Get your mobile phone Europe-ready, with apps that will make your travel infinitely easier and more enjoyable.
My first instinct on any travel is to be disconnected. The whole point of a holiday is to take a break from work, home and people you see day in and day out. So, it has taken me longer than the rest of the world to keep a mobile active when I am travelling. And, much longer to befriend it and appreciate its brilliant utilities.
Europe, perhaps, is one of the easier, more convenient places to negotiate as a traveller. Their general love for systems, discipline and information makes it less of a struggle for an outsider to figure their ways. With the right apps in your pocket, you will save precious time, money and the travel experience will be richer.
So I have compiled a list of 20 Apps that I myself used. And, they are all free!!
A simple, clean and easy to navigate UX, this app lists the top high-speed trains as well as most national trains. It lists the combinations of connecting trains, which makes it easy to compare possibilities and choosing the train that suits your requirement. There are clear indications of fast and normal trains. Payment is possible in the currency of your choice. It's possible to book as a guest user, but once you have registered, all your travels are put into one docket, with updates and reminders of upcoming journeys.
'Seat61' is yet another really comprehensive site, but I find it a bit hard to navigate.
2. Omio [Formerly GoEuro]
The reason I like this app is because when you are searching between two destinations, it throws up all the options of transport - Train, Bus and Flights. And, mind you, sometimes, flights in Europe tend to be cheaper than train tickets.
For those who are travelling without an itinerary and on a budget, bus travel is flexible and cost-effective. Flixbus connects most major cities. It has free wifi on board. And, chances are you will meet like-minded travellers on it too. FlixBus often has a deal for 6 bus tickets at a fixed price, which you can redeem between any destinations within a fixed time frame [used to be a month and a half].
4. BlaBla Cars
Even though I didn’t end up using this app myself, I think it’s ingenious. Especially when you make travel plans last minute and into smaller towns. BlaBla cars is a car pooling system. The driver/car owner, posts his/her travel schedule, pick-up and drop-off points and expected price for letting you ride along. Works like most other booking sites with a user profile, ratings and reviews, to be assured that you are not getting into a car with a psycho. The reason it's called BlaBla is because it encourages the passengers to be chatty, making the commute easier.
BlaBla car was launched in India, but didn’t take off, for some very obvious safety scare we have here. But in Europe, it’s been a huge success.
When all else fails, you have Uber. The advantage of Uber is you can use your existing login and use it in a different country. Just that your credit card will be charged in a different currency. And, chances are you’ll get to ride nicer cars in Europe. This one time I matched a very plush car with a sunroof and a rather gentlemanly driver.
Just be sure to know that the time mentioned on the app is very precise, unlike in India where we have to add a 5-7 minute grace. Don't end up paying hefty waiting charges.
This app, by far, has the most comprehensive listing of places to stay. Their search filters for price range, cancellation policy and no credit card options make it really convenient to make bookings. I love their easy, hassle-free cancellation policy. It allows a lot of flexibility in spontaneous travelling. Their intuitive metrics builds your itinerary using your booking dates, throwing up suggestions for the gap dates. In case you have double booked, it sends you warning messages too.
An exclusive listing of only hostels, it comes across as pool of like-minded properties, that’s popular amongst genuine travellers and backpackers, unlike Booking that lists just about everything. Hence, I find the reviews on Hostelworld more authentic and their property ratings more reliable. I like their breakdown of rating into Value for money, atmosphere, cleanliness, staff, etc. Their interface and information is rather comprehensive.
Often I find them better priced than Booking.com for the same property, but it's not always the case.
Airbnb has revolutionized the accommodation ecosystem for travelers, offering a spectrum of homes ranging from luxury to studio. I have found that it works wonderfully for groups or couples looking for cozy homes and a non-hotel, local experience. But, it hasn't been so useful for solo stays, widing up rather expensive or a bit away from city centres. Beyond accommodation, their listing of local experiences and popular spots to eat and drink are quite useful.
