Some handy applications to have on your phone when you travel. Part two of our series on using your phone in Europe. Part one is about Taking your phone to Europe.
Finding your way
Maps.me A free Android and IOS app that runs completely off-line—unlike Google Maps, Maps.me doesn’t need mobile data or a Wi-Fi connection and it works with your phone’s GPS so you can always see where you are. Before you go, download free maps for the countries you plan to visit. In addition, you can load routes into the app and not only see where you are, but also see if you are on the route. While on your trip you have no worries about mobile phone signal coverage or using up your mobile data allowance.
The free maps used by Maps.me are highly detailed and frequently updated. Like Google Maps, you can zoom in to city block level. The maps.me website gives good documentation on how to use the app.
If you are planning to walk a Camino route, this Dutch Camino organization website explains how to add Camino tracks to Maps.me and provides the track files you need.
Google Maps Does anyone not have Google Maps on their phone? Although we like Maps.me for most purposes, Google Maps offers better place-to-place routing (including by public transit, bicycle and on foot) and is integrated with public transit schedules in many places. However, Google Maps requires Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection.
Staying in touch
WhatsApp A free messaging app for Android and IOS. It’s commonly used in Europe, so it can be handy way to stay in touch with people you might meet along the way. Messages sent via WhatsApp do not count against the text or minute count of your mobile phone plan. People you want to connect with must also be on WhatsApp.
Originally WhatsApp was an app for texting only, but can now also be used to:
- Send pictures
- Send your location information (handy for planning where to meet for the beer at the end of the day)
- Make phone calls (phone calls work best with a strong Wi-Fi connection)
Something very useful for a traveler: when you change your SIM card, and hence your phone number, WhatsApp asks if you want your messages sent to your new number. Your friends on WhatsApp don’t need to be informed of your new number. Any messages they send you, even after your return home and change your SIM card again, will automatically reach you. You can’t do that with plain text messaging. Apple’s iMessage works if you change your phone number but it only works between iPhones; WhatsApp brings that to everyone.
Skype Most people associate Skype with free video calls, but if you set up an inexpensive prepaid account (Skype calls it buying Skype Credit), you can cheaply send text messages and make phone calls to people anywhere in the world using Wi-Fi or mobile data. This is useful if you need to call or text someone outside Europe as most European cell phone plans charge high rates for calls to numbers outside the EU. It is also useful when you arrive in Europe and don’t have a SIM card yet—just find Wi-Fi in the airport or at a cafe and you’re connected. Don’t use Skype for the fist time to make a phone call or to send a text message when you are away from home; the app is focused on video chatting and it isn’t as easy to use for phone calls or text. Call a local phone and send yourself a text message before you leave home.
Keeping your documents handy
Dropbox (and other cloud storage services) Storing your travel documents in a free “cloud” service makes them available for quick reference and gives you an emergency backup. Store copies of tickets, reservations, driver’s license, drug prescriptions, optical prescription, travel insurance, etc. While it requires data or Wi-Fi to access a document from the cloud, the Dropbox app, for example, lets you download documents to your phone or tablet for offline access. I usually download my next few tickets and reservations to my phone before I leave home. If there is any confusion or problem with checking in, I can pull out my phone and show the ticket or reservation, even if there is no data or Wi-Fi available. Throughout the trip, to avoid filling my phone with downloads, I remove any tickets and reservations I no longer need handy on the phone (they remain in the cloud) and download upcoming reservations.
TIP: When storing your files in Dropbox, prefix file names with the date of travel or reservation in the format yyyymmdd. That way, when you look at your travel documents they are automatically sorted by date and you can easily work your way down the list.
Speaking the language
Google Translate A great app for translation to or from almost any language. You can even do tricks such as photograph a sign or menu to see a translation in your language, or write in English and have it speak the translation. Google Translate works best on-line with wifi or mobile data, but now you can download offline dictionaries for a some of languages and use it without a connection. Download the dictionaries you’ll need before you travel.
Offline dictionary apps While Google Translate is cute and convenient, there is no substitute for a dictionary stored on the phone. My favourite apps are from Harper Collins under the brand name Ultralingua. Here, for example, is a link to the English-Spanish IOS app.