Traveling the world is much different that 50 years ago, and even very different than 20 years ago. We rely on some key pieces of technology that help make our travels much safer, easier, convenient and fun. Read this post to hear about the apps, gadgets and websites we use and recommend to make your next trip (short or long) easier via technology. If you have tips or tricks of your own, we’d love to hear them in the comments!
These are by far our most useful gadgets. For me it’s not as fun as the camera, but it’s incredible how much we use our cell phones to aid our travel. Here are the top apps and functions we use while we’re away on our travels. We both have unlocked iPhone 5’s.
Offline GPS – Motion X GPS
You may not know that even when you’re Verizon service is suspended or cancelled you can still use the GPS on your phone with great success. I evaluated a few offline GPS apps for iPhone while back in Portland, and the one that we’ve chosen as our go to is Motion X GPS. We rely on this app heavily. It’s easy to use and the maps that are available are extremely useful. You can read more about the app on their website. There are definitely more advanced features, but here’s what we use the most:
Offline maps – With wifi we are able to download maps to our phones for use when we’re out and about without a connection. You can select the area, and then you choose how many layers you want to download. Each layer is essentially an extra click of the + or – zoom buttons. At a high zoom your area may only have 5 tiles, but three layers in (3 clicks of the zoom in button) and you’ll need maybe 100 tiles for the same original area, and so on. The offline maps do take up space, especially if you want to be able to zoom in low to street level, which we often do. But, the good thing is you can delete the maps from the cities you’re no longer in to free up the space. If I remember, I try to download the maps for our next destination before we arrive so as soon as we get off the bus or plane, we know exactly where we are and how to get to our location.
Once in Buenos Aires we used the offline map to track our cab ride and when the cab driver headed further away from our destination in attempt to rip us off we called him out and showed him our GPS. He got very defensive since we caught him and we quickly escaped the cab (sadly paying for the extra mileage).
- Waypoints – These are awesome and we use them in two main ways: adding waypoints to the places of interest we’ve been (like all the peaks in Bariloche, or all the stops on our bus from Cusco to Puno) or to the places we want or need to go (such as our next airBnB, an interesting landmark or the grocery store). When adding a waypoint to a location we’ve been to, it’s almost like “checking in” to that location, as it records your exact GPS, time, elevation, and you can add notes plus snap a photo that’s now connected to that exact time and place. I plan to export these and import into a Google Map sometime to share with everyone on the blog.
- The app also does route tracking, simple navigation, distance measuring, and the maps have many points of interest on them already for easy lookup. We’ve used the route tracking when running to make sure we know how to get back or follow a route while tracking our pace.
List of other useful apps on our phones
- VidaLingua – We both have this translator app on our phones for on the go translations. This is used to look up things on the menu we’re reading, a sign we see, or to help me communicate verbally. It basically replaces a paperback that previous generations used.
- Quick camera – The cameras on today’s phones are just as good as the point and shoot of yesteryear. So, we use our phones while we’re on the go and to capture quick moments that don’t necessitate the “big” camera we brought. We connect our phones every couple days and download the new pictures to the MacBook.
- WordPress App: Blogging on the go – Jenny is a master cell phone blogger. From writing for Trainer Jenny or We Live Adventure, she’s able to effectively draft blog posts wherever she is with her phone.
- Budgeting (Will) via offline Google Sheets – Via the Google Sheets app you can have offline documents that sync once you get back online. I originally started noting each purchase in my moleskin, but quickly found that I would just have to copy that into a digital form anyway. So, cut out the middle man (paper) and just use our offline budget spreadsheet and enter the date, amount, description and the budget category. Takes about 20 seconds, and helps keep us on track instantly
- Calendars – We share Google calendars and we can easily look up our plans on the phone, and we both are in sync with each other, too. Our calendar events often have the flight info, AirBnB address, and other helpful notes for our appointments.
- Weather – We use it just like you, to check the weather. But surprisingly, we use it less than we thought we would since the weather has been a crapshoot anyway.
- WhatsApp / iMessage – We originally wanted to get our families on WhatsApp so we could chat with them, but then after a day or two realized that even with suspended service, iMessage still works! With both our famiies on iPhones as well, when we’re on WiFi, we’re able to quickly chat. We have used WhatsApp with other friends and it’s great for those not in the iClan.
- Notes app – writing notes on Mac and then syncing to iPhone for on the go access has been great, but only when I remember to sync on my phone! I can research the hike details on the Mac, write it in a note, then sync that to the phone so it’s ready on the go.
- Instapaper – I use this both for entertainment reading of articles I want to read on the plane or wherever, but also for researching on the go. I’ll load up a google search on a location, event, or topic, click on the top 7 links and save them each to Instapaper so I can do the research offline.
