I have used the following free apps in the U.S. and internationally and have truly found them indispensable. As long as you have a data plan or are on wifi, you can access these apps without a problem (many international cities have free wifi hotspots in parks, and you can always get free wifi at McDonald’s if you’re in a pinch).
Pro-Tip: If you think you will not have wifi or data service, make sure to take a picture or screenshot on your phone while you have wifi so you can reference the map offline later.
1. Google Maps - I know this may seem obvious, but after going in and out of service on back roads in Boone, NC to finding that perfect Christmas market in Prague, I have found that I really can rely on Google Maps. It not only has visual maps but you can also plug in your headphones and hear step by step walking, bike and transit directions.
2. Hop Stop - While Google Maps is great, Hop Stop is essential if you will be using major public transportation. Not only does it have excellent transit directions in most major U.S. cities, but it also works internationally in Paris, Montreal, Sydney, Moscow, Berlin, Jerusalem and more. With this app you can pre- set how many transfers are acceptable (like when choosing a flight), if you want bus only, metro only or a combination of both, and you can be sure that you are getting the best directions in English. Like Google Maps, it offers step by step instructions, but also shows maps in chunks of directions so you can focus on one part at a time.
3. WeChat - If you’ve traveled overseas and are good at making friends, you will soon realize that you need some way to communicate with people in the town. If you are on a tight budget, this can be difficult because turning on your cell phone data can rack up astronomical charges.
WeChat is an instant messaging app that supports languages in English, Spanish, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Italian, Hindi and Turkish. It is the 5th most used app in the world so many of your new friends may already have the app on their phones. There is a setting where you can ping people close to you in distance so it is easy to find people without remembering your 10,000th user name.
*Pro-tip: You should know that as long as you and the other person you are communicating with have iPhones and wifi, then you can send each other iMessages. I have found that especially in Central and Eastern Europe, people do not have quite the same cultish devotion to their iPhones as Americans so WeChat is a great way to keep in touch with local people without having to buy a phone card and use a payphone (So the year 2000).
4. WC Finder - I’m pretty sure it’s common knowledge that Starbucks is “the bathroom of New York,” but what about everywhere else? When Nature calls and you are traveling, you need this app. It is user supported so all of the bathrooms have been used by travelers like yourself or people with insider knowledge of the town. There is also another cool option where you can download maps of Paris and London for offline access when you don’t have wifi. You can also view details and reviews of the bathrooms, such as price/free or dirty/clean.
5. Global Tipping - Have you ever heard that it’s rude to tip in Japan? Or that it’s ok to just leave small change in Paris? These things and more you can find in the Global Tipping app. It does not calculate it for you, but it does have some incredibly useful notes on customs, and details on where you do/do not tip (Salon, Waiter, Cab Driver, etc.). While they have many countries around the world, they are not in alphabetical order so you may have to hunt for the place you are looking for.
6. XE Currency - Bad at Math? Me too. As long as I have the XE Currency App, which is updated constantly with new currency equivalents (which can often change daily), then I can be more confident in going to markets, especially when haggling is the custom.
7. Google Translate - I use this all the time in my daily life even. Sometimes I just get curious about what a word would be in another language or I forget a word I used to know in a foreign language so I look it up. You can speak or type and convert to/from any language. It will also repeat the translated version back to you so if you’re really in a bind and no one speaks English they can talk and you can use this app to translate back and forth.