Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites

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The best travel apps: what are yours? Asking someone to name their best travel apps is a bit like asking them to name their favorite top-40 song. It’s always changing. You might as well ask someone for their top travel apps today. There are plenty of apps for travel. Plenty of free travel apps and plenty of go-to apps and travel websites that will make journey better for a fee.

We’ve used a lot of good travel apps, and most of these “essential” apps for travel come and go. At least for us. Few remain on my phone or in our browser bookmarks for long if they don’t deliver. Below are a few good travel apps that have exhibited staying power for me. And I’ve thrown in a few more that have the potential to be good, go-to travel apps for us on into the future.

Our Best Travel Apps, Best Travel Websites

I have shared our best educational apps for traveling kids before. Now here are a few of our best travel apps for the parents, and how we use them.

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Best Travel Apps and Best Travel Websites

This is a great travel app and a great travel service in general. As I mentioned on our resources page, we prefer renting an apartment to a hotel when it comes to longer stays. For this, Airbnb has been our go-to apartment rental across multiple countries. The app is easy to use, but I prefer handling it on an iPad or via website. Here are a few more tips on using AirBnB in Southeast Asia.

Use this link and get USD $22 off your first AirBnB rental


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites foursquare

This has become one of my best travel apps over time. I once used Foursquare only to get the password of an internet cafe or coffee shop without going in and ordering anything (sometimes people post the passwords). Now I use foursquare to find actual restaurants and cafes info. Many traveling, digital-nomad types use the app to rate places that are good for working. They write whether or not a place is quiet, laptop-friendly and equipped with wifi and power outlets. There’s even a “good for work” filter on Foursquare — look for it when filling out your profile in “tastes.”

Trip Advisor

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites trip advisor

Is it our top travel website? No. Do I use it a lot? Yes. If you’ve read my site for a while then you know that I’ve had my issues with Trip Advisor. However, I will admit that the site serves a purpose for tens of thousands of people. And yes: it serves a significant purpose for us, as well. It goes without saying that Trip Advisor reviews are flawed at best. It’s almost become clichéd to say that reviews often tell you more about the reviewer than the place being reviewed, but Trip Advisor still helps paint a picture of a hotel, restaurant or activity you’re interested in. If you read between the lines — if you know what to look for and what to ignore — you can usually find at least a kernel of insight.


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites Instagram new

You probably love Instagram already, but I include it here because of a great tip from Keri Hedrik in Epic Education Radio episode #51. Not only is Instagram a great place to share and discover beautiful and funny imagery, but it can also be a way to peek inside the places you might want to stay or visit. For example, Hedrik recommends trying hashtag searches that use the name of the beach, restaurant, hotel or company you’re interested in, and it may turn up pictures that other instagrammers have posted.


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites findery

I’ve just started playing with this one in the past few months, but I like fun travel apps like this. Findery uses your location to tell you about stories and events that occurred at or near where you are standing. These stories and info are written by other users. Therefore, in order to really become one of the best travel apps, they’ll need their user base to grow. That said, I love the concept. Thanks to Tom Fassbender from Epic Education Radio episode #29 for this one.


Google Maps

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites google maps

This is the 800-pound gorilla of the navigation apps, and easily one of the most used and best travel apps around. Google Maps and Google Earth aren’t perfect, but they’re hard to beat when it comes to on-the-street navigation, especially when you include the built-in search functions and street imagery. We can locate and see what a restaurant, shop or meeting point looks like days before we need it, and I’ve used their walking directions more times than I can count. When it comes to driving, however, I think their turn-by-turn directions can be over-informative and confusing. Instead, I use the Waze app when driving.


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites: waze

In my opinion, the navigation app Waze is a better travel app when in a car, delivering better driving instructions than Google Maps. The directions are simpler, for starters. For example, a typical Google Maps voice direction might say “In one mile, turn right onto Route 21 / Highway 1-21 / Johnson Hill Road.” It will give you every name a road might have, which can be way too much information.

Pronunciation can also cause confusion, especially when we were driving in overseas. For example, when we were in Malaysia, Google Maps read out phonetically using English pronunciation, butchering the the street names often to a point where we couldn’t understand what they were saying. When I’m driving, all I usually need to hear at the right moment is “turn left.” That’s what Waze does, and usually with more lead time than Google Maps. Also, because Waze is social, other users will post when they see a police car, a car accident or any other hazard, which can better prepare you for what’s around the corner.

And then of course is the extra perk of having a huge selection of navigator voices to choose from. We often used Elvis (“Ah-Turn LEFT, baby…ThankYooVrrryMuch…”), but when I really wanted to annoy Keiko, I would change it to Arnold Schwarzenegger a la Terminator — for some reason, that drives her nuts.


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites here maps & navigation app

We just started using this app during our road trip through Northern Spain. and have loved the results so far. This app’s value proposition is that it’s easy to use offline, thereby saving you data. Both Google Maps and Waze can use up a lot of it, and that can add up over the long run. Batteries run low and devices can run hot, but with Here both of these issues seems to be dramatically reduced.