- Instagram – Jenny uses this to update friends and family of our travels via photos. We also post to Facebook once and a while
- Music – We have a lot of music on the mac that we sync to our phones
- iBooks – Same as music. Books and magazines from iTunes
- Podcasts – We both enjoy listening to podcasts on the go, working out, etc. Radiolab, Ted Radio Hour, All Songs Considered are some of our top ones.
- Games – We haven’t had much time for games, to be honest. But, they are nice when we have some time to kill, or when doing some paper work (ahem, using the restroom). Offline games I play are NYT Crosswords & Backgammon; online I still like to occasionally play Words With Friends although no one can seem to beat Giggybaskets 🙂 .
- SkyGuide – I use Sky Guide as a way to check out the stars and constellations. It helped us identify a galaxy in the southern night sky when in Chile, one that we could see with our bare eyes!
- For our wedding, we received a gift certificate for a camera and after a lot of research by Will, we used it to purchase an Olympus OMD EM-5. It’s a micro 4/3’s format camera which for all intents and purposes means that it can take high quality pictures and use interchangeable lenses like a full DSLR but it’s much smaller (size and weight) for portability. You can read these other posts on the camera if you want more info. We have the kit lens and a 20mm prime lens that’s really fast and it’s what I use for portraits and lowlight & night photography.
- We mainly take it with us on hikes and adventures, and less around the city unless we’re just doing some touring around. Like I said earlier, if it’s just a quick moment in front of a tourist spot, we’ll generally use our iPhone camera.
- I purchased a few extra memory cards so we have 3 spots where our pictures are stored: the memory cards (trying not to delete any photos), the laptop hard drive (as long as we have space) and the USB hard drive using TimeMachine.
- We’re using a 2010 MacBook Air that we purchased used from Jama before we left. This gave us the ease of use and portability of an Air, without the sticker price. Speaking of sticker price, we’re purchasing cool stickers from the various stops and putting them on the top of the laptop to personalize it and so it looks less appealing to thieves!
- Photos – Downloading the phones from the camera and phones, we then edit/rate/format the pictures on the MacBook.
- Writing – When we’re not blogging on our phones, we’re using the laptop. I’m currently writing this draft in Notes, which I’ll then move over to WordPress and our blog later when we get back to WiFi.
- Researching online
- Skype / FaceTime – This has been great to use with our families and friends. Makes the world smaller and gives a really easy way to connect in a meaningful way with our loved ones back home. We also used Skype to connect with the family in London that we’re going to be house/pet sitting for in July!
- USB Drive – 1TB harddrive. After researching them, I purchased the Silicon Power one because of it’s water resistance and general durability. I also like how the little USB cord fits inside the body of the HD.
- Backups via TimMachine and a separate partition for video media (that we haven’t touched)
- TripAdvisor & LonelyPlanet – I’ll start off by saying we need to do more reviews. We use others reviews so heavily (probably too much) and we really should contribute! The reviews are awesome, though, thanks to those that do the reviews. LonelyPlanet is less about the reviews, and more gives us good overviews and attractions to see and expect in our various destinations.
- AirBnB – We are the Air BnB traveler generation and have stayed in a handful of unique homes, apartments, rooms. Highly recommended for travelers that want the option to cook and/or want a quieter space.
- Google Drive – Using two factor auth for Google makes it a pretty safe place for us to store documents. We also have a shared Travel folder which makes it easy for us both to view and edit shared content. Here are the top things we are using it for on our trip:
- backup copies of our important documents – we’re storing our scanned copies of passports, credit cards, birth certs, immunization records, medication info and prescriptions in here. We have a hardcopy with us, too, but this is backup to the backup. We also gave paper backups to Jenny’s parents just in case.
- travel plans – Our research from back home was done in a large document called “Travel Plans” and we’re now using it as our reference of things we researched back home. It’s one of those shared documents so we can both make edits and notes easily.
- budget sheets – As I mentioned above, we use the Google Sheets app to add budget items, but we use the website to do the number crunching and reporting. I plan on sharing more about our budgets in a future post.
- Mint – monitor all accounts at once for errors and/or expected charges & refunds. It’s great to be able to just log into one site and check all our accounts. This includes our credit cards (both those we’re traveling with, and those at home) plus our checking and savings accounts. This helps with monitoring for fraud as well and budgeting.
- Gmail – so much of travel coordination done through email vs. phone calls these days. We’re always sending inquiries to travel companies, getting introduced to friends of friends via email, conversing with our Air BnB Hosts, or emailing each other notes and info we want to quickly share. We both tend to use GMail as our ToDo tracker, so if I want to make a note to do something later, I’ll just send myself a quick email and it’ll be in the queue.
I think that’s about it, thanks to technology for making our trip easier and allowing us to be more connected to our friends and family back home!