Whilst there is an argument that smartphones are ruining travel, a good backpacker app is one of the greatest tools for making life easier on the road. In a time before the internet, there is no doubt that backpacking was very different and most likely, harder than it is today.
Nowadays, we are blessed with an online world at the click of a button, which has forced some huge changes in the way that we travel.
With more of us reliant on smartphones than ever before, we check out the best apps for backpackers recommended by our community!
Best Apps for Backpackers – Quick Answers!
- Best flight app: Skyscanner
- Best budgeting app: Trail Wallet
- Best entertainment app: Netflix
- Best trip planning app: TripIt
- Best navigation app: Maps.me
- Best communication app: Skype
- Best eco app: Refill My Bottle
The Best Backpacking Apps: Recommended by Readers!
Best Flight Apps
Okay, so first thing is first. Now that you have decided to say yes to the adventure of a lifetime, you’ve got get to your destination. Cue: the best flight apps!
Skyscanner – Free
Introducing our favourite flight booking engine, Skyscanner! The Skyscanner app allows backpackers to check the prices of flights for different dates. It also allows you to select entire months to get a comparison of costs and if you are unsure of your destination, you can use their ‘everywhere’ search feature to help you decide!
Momondo – Free
Momondo is another popular flight search engine. They too have a simple to use app which works similar to Skyscanner. Many travellers say that it is worth comparing flight prices between the two as they sometimes offer (marginally) different results.
Hopper – Free
Unlike Momondo and Skyscanner which are great to compare flights across the world, Hopper helps you save money on a ticket to your destination of choice. Its ‘watch trip’ option will monitor the fluctuation in flight prices and then notify you when it is best to book, based on when you will pay the lowest price.
Best Local Transport Apps
With everything from taxis to tuk tuks, international travel can be a crazy blur of activity. Plan your journeys and avoid getting ripped off with these travel apps!
Grab – Free
Marketed as the ‘Everyday Everything’ app, backpacker app Grab has taken Southeast Asia by storm. Grab can be used to arrange transport (and avoid being ripped off). You can pay by card so there is no need for cash and in many instances, it is actually cheaper than getting a taxi. Grab has also expanded its business to offer courier services and food delivery. This has helped many small businesses to expand at a much faster rate owing to their new accessibility. Grab also have their own loyalty scheme for customers. “Grab is also great if you’re in an area that has it. Even if you don’t use it for the ride, it’ll give you an idea of realistic prices to where you wanna go so you know what to haggle to with taxis”. – Jay.
Lime – Free (charges for rental)
This electric scooter and bike sharing app is a must have for travellers. Currently there is only one place in South East Asia (Singapore) where you can use the app but it has spread quickly over South America, USA and Europe. Save yourself the taxi fare and enjoy an affordable and eco-friendly journey to your destination. Just unlock your ride by inputting the code into your app or scanning the QR code. It really is that easy!
Rome2Rio – Free
We’ve all been in that situation where we have a destination in mind and just can’t find out how to get there. There doesn’t appear to be a direct bus, no train station nearby and a taxi will cost the earth. In all honesty, figuring out how to get from A to B, can be the hardest part of backpacking. Global app Rome2Rio can help. Simply type in where you want your journeys to start and end and the app will tell you how you can get there. Sometimes, it will involve taking several modes of transport but Rome2Rio provide up to date timetable information so your journey shouldn’t be too complicated. Prices are included when known so you can even plan your trip based on your budget.
PassApp – Free
Cambodia’s ride-hail app takes the stress out of grabbing a tuk tuk or taxi. Although Grab is used in Cambodia, Pass App was developed in Phnom Penh and local drivers have flooded in to support it. Much like Uber, you input your desired destination on a map and will be given a fixed fair. This means you are less likely to get ripped off and you won’t have to struggle to explain where you want to go to the driver. Once the journey has been completed, you are automatically sent an invoice via email. This is especially handy if you need to keep your receipts for tax or budgeting reasons. Although the price is fixed, there is currently no way to pay using a debit or credit card. All transactions must be carried out in cash so make sure you have enough on you!
Best Navigation Apps
You’ve just landed a city where you don’t speak the language and you have no idea where you are going. You’re sure your hostel is around here somewhere but you can’t find it for the life of you! Let these apps help you out!
Google Maps – Free
It is the holy grail of navigation apps and one you would be foolish to ignore. Google Maps offers directions using a whole range of public transport and it also doubles up as a SatNav. It is possible to download sections of your desired map for offline use, something which definitely comes in handy when you don’t have data abroad and are relying on WiFi only. Google maps can also give you information about the best things to do and places to eat nearby, including a handy feature which lets you know how busy the place is in real-time. This definitely helps when planning your day!
Maps.me – Free
Just like Google Maps, Maps.me also allows users to benefit from offline navigation which is handy for backpackers. In my opinion, Maps.me has an edge over Google Maps when it comes to hiking trails. Not only does it include more treks but many hikers think that the routes are more clearly displayed on Maps.me compared to Google Maps. “Maps.me is amazing and definitely a lifesaver!” – Emma.
