As technology has improved, the number of options for staying connected while travelling has increased. While this means more choice, it can also be confusing. Here at RAW we are strong advocates of detoxing and tech-free adventures, but it’s still worth knowing what’s reliable and economical. We asked our Destination Experts for their favourite ways to stay in touch, as well as recommendations for travel apps that you will actually use!
WhatsApp is totally free and installing this travel app on your phone is easy. You get fast, simple, secure messaging and calling on phones all over the world. WhatsApp adopts the same internet data plan you use for web browsing and email, so you can send unlimited messages and images without incurring SMS charges. Make sure your family and friends download WhatsApp before you leave home – you won’t be able to use it to communicate with non-adopters. https://www.whatsapp.com/
One of our favourite travel apps because it’s easy, reliable and inexpensive (you just need a WiFi connection). Messenger comes as a separate app. Instead of traditional Facebook chatting, messages notify you just like texts. Features include direct Facebook audio calls, video calls (the quality is often better than Skype). You can also send images, links and files. Some data plans offer free Facebook or a less expensive plan that includes Facebook. https://www.messenger.com/
If you’re stuck with a slow mobile phone data connection and don’t want to rack-up hefty data roaming charges, using WiFi is often a better option. However, finding a WiFi hotspot in an area you’re not familiar with can be challenging. This free app will help you find free WiFi hotspots in more than 50 countries around the world. If you connect to a public WiFi hotspot, be careful not to log into sensitive or personal accounts (like your bank), and remember to change your passwords often. More info
Map with every airport’s WiFi password
Most travellers are familiar with the boredom that comes hand-in-hand with a long wait at even the most world’s most entertaining airports. Enter computer security engineer Anil Polat, who has created a map of free internet and Wi-Fi passwords at airports around the world, from Atlanta to Addis Abada. The map, which is shareable on Google Maps, is constantly added to and updated by travellers as they move throughout the world’s airports, and includes tips on which airline lounges or bars and restaurants are providing free WiFi too. There is a downloadable offline version as well. More info Owing to its popularity, the creator has used the information to create an app called WiFox.
TravelSIM is a prepaid international SIM card that offers affordable rates on data, calls and texts in most countries. Before you travel, you replace your existing SIM with a TravelSIM. It will cost you about $50 to get a SIM card (which includes the credit). TravelSIM credit is valid for six months from your last recharge. If you want to save any unused credit, you can simply recharge $5 within 6 months and your credit will roll over for another 6 months. https://www.travelsim.net.au/
GPS tracking device
You may decide you want the security of a satellite GPS tracker for emergencies. You’ll be able to use this to request help from almost anywhere if required. Choosing the best GPS tracking app or device can be tricky. Avoid GPS trackers that have a short battery life (battery life can differ from hours to days; some great ones can last a week). The simplest tracker can be worn as a watch with adjustable straps.
Most phone companies allow you to use your mobile phone when travelling overseas. This service is known as ‘international roaming’. Your phone will not automatically work in every country. If you want to use your phone while you’re away you should check with your mobile phone provider that you will be able to use your phone in your destination.
Using your mobile phone or tablet overseas will usually be more expensive than using it at home in Australia. While it can cost 10c to use a MB of data in Australia, this could cost $15.00 overseas. You may be charged for the calls you receive as well as the calls you make.
Before you leave Australia make sure you know what your provider is charging you to make and receive calls and messages and to use data. Download a mobile phone usage app so that you can keep track of how much you are spending while overseas.
One of our favourite travel apps. You can download the app and then individual maps for destinations in advance, then navigate yourself even when offline. Sue, one of our Camino Destination experts, used it recently in Lyon, and it worked a treat! https://maps.me/
Godesalco (Camino de Santiago planner)
This is a super handy website if you are walking the Camino de Santiago. You can input the start and finish points for each day (or between two places) and it will generate an altitude profile for that day and a summary breakdown of the day’s walk, with a list of places along the way and how far apart they are. You can screenshot these on your phone so that you have the info when you are offline. https://godesalco.com/plan
App in the Air (personal flight assistant)
A smart, straightforward, flight tracking app that has the best coverage of airlines and airports. It will keep you updated about flight status – even if you don’t have internet coverage – and helps you manage your time at the airport, breaking down each flight into four stages; check-in, boarding, takeoff and landing time. http://www.appintheair.mobi/
This app enables you to read, write and speak in over 100 languages, anywhere in the world. You can translate text or websites, start voice conversations, and look up words and meanings. Handy if you can’t remember some of those essential phrases you learnt before you left home. http://www.itranslate.com/
This translator can be a useful tool to support your own, more serious language learning, but realistically, it’s most useful on a practical level quickly translating day-to-day words you come across on your travels. For example, you can hold your camera up to text – such as a sign or a menu – and Google will translate it for you instantly. https://translate.google.com.au/
This ambitious travel app creates a digital journal of your travels so you can look back on your trips on an interactive map. The app tracks you as you go, marking a red line along a map on the exact route you take; the app also monitors your speed and altitude. You can add pictures, video, audio and text along the way, creating a multimedia travel diary you can share. www.livetrekker.com
XE Currency is the most renowned currency exchange rate app on the market, and not without reason. It gives precise conversion rates for every currency you can think of, updated every minute and stored offline so that even if you lose internet connection or want to avoid roaming charges, you can still use the app. https://www.xe.com/apps/
PackPoint helps you pack. You tell PackPoint where you’re going, when you’re going, and what you plan to do there and PackPoint compiles a list of things to pack. You can add or remove items from the list, then check them off once you have them packed. You won’t ever have to deal with those ‘Did I pack my…’ feelings ever again. https://www.packpnt.com/
When was the last time you sent a postcard? If postcards have fallen out of your holiday routine, try a postcard-sending app like TouchNote or Postino (two of the best available). They let you bring back the nostalgia and conquer the digital divide by mailing out real-world, physical postcards straight from your phone.