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It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to backpack the world without my trusty smartphone in hand these days. For better or for worse, smartphones have changed the way we travel.
While I realize it’s important to balance your phone time and actually enjoying where you are, a smartphone provides many advantages that can save you time and money and help you get the best experience. In this post, I’ll share 20 free apps for backpacking that will make your life on the road 20x easier.
Apps for Budgeting
1. XE Currency
From 100 Indian Rupees to 1,000,000 Vietnamese dongs, you will give yourself a big headache trying to convert to the local currency in your head. XE is a great app for backpacking if you’re hopping between countries with different currencies.
Let XE do the work for you. All you have to do is load your home currency and those of the countries you’re visiting when connected to wi-fi. Then, when you’re out shopping in the local markets, you can type in the local amount and see exactly how much it costs you in your own currency.
I love the XE app because it refreshes the rates every minute while you’re connected to wi-fi and keeps the latest one to use offline, so you can still convert currencies even when you don’t have data or Wi-Fi.
Managing a budget is hard at home or abroad. It’s a skill I’ve actually improved on because of backpacking.
Mint is a great app for backpacking because it helps you set up goals to save for trips in advance and helps manage your budget when you’re on the road. Within the app, you can set up a goal (ex. A trip in June 2022), project you’re expenses for the trip, and mint will tell you much you need to contribute per month to meet your goal by that time.
Mint also helps manage your budget on the road. The app connects to your bank account so you get real-time data of your balances. In the app, you can add in budgets for each relevant category of spending (ex. food, transportation). If you purchase items on your debit/credit card, the app automatically figures out how much you’ve spent in each category and warns you if you’re going over. Gives you a great (albeit scary) look at how much you’ve spent on any category. For example, Alchohol and bars : )
Apps for Navigation
3. Google Maps (Use offline)
As someone who has zero sense of direction, Google maps is my best friend when I travel. What I love about this app is that you can download a map of the area you’re visiting, so even when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi or data you can still see the map and even ask for directions.
The video below is a screen capture of me downloading an offline map within the Google Map app. Click on the 4 lines at the top left corner, click on offline maps, click custom map, pick the radius of the area you want, and press download!
Apps for flying
Get me the cheapest flight, please! SkyScanner is one of the best apps for finding flights deals because it searches such a large network of airlines. It’s impossible to know every airline in each country you visit. Take the guesswork out of it and let SkyScanner do the work for you.
Another feature I love about SkyScanner is that instead of putting in a specific airport, you can just put in the location, and the app will search all the airports in that area. For example, in London, there are 5 different airports and the prices differ between them, so SkyScanner will help you figure out which one is the cheapest.
FLIO is your best travel companion at the airport. This app will tell you all the information about the airport you’re in – arrival and departure times, Wi-FI access, where the charging points are, and discount offers. It even has the ability to purchase lounge passes in the app. back. A great apps for backpacking if you have a long layover in an unfamiliar airport.
Apps for communicating
6. Google translate
Getting lost in translation is all part of the fun of backpacking, but sometimes you just need to communicate. For example, when your friend falls out of a window and ends up in a foreign hospital where neither of you speaks the language (yes, this is a true story).
The app can translate 103 different languages, of which 59 you can download for access even when you don’t have a data connection. It can help you out in a pitch if you need to get a message across and hand gestures just aren’t working.
Another cool feature of Google translate is that you can point your phone’s camera at a street sign or dinner menu and it will give you a translation overlay right on the screen. It’s a great apps for backpacking if you’re hopping between countries with difficult languages to learn.
7. Duo Lingo
Even knowing a few words in the local language can go far. Duo Lingo is a fun and addictive way to learn a language. I used the app for learning Spanish before going to Peru, and it helped me get by there. A great feature about DuoLingo is that you can download lessons to complete offline, which means you can practice on all those long bus rides we love.
Whatsapp is a great app for messaging people you meet abroad. You don’t need to have a local number to use it. You can keep your home phone number and still message international contacts, as the app works over wi-fi. Because it works over wi-fi, it doesn’t cost you a penny.
Whatsapp is popular all over the world and almost everyone I meet abroad uses it. This is the best communication apps for backpacking when you want to stay in touch with new friends.
Apps for accommodation
If I know I want to stay in a hostel, Hostelworld is my go-to for finding the perfect one. I particularly love the Hostelworld app because of its user functionality. It’s easy to sort by what’s important to you (cheapest prices, highest rated, etc) and then look at the best options available. Hostelworld is the perfect app for backpacking when you need to find a last-minute bed!