With the Here app, you download your country’s maps ahead of time while on a wifi signal. For example, before we hit the road, I downloaded all maps for Spain (you could also download specific cities/regions). Then you switch the app to offline service. As some of you know, iPhones, iPads and other smart devices can still indicate where you are on a map even when not connected to wifi or cellular data. This is both useful and kind of creepy, but we’ve decided to stick to the utilitarian side of this issue and use it to our benefit.

We’ve had the app on the iPad and set for offline use only. It’s worked like a charm, navigating us so far from Valencia to Toledo, Salamanca and now Leon. That’s been over mountains and through complicated traffic circles and remote small towns.

It doesn’t know every location we’re looking for, and it has the same annoying navigation voice that reads everything with a North American pronunciation, but it has been invaluable to us so far. One unique feature we’ve noticed is that it can tell you with frightening consistency whether or not you’re speeding. Speed limits in Spain change suddenly and often, and there are speed traps and traffic cameras everywhere, so this has probably (hopefully) kept us in the clear on occasion.


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites roadtrippers

We’ve only used this great travel app in the United States, and that may be as far as its value goes, but I really enjoyed planning out our road trip to the Grand Canyon with it. And then a second road trip to Washington DC.

After you plug in your destinations, Roadtrippers shows you the route and lots of food, accommodation and activities along the way. You can filter these down to what you’re most interested in and then select. Big fun.


Google Translate

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites google translateNo translation software or translation app is perfect, but Google Translate is an essential travel app. There’s something a little unnerving about about an algorithm that understands the complexity of human language. But damn is this useful.

Google Translate is better in Latin languages (Spanish, French) than it is in Eastern languages (Mandarin, Thai, Japanese), and it still makes HUGE errors in all translations, but if you remember to write simply, and cross-reference the results by feeding your translation back into English, it can help. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s how we’ve navigated dozens of conversations: from immigration officials and vegetable hawkers to soccer coaches and landlords.

I mentioned how our kids use it here — mostly using the image capture feature or by typing in text from their Spanish schoolbooks when they can’t follow. Keiko and I use the speech-to-text translation features as well. Warning: you need a decent internet signal or it won’t work. This isn’t a database.


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites symbolic app

A simple travel app, but it has proven a day-changer several times. Symbolic is just lots of universally-understood images and symbols to point at when speech and body language fail. Symbols to help you navigate ariports, shopping centers, hospitals and much more.

We found a pharmacy in Indonesia. We found a ferry in Vietnam. All thanks to Symbolic.

Innovative Languages 101

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites Innovative languages 101 spanish pod 101

When we first arrived in Spain in August 2015, I bought a subscription to Spanish Pod 101, and this app is part of their service. I feel uneasy recommending it here simply because my Spanish is still such crap. That’s not the app’s fault, though.

You see, apparently you have to study regularly to speak Spanish, and I haven’t.

I’m not exactly the ideal brand ambassador, but that’s because I basically haven’t studied — at all — in the last six months (we can cover the reasons for that later on). However, I can say without hesitation that the app and website subscription is worth your money. But you have to be ready and willing to make the time for it. I haven’t. The website has lesson plans for every level of language learner, with plenty of audio and old-school print-outs.

Another thing I like about SpanishPod 101 is that they cover the variety of regional Spanish dialects. The Spanish spoken in Mexico is different than the Spanish spoken in Peru, Costa Rica and Spain, and so they have additional lessons to address this. I mentioned how great Duo Lingo is in the post about our kids’ apps. And it is. It’s really great. However, it focuses on Mexican Spanish, and we need Castellano, the Spanish spoken on the Iberian Peninsula. This service helps me out.



Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites: tripit

A life of travel involves lots of numbers: flight numbers and passport numbers. Mileage numbers and reservation numbers. Tripit keeps all of my numbers organized for me. Tripit is connected to my email account so it can automatically save any reservation info that lands in my inbox and then place it in the app so that I can retrieve it from my phone.

Sometimes that means other people’s reservation info, as well. For example, when my parents are going somewhere, they often forward my siblings and I their travel information just to keep us all in the loop. When that happens, I’ll receive an email from Tripit saying something like “Your flight is coming up!” when it’s actually my mom and dad. A minor quibble, but worth mentioning.

Uber & other ride locators

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites Uber

I’ve only used Uber in the United States, and I totally get why it’s such a popular travel app. In my hometown of Atlanta, taxis were a huge pain in the butt, and because of the way the city is laid out, public transportation is difficult to use or even impossible if you’re out late.

I’m not sure what I think of the company, its leaders or if the industry “disruption” Uber represents is a good or bad thing long-term, but I would totally keep the Uber app on my phone next time I’m in the US.

In Spain, the MyTaxi app seems to be the most popular, but I haven’t used it once because Valencia is so walkable. On the rare occasion when we need a cab we live right in front of a taxi stand. In Malaysia, we used Myteksi (now called Grab), which eliminated haggling for a reasonable fare. Whatever country you’re going to, if you plan to have a local SIM card, look into the country’s most popular taxi locator apps (if available) and put it on your smart device just in case.