Best Budgeting Apps
For us backpackers, budgeting is the key to a long and successful trip. However, with ice-cold booze buckets available on every beach, it can be hard to resist temptation. These are the best budgeting apps which promise to keep you on the straight and narrow!
Trail Wallet – Free (for first 25 items)
Featured by both the Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post, Trail Wallet is the daddy of all budget backpacking apps. The app was designed by travellers for travellers so they know exactly what you need from this kind of app. Trail Wallet is free for the first 25 items but then it costs $4.99 to upgrade to unlimited amounts. You can export CSV files from the app and it also does auto-backups to the cloud. It is my personal budget backpacker app of choice and the one that I would recommend. Sadly though, it is only available on iOS.
Trip Coin – Free
Much like Trail Wallet, Trip Coin is a budgeting app for backpackers. It is only available on iOS currently, however, it is free. Many people argue that it is more complicated to use than Trail Wallet and not as intuitive. You can budget for multiple trips and also upload copies of your receipts. This feature is very useful for digital nomads who are keeping track of their expenditure.
Travel Spend – Free
Yay! Finally, a decent budgeting app that works on Android! This simple trip expense tracker provides automatic currency conversion and offline sync. It does pretty much the same as the other budget apps listed, except it could be argued it is less aesthetically pleasing. There is the option to upgrade for an additional $1.79 per month. This will allow the user to customise their categories, add places and photos, go ad-free and to export data to CSV files. The yearly cost for this premium version is $7.49 if paid upfront.
XE Currency – Free
The top currency conversion app recommended by our Facebook Community was XE Currency. This app works on both iOS and Android and allows you to store up to 10 currencies offline, meaning you don’t have to worry about connecting to the internet every time you want to work out how much dinner is. It uses the latest market rates which means that although all of the information is current, you are probably seeing a better conversion than your bank is giving.
Best Accommodation Apps
In many places in South East Asia, it is possible to find accommodation at short notice when you arrive in a new place. However, during festivals or around public holidays, it is usually best to book in advance.
Booking – Free
Booking.com offers one of the most popular accommodation search apps and reserving a bed on your phone has never been easier. Simply enter your destination and your desired dates and it will tell you what is available. Unlike HostelWorld, Booking shows a whole range of accommodation with everything from budget digs to swanky hotels. Even backpackers need a treat sometimes! You can filter these options based on price or amenities and also view previous traveller reviews. Many places listed on booking do not require you to pay a deposit so you can usually settle up in cash once you arrive at your accommodation of choice.
HostelWorld – Free
Made for backpackers, HostelWorld is a booking engine for yep, you guessed it, hostels only. Much like booking, you can search for available beds on your desired dates and HostelWorld will display a list of what is available. As HostelWorld only promotes hostels, this is great for solo travellers looking to meet other backpackers. HostelWorld requires a nonrefundable deposit to be paid by card at the time when you make the reservation. This fee goes to them directly, not the accommodation choice. This means that if you have to cancel your booking, you will not be refunded your deposit.
TripAdvisor – Free
For those who don’t know, TripAdvisor is a website which lets you read user reviews of attractions, restaurants, bars and accommodation options. It has a booking engine built-in which means that you can reserve rooms and trips through it. However, it is the review function that makes TripAdvisor really valuable for travellers. Check out what other backpackers are saying about different places and decide where you want to visit based on these recommendations. On my previous trips to Southeast Asia, I found it particularly useful when researching ethical elephant sanctuaries and have also used it to warn travellers off places which are operating using bad practices.
Couchsurfing – Free
A firm favourite amongst adventurous travellers is the Couchsurfing app. Backpackers have to make a profile to use the platform which serves to connect them with like-minded locals who can offer a place to stay for free. Couchsurfing allows you to really get to know a place from a local perspective and also save money on accommodation – win-win! Those of you not willing to commit to sleeping at a strangers just yet don’t have to be put off either. Couchsurfing host regular meet-ups in 200,000 cities around the world so it is easy to connect with other travellers. Couchsurfing has a review feature to try and keep the platform as safe as possible. However, they always recommend having a back-up plan just in case something doesn’t work out with your arrangement. They also have the option for surfers to report hosts if somebody oversteps the mark or behaves inappropriately. All of this goes towards keeping users safe whilst they couch surf around the world.
Air BnB – Free
Air BnB is a great option for couples looking for more privacy or Digital Nomads searching for a more long term home base. The Air BnB app allows you to search for accommodation based on location, duration and number of people. There are basic options from staying in somebody’s spare room to booking out an entire flat or house. Those looking to stay somewhere for longer may find that the host offers discounts to people who stay longer than a couple of weeks. Like Couchsurfing, it works on a review system. A feature of Air BnB is that both the host and the guest must leave a review for each other before they are shown on the respective profiles.
Best Language Apps
Perhaps one of the most daunting things about travel is the intimidation of going somewhere you don’t speak the language. You’ll find that you don’t need to be fluent but having a few key phrases under your belt can really help.