It took me a long time to get into Airbnb and I wish I had done it sooner. Airbnb is a website/app where owners rent out their houses or a room in a house. It’s a great app for backpacking if you want a break from hostels but don’t want to stay in a hotel.
You can find some absolute steals here, as well as unique accommodation options. If this is your first time booking you can get $41 CAD dollars in credit by clicking using my referal link!
If I’m looking for a hotel, this app is my go-to for finding one while I’m backpacking. It’s easy to use and like HostelWorld, you can sort by what’s important to you and set price limits beore you search.
My favorite part about Hotels.com is that for every 10 nights you book, you get 1 free. This can add up if you’re backpacking long-term and help reduce your accomodation costs.
Couchsurfing is another great example of the sharing economy. It’s a website/app where locals offer up their couch in exchange for… nothing! That’s right, free accommodation. As a bonus, depending on the host, they may take you around and show you the best local spots. It’s a great app for backpacking to help save you money on accomodation and get a more local experience.
Even if you don’t want to use it for accommodation the app is still helpful for meeting other travelers. The Couchsurfing community hosts meetups all over the world which is a great way to meet other travelers if you’re flying solo!
Apps for transportation
Uber is all over the world now and even if you don’t use it at home, it’s a great app for helping you get around foreign countries.
A great feature about using Uber abroad is that if you don’t speak the local language, the app cuts down on confusion between you and your driver as you input your destination on the app. It’s also a very affordable method of transportation in most countries, especially if you’re splitting the ride with other travelers.
Rome2Rio is the best app for comparing your transportation options between two points. You put in the two locations that you’re traveling between and the app will give you every route available (i.e. bus, plane, train, boat, walking, ect). Then you can compare the cost/time difference between each option. It’s one of the best apps for backpacking when you’re trying to save costs on transportation but aren’t sure what the cheapest way to go is.
Apps for planning
As much as I travel, I’m still not great at packing. I like PackPoint because it helps you organize what you need to pack based on length of travel, weather at your destination, and any activities planned during your trip. Using the app helps me remember items I may forget otherwise. Plus, once your packing list is built and organized, PackPoint will save it for you so you can double check your bag before you go. A helpful apps for backpacking if you’re forgetful like me!
Apps for finding the best things to do
Rayka is a brand new app that fills a gap in the backpacking world for finding travel recommendations. Instead of a typical 5-star rating system the app inspiration exploration through recommendations from individual people you trust. You follow your friends and top travelers, so you know the recommendation are coming from a reliable source as opposed to outdated reviews from stangers.
You can browse content from all over the world and add items to your wishlist for your next trip. It’s a great app for finding inspiration on what to do on your travels. I’m super excited to be featured as a travel expert on it!
Get it for iPhone
I used to think of Pinterest as just a website for finding pretty cupcake recipes, but now it’s become one of my starting points when planning a trip. Pinterest is a visual search engine, so you can just type in a few keywords of what you’re interested in (ex. Europe Travel) and then Pinterest will curate a beautiful list of articles on the topic that you can click through to read.
Pinterest can help you map out your entire trip—from picking out your dream destination to what sandals to pack. It’s one of the best apps for backpacking inspiration.
Other Helpful Apps for Backpacking
19. Sit or Squat
The quality of toilets around the world varies. Dramatically. Squat toilets are common in many parts of the world, and sometimes you just don’t want to squat.
The Sit or Squat is a helpful apps for backpacking as it shows you the closest restroom to you, along with the ratings of each toilet so you can determine the quality before going. Leave your own review after visiting the toilet and help future travelers!
I love sending postcards to my friends back home but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mailed a postcard from abroad and it just never made it. It’s also often difficult to find out where the post office is in some countries!
With Postagram, you can upload a photo from your phone and type out a personalized message. From there the app will send a postcard with the message and photo anywhere in the world. ($2 for the US/$3 for Foreign Addresses)
Bonus: Adobe Photoshop Express
If you want to quickly edit a photo while you’re out, Adobe Photoshop is a great app to do that. Within the app you can either choose from beautiful filters or tweak individual elements of the photo such as temperature, contrast, blacks, whites, ect. This is one of my favorite photography apps as it makes it super easy to create professional looking photos right on your phone so you can post them right away.
I hope this post helped you discover some new apps for backpacking. Do you use any other apps I didn’t mention it? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear them!