Five apps every traveller should use

[words by Narina Exelby / photograph © Sergio Villalba, The WideAngle]

The romantic in me dreams of travelling the world on a wing and a prayer. To be free. To get lost. To roam. To live in the moment, wherever I am, right now. But a curious thing happened last year: I got an iPhone and suddenly, within an instant, I could be on another continent yet remain intimately connected to my world – I’m sure you know the feeling. Now I find myself easily distracted by my Twitter feed; constantly hopping through cyberspace to catch virtual snippets of life around the planet; and using apps to help me plan, dream and remember. While I still savour the notion of wandering free from constraints, I understand the value and comfort of travelling with reliable references. After all, the logistics of travel depend on systems, timetables and structures. And so, here are five apps that every traveller – whether you’re a backpacker, a honeymooner or first-class passenger – should download. Because once the logistics are taken care of, you’re free to roam.

1/ TripIt – a travel organiser

When I worked on a travel magazine I’d fly or drive to different place every month, so I tried to create order by keeping a plastic folder for each trip. In each folder I’d store my travel plans: photocopies of maps, tickets, my passport and travel insurance, accommodation bookings, vehicle hire info, my itinerary – it became really complicated. And full. TripIt (free) is an app that does that all that organising for you. Whenever you get an email confirmation for your journey, you just forward it to Tripit, and they magically put everything together into an itinerary that you can access from anywhere. I’ve not used this app yet, but Mark has – and he says it works really, really well.

2/ GotVisa – checks if you need a visa for your destination

As a traveller, you’ll be familiar with the pain, paperwork and expense of having to apply for a visa before you travel. But how do you know if you need one for the country you’re visiting? GotVisa ($0.99) is a really useful app – you select the country you’re from and your destination, and it’ll tell you if you need to apply for a visa, as well as give you all the contact details for the embassy or high commission in your country. If you’re South African, download this app now!

3/ XE Currency – a currency converter

For years I’ve relied on the website to help me budget for trips and convert currencies for stories I’ve written or edited – and so their app, XE Currency (free), was one of the first I downloaded. The live rates can be refreshed every minute, so you’re always getting up-to-date info – unless you’re using the app offline (handy!), in which case you get the last updated rates.

4/ AccuWeather – a weather forecaster

You know how useful a good weather forecaster can be. AccuWeather (free) is one of the most reliable I’ve come across (in fact, I use it every day to figure out whether I’m getting to work by bus or by bike). It gives you a two-week and a 24-hour hour-by-hour forecast of the weather (temperature, cloud cover, humidity, wind speed and direction, rain, snow and dew point temperature) in your town – suburb, even – of choice.

5/ iTranslate – a translator

It’s easy to get nostalgic about all those Lonely Planet phrasebooks on the shelf – but you have to admit, iTranslate makes it so easy to travel light. It’s pretty simple to use: just flip through to the language you’re after, type (or speak, if you pay a little extra) the words or phrases, and the app translates. You have the option to listen to the words (in your choice of voice) with many of the languages. You can also save phrases, mark them as favourites or add them to a category. The translated words are written in that language’s alphabet – useful for showing to the person you’re trying to communicate with, but not if you want to know how to pronounce the word and there’s no sound byte attached.

Hitting the road soon? Make sure you download these three apps, which will help you to record and share your travel memories.

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