Technology has changed the way we travel.
For many of us, a mobile phone is now the most vital piece of equipment we carry. It can book a taxi or hotel, convert currency, give us directions and even translate the menu in front of us in real-time!
Here are some of the best apps we used whilst on a three month sabbatical in Southeast Asia.
Grab is the Asian equivalent of Uber and is a really handy way to get around. The taxis in Southeast Asia can be notoriously difficult to negotiate with, so Grab takes the stress and guesswork out of your journeys.
We found Grab to be efficient in the big cities, and (unless you’re a top negotiator) almost half the price of a standard taxi fare. All our drivers were friendly, passionate about their city and driving environmentally friendly cars.
At the time of writing Grab is available in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, though you can see an up to date list of countries and cities Grab operates in on the link below.
With different currencies in use across Southeast Asia it can be really confusing to keep track of exactly how much you’re spending.
GlobeConvert makes working out the price really easy.
The interface is simple, and it loads incredibly quickly. All you have to do each time is delete the previous figure, and type in the new amount you want to convert. Easy as that!
When you are connected to WiFi, it will update the conversion to the latest rates, so you always have an accurate figure.
BEST THAILAND TOURS:
There are no two ways about it, Maps.Me is an essential app for travellers.
It allows you to download entire regions to you phone, meaning you can use the maps offline, which saves hefty roaming bills when you get home.
The maps are open source, meaning users have added everything from great restaurants to local landmarks. You can also save points of interest to build your own itinerary.
We used this multiple times a day on our sabbatical, even using it to navigate us on a 300km road trip around Northern Thailand. It didn’t let us down once.
4) Google Translate
Google Translate is incredibly useful to have on your phone for travel in Asia.
Whilst we learnt a few key phrases in each language, and English is spoken widely, there are times (especially in rural areas) where you will need some help. This is where Google Translate is a lifesaver.
You can even download languages to use offline, which makes it even more helpful whilst on the road.
This app got us out of trouble when we were at a guesthouse in the middle of the mountains and there was no water. It also allowed me to have an entire football-related conversation with a cab driver who spoke very little English, which made both his and my day!
When you do have WiFi you can also use the camera feature, holding over text which will convert it back into English in front of your eyes. Incredible!
BEST CAMBODIA TOURS:
I debated whether or not this app was a ‘must-have’, but I have found myself using it surprisingly often whilst on our trip.
TunnelBear is a ‘VPN’ or ‘Virtual Private Network’, that allows you to divert your internet connection to another place in the world.
Why is this useful?
Two main reasons:
Firstly, it hides all your key information and IP address. This makes your data much more secure when using public WiFi, which is something you will be doing a lot whilst travelling. If you don’t realise the risk of public WiFi, read this article.
Secondly, it is useful to divert your connection back to your home country to use services that can only be used there. For example, I am a big rugby fan and did not want to miss my team playing in the Premiership semi-finals, so I changed my location to the UK, which allowed me to use my BT Sport subscription (though they lost in the end, so maybe I shouldn’t have bothered!).
This is also useful if you are in a country that restricts the internet connection.
Hostels are generally cheaper than hotels and we found thema. great way to keep costs down while travelling.
Hostelworld is the biggest booking agent in the world, and we found their app quick and simple to use, finding safe, clean and cheap hostels right across Southeast Asia.
It is really handy that you can cancel bookings when needed as plans can change quickly when you are travelling long term.
BEST VIETNAM TOURS:
We used Tripline every day when we were travelling to create a live mini-blog that our friends and family could follow (see it here).
It is a simple website, based around a map on which you plot your route. Every day we logged on and added a few photos and typed out a few paragraphs of what we’d been up to. It was fun to see the map evolve into a record of where we’d been.
The app makes it really easy to update on the move without having to be on a laptop.
This is the best travel app for route planning. It uses buses, trains and planes to find the easiest way to get to your destination. We were amazed out how well it worked even in remote locations in Southeast Asia. We didn’t always book through Rome2Rio but it helped us visualise the easiest way to get form A to B.
BEST MALAYSIA TOURS: