Being stationed in Europe can fuel your wanderlust and help you check off that bucket list of places to see, but it can also present some unique challenges when it comes to navigating a foreign culture or staying connected to friends and family who live an ocean away.
Here is a list of my top apps that will help you travel like a pro and blend in a bit better with the locals while staying in contact with loved ones at home.
Living Abroad– Apps That Make Your Overseas Life Easier
GlobeConvert. Unless you want to automatically assume the dollar is equal to the local currency (yes, I know someone who does that!), you will need to know the current exchange rate in order to make intelligent shopping decisions. My go-to app is GlobeConvert and it can also be used to convert kilometers into miles and those pesky Celsius temperatures into Fahrenheit. XE Currency is another popular conversion app.
Wi-Fi Finder. As you quickly learn when stationed overseas, cellphone data can be expensive and very limited. So finding a decent Wi-Fi hotspot is like gold. Use the Wi-Fi Finder app to find the nearest source of wireless internet. You can even download an offline database.
iHandy Translator. Choose a language and type in the phrase and this app will translate it for you. The paid “Pro” version will even pronounce the phrase for you and you can even text or email the translated paragraph. The translation algorithm is supported by Google Translate, but the iHandy interface is a bit easier to use.
Getting Around– Not All Who Wander Are Lost
Google Maps. This is the app that I use the most overseas. I use Google Maps almost every day. Not only does it get you from point A to B whether you are in a car or taking the Metro in Paris, it also tends to have up to the minute traffic updates and construction information.
You can create your own favorite places for future reference or easier navigation. Make your own personal map of places you want to see with My Maps. Save maps offline so you don’t use precious data.
And, coming later this year, the ability to navigate using your offline maps. We sometimes use the Google-owned Waze app, which will tell you of travel hazards (including police) as well as navigate, but its data relies on crowd sourcing and it’s just not as popular in Europe as in the states.
TripAdvisor. Not only can you use TripAdvisor to find restaurants, sites and places to stay, you can also download individual city guides to use offline. And in many major cities, you can actually use TripAdvisor to book hotels too.
Booking.com, Hotels.com, Airbnb. These are my 3 favorite apps to find lodging when traveling. The mobile apps don’t bring a lot of different utility than their online counterparts, but it’s convenient to have your bookings right on your phone, get directions to your hotel or to be able to message your Airbnb host.
Triposo. If you like everything in one place, this app is for you. It has the weather, things to do, conversion rate, places to eat, and maps. Download specific guides for the places you are going and you can even use it offline.
Communication Apps– Staying in Touch Without Spending a Fortune
iMessage/FaceTime. If both you and your family have Apple devices, it’s pretty simple to stay in touch without paying for texts or phone calls. And nothing beats being able to actually see Grandma’s face when you wish her happy birthday. My kids use this app (on WiFi) all the time to keep up with their stateside friends. I’m just glad I don’t have to pay by the minute for them to watch each other play Minecraft on their computers for hours at a time.
Skype. Founded over 12 years ago, Skype is the granddaddy of all video chat applications. As long as the person you are calling also has the Skype app, it’s free. You can call people without the app or landlines by adding money to your account.
Facebook. Not only can you show off all your glamorous travel photos to family and friends back home, you can also message friends and make calls using Facebook. Just know that if you try to send a message to someone who is not a Facebook friend, the message is likely to go in their “Others” folder which is the equivalent to Facebook purgatory. Even my non-tech savvy mom has mastered Facebook Messenger.
WhatsApp/Viber/Kik. These are all apps that allow you to send messages without paying for international texting. Again, the recipient also has to have the app. (Note that these apps are also popular with tweenagers because it’s difficult for parents to monitor.)