I have to admit, the first time I used it, I was nervous. Why would anyone let out their home to random strangers for no price? But when I did, it didn’t seem unnatural at all. Some hosts are just generous and want to share space. Some are lonely and like the company in the house for a few days. Some are interested in meeting people from other cultures and showing off their own. And, some are just travelers who couchsurf when they are travelling and feel this is just a good way to pay back.
But for those who are not so keen to couchsurf, don’t diss the app just yet. They have an ‘Events’ section that works like meet-ups of locals and travelers. If you post a query or an announcement of travel, you'll find an interesting local to have a cuppa coffee with and learn about the city from a their eyes. Some even offer to take you around the city to their favourite spots. There’s good advice on what to do as well. You can chat with who every you connect inside the app, without revealing too much till you are comfortable.
This used to be the top app on my list for familiarising yourself with the destination, as it’s traveler-sourced authentic information. However, with a lot of paid content pushed on the platform in the recent past, I don't exclusively rely on it. Nonetheless, it’s a treasure-trove of information on things to do and elaborate reviews.
I urge all those who use the app to make it a two-way process of receiving and giving information to the platform. That way, it will continue to stay true and unadulterated.
11. Google Maps
I’m throwing in a no-brainer, here. It’s the most superior and intuitive navigation system, with useful information on banks, petrol bunks, restaurants and traffic jams in the vicinity. Now, it has an off-line option too, that I’ve failed to figure out just yet.
My go-to offline maps app is Mapsme. It’s probably not as precise as other map apps, but it’s never failed me in a no data/no wifi situation. Used extensively by travellers, pins are dropped on unusual places of interest to help other travelers.
13. Google Translate
Again, a no-brainer, but the reason I include it, is because it doesn’t come preloaded on most phones like Maps does. The world now has it on their phones, especially shopkeepers, restaurateurs and cab drivers in tourist spots. ‘Google is my friend’ is one of the most common phrase I hear lately from them, as we all chuckle in our own mother tongues.
14. Google Photos
Don’t underestimate the power of cloud back-up of your photos. These are memories that you will never have a chance to re-create, in case you, god forbid, lose your phone or your data. Sync your gallery to Google Photos before boarding your plane out. Trust me, I have been saved the ordeal of losing all my photo when my phone has been stolen or ruined by water [and many other things that can happen to phones :(].
Also, it's easy it is to go back to your pictures at a later date, as they are categorised chronologically and cross-categorised by location.
15. Google Drive
Save your itinerary, bookings, contacts, maps, passport scans, travel insurance documents and all else on the Google Drive beforehand. I always recommend carrying hard copies of all essential documents in a folder. The second safe place for these documents is Google Drive so that it’s accessible anywhere, anytime, from anyone’s device.
Facebook is a bit passé. And, these days it’s linked to Insta, so kill two birds with one stone by sharing more actively on Insta. Insta is very visual and allows you to get really creative with your stories.
Also, these days, it’s common to share Insta accounts among locals or fellow-travellers who want to stay in touch.
17. Your bank app
While on holiday in a different country, if you suddenly realize you haven’t paid your EMI or need to transfer some money for more forex in your card, your bank app gives you access to your money hassle-free. It's truly useful on longer travels. Be sure to connect your OTP to both SMS and emails.
18. Any good weather app
In Europe, check the weather before heading out for the day. Today’s weather is no indication of what it could be the next. It can suddenly rain on any day. Or, get really cold another. Don’t be caught off guard.
19. Happy Cow
While there are many app for good food experiences, if you are looking for just vegetarian and vegan option, this app is fantastic.
Funnily, it's a paid app on IOS.
It may seem like a silly inclusion, but to me, I've saved the best app for the last. Nothing comes in more handy in unknown dark alleyways, railway platforms, unprecedented late nights, or badly lit dorm rooms and toilets than a powerful torch. It brightens up many-a bad situation.
This list is not exhaustive and many new, improved apps solve many other challenges for travellers. Apps like Skyscanner, Trivago, Yelp, Nearby are gaining a lot of popularity. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'll have to make this list longer or update it every few months.