Local Public Transportation Apps

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites Valencia EMT

For now that’s the Valencia EMT app for us, but of course this app means nothing to you unless you’re living in Valencia (if so, say hello, neighbor!), but I mention this here because so many cities with decent public transportation now have workable (and often free) apps available to make using their buses and trains easier.

For example, in Valencia, it’s the EMT Valencia app. As I explain in this Valencia post, I carry a list bus stops my family uses all the time: home to the supermarket, home to the city center, city center to home, etc. Using this list and the app, I can find out when a bus is arriving up to the minute. This means we know if we need to run to the bus stop or if we can walk leisurely.


Packing Pro

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites packing pro

There may be other features to the app, but the main reason I use this app is simply to keep a lists of everything I need to pack for travel day.

As I mentioned in our top 30 tips for flying with kids, I pull up the app the day before a flight and go through it, checking off each item and updating the list as our trips demand.

The drop-down menu of the checklists makes it easy to use, and on occasion I’ve been grateful for the print and email features.


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites evernote

As I mentioned in the pre-flight tips, you should always keep digital copies handy of your passports, flight info and any other important travel documentation. You can use any number of online storage services, like Dropbox, Google Drive and dozens of other options.

Evernote is easily one of the best travel apps and best apps period. I use Evernote for travel basically because I use Evernote for everything and it’s already on the first screen of all of our devices. I also keep a backup of all transportation-related mail and checklists related to packing.

Money & Budgeting

XE currency

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites xe currencyThere may be better currency converter apps out there, but I wouldn’t know because XE Currency has always done the trick for me. It converts multiple currencies easily, and I need that for a variety of reasons. For example, I’m an American, living in Spain getting paid in Yen — you can see at least three currencies I use on an almost daily basis.

It was even more complicated when we lived in Malaysia and traveled to Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam all the time.

Trail Wallet

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites: Trail wallet

One of the best traveling apps for families moving through multiple countries. This budgeting app was designed by digital nomads and does a great job of tracking your expenses across multiple currencies. You set your base currency and then all other currencies you may use, and the app takes care of the rest.

The example I often share of this app’s utility goes like this: for years my main currency was Japanese yen (JPY: my work and bank accounts are in Japan). Today, however, I’m paying for a taxi to the Kuala Lumpur airport using Malaysian ringgit (MYR). Then we fly to Ho Chi Minh City, where I promptly buy a cold beer using Vietnamese Dong (VND). In the hotel that night, we watch a movie that I’ve rented using my American iTunes account (ie. USD).

All of these purchases are plugged into the app, and using the latest exchange rates, I get a running tally of everything we spend in my base currency (in my case, JPY). Trail Wallet can show my spending data as an easy-to-read chart, or send it to my inbox as an excel sheet.

I should mention that we haven’t used Trail Wallet in about a year. Now that we’re in Europe, we’re just not juggling as many currencies any more. However, I completely recommend this app for anyone who plans to do some country hopping.

Text & Communication


Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites skype

Phone? What’s a phone? It’s kind of funny just how little I actually use phone numbers nowadays…despite having three of them! Two of those phone numbers — one for Japan, and one for the United States — are Skype numbers. Prices can vary, but for around USD $5 a month, I now have a local number in both Japan and America. That means people in either country can call me just like they’d call any other local number. It takes messages, as well.

Skype has played such a crucial role in my life. It is easily one of the best travel apps and travel resources we’ve ever used. The kids chat with both sets of grandparents on a regular basis because of it, and the Epic Education Radio interviews are recorded using it.

Texting Apps

Epic Gear: Our Best Travel Apps & Best Travel Websites whatsapp

Wow. Exactly how many of these are on the market? I don’t like having my communication spread across so many platforms, so I try to limit my usage to as few of these as I can, and still I end up using so many.

In most of the world, Whatsapp is the global 800-pound gorilla of texting platforms, and it’s possibly the main form of communication in Spain. From friends to real estate agents to school groups to soccer teams — very few Spanish people call me or email me. It’s all in Whatsapp. This is especially useful for us since our Spanish is still so poor — phone conversations are tough. With texting and Google Translate on the devices, communication is much smoother.

Whatsapp is the biggest testing app, but not the only one. I have friends in Korea and Malaysia that only use Kakaotalk. In Japan, it’s LINE, which is my personal favorite from an interface-standpoint (and they have the most entertaining stickers, duh), but the problem with LINE are:

  1. Its platform dominance doesn’t leave Japanese shores and
  2. You can’t change phone numbers with LINE. If you get a new phone number, you need a new LINE account, and that means losing all your old conversations. This simply doesn’t work if you’re traveling and getting a new SIM card and phone number in each new country.

What are YOUR Best Travel Apps and Best Travel Websites?

We’re always looking for new family travel resources. And we’re also looking for new and better ways to use the travel apps and websites we already know. Do you have tips and recommendations? Put them in the comments below! Or contact us directly.


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Epic Gear: Our best travel apps & best travel websites PIN

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