa.
I’ve mentioned Zomato twice now — it’s a global restaurant app, but in some regions of the world it has better recommendations than its competitors Yelp and Foursquare. South Africa is one of those.
Where to use: Worldwide
Although not specific to Africa, Safeture will give travelers real time updates on safety alerts and warnings based on your location.
Jovago / Jumia Travel
Kenyan-based Jumia Travel (also known as Jovago) is the largest booking engine for hotels across Africa. Happily, they have an app to help make mobile bookings easier.
Where to use: Throughout Africa
Gautrain & MyCiti
Where to use: South Africa
Download: See below
The official Gautrain app (iPhone | Android) will give you up to date information on trains between Pretoria and Johannesburg, as well as the airport. MyCiti (iPhone) helps travelers navigate the bus system in Cape Town.
Make Africa: Live the travel app that accompanies you on safari. With this app, users are able to update real-time wildlife sightings and make donations to national parks via the app.
Even the giants in the hotel bookings, transportation, and restaurant recommendation space sometimes fall short when we’re abroad.
For the best travel apps, look towards the apps locals use, like Restaurando in Latin America or GoJek in Indonesia to fill the gap and help you get the most out of your world travels.
Photo Credit: Paula Lavalle, Unsplash