Duolingo – Free
This free app is great for travellers looking to nail the basics of a language or sharpen up their skills. Not all languages are listed but backpackers to South East Asia have the opportunity to try out Vietnamese or Indonesian. There is a mix of speaking, writing and listening exercises, none of which are very long. This makes it great for cramming in a quick bit of learning in those moments when you would rarely be doing anything better. A little bit of language learning whilst you are cleaning your teeth? Why not?!
Google Translate – Free
Most people know about Google Translate’s ability to translate text once typed in. That is pretty standard for a translation app after all. But did you know, that Google Translate now comes with camera translation too?! Struggle with your menu choices no more! As well as these features, you can also speak into the app and choose which language it is translated into. This works both ways, so two people speaking completely different languages can now have a conversation! Although the translations offered by Google in the past have been known to miss the mark, they have now switched to making translations based on machine learning which is yielding much more accurate results. “Using Google Translate you speak into the app, it shows you what you have said and shows and speaks it in any other language for free!” – Christian.
Best Organisation Apps
As much as travel is all about being free-spirited, bureaucracy helps keep everything running smoothly. Make sure your journey is as seamless as possible by having back-ups of important documents and knowing what to do if the worst happens.
TripIt – Free
For trip planning, there is no better option that TripIt. Use the app to make sense of your plans by forwarding all your flight confirmations, hotel bookings and car rental to the app email and store everything in your master itinerary. You can subscribe to the pro version of this app for $48.99 per year. This gives you access to flight check-in reminders, real-time security queue information and flight departure times and interactive terminal maps to name a few. Whilst the price is pretty hefty for the pro version, even the free features are useful for a backpacker looking to keep all of their important content in one place – you can access all of it offline too!
Dropbox – Free
All good backpackers know that you should always keep both a physical and a virtual copy of any important documents. Passports, flight tickets, travel insurance and visas are just a few examples of documents you should have at least a couple of copies of. Of course, not everyone wants to lug around a filing cabinet or risk losing their documents if their tablet is stolen. Therefore, a cloud storage platform is likely to become your best friend. Upload all of your important documents to Dropbox easily and travel with the peace of mind that they will be ready and waiting if you need them. A Dropbox Basic account includes 2GB of storage space and is free. For any additional space, you will need to pay extra money. There are a few different plans available to cater to your storage needs.
Passport Photo – Free
Passport photos are a common requirement at land borders and on visa applications throughout countries across the world. Whilst we always recommend carrying a few spares just in case, the Passport Photo app is great for backpackers who need more photos than they thought or have run out of their stash. With this app, you can take, format, print and save passport photos in no time. It has photo templates for an impressive 100 countries and also gives you guidance on how to take photos which fit into the necessary specifications.
Prey Anti-Theft – Free (with 1-year protection plans $28.99)
Crime might be rare but sadly, it does still happen. Pickpockets operate all around the world and they can easily snatch your phone out of your back pocket before you even notice. (If this is something you are worried about, consider investing in an anti-theft backpack.) Although the Prey Anti-Theft app won’t stop a thief from taking your valuables, it allows you to retain control. Not only can you track where your device has been taken but you can also remotely retrieve photos, wipe data and lock devices from anywhere in the world. Please note: We are not encouraging anyone who has been robbed to pursue their thief using the tracking software in this app. Instead, take this information to the relevant authority once you have reported the crime.
Refill My Bottle – Free
The planet is in crisis and it has never been more important to do your bit to make things better. This app helps to avoid unnecessary plastic waste by advising travellers of places they can fill up their reusable drinking water bottle for free. Refill my Bottle was founded in Bali in an attempt to tackle plastic waste. Although there are several different types of refill app that basically do the same thing, Refill my Bottle currently have the most refill stations in Southeast Asia. Be a responsible traveller and do you bit to help the planet whilst you travel! Alternatively, if looking for water refill stations seems like too much faff, you could always save yourself the hassle and invest in a reusable water filter bottle.
Best Entertainment Apps
Even the most epic of backpacking trips have downtime! With your home comforts thousands of miles away, what are you going to do to keep yourself entertained?
Pocket – Free
Travellers who like to keep up with current affairs or other topics will love the pocket app. Here you can save videos, articles and stories from any page or publication. Come back and read it later, even if you are offline. This is a great one to keep yourself occupied on those lengthy bus journeys!
Polarsteps – Free
This backpacking app is very popular with travellers looking to share their adventures with a community. Essentially an online travel journal, Polarsteps tracks your route and automatically adds your mobile phone photos to stops you make along the way. People can follow your route from back home (an easy way to check in with your Mum!) and if you have your trips set to public, other adventurers can track your journey too. There is the option to get a physical book of your travel journey printed as well. The prices for this start at €30 but this cost is dependent on how many pages you want your book to have. That’s a pretty neat way to remember your trip! “Just found ‘Polarsteps’ – pretty nice for planning your trip and sharing your location while traveling with family and friends”. – Angelo.
Tinder – Free
Just because you are travelling, it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all the hotties walking around! Let’s welcome everybody’s favourite dating app: Tinder. For those of you that don’t know, Tinder matches people based on whether they both ‘swipe right’. This is what you do if you like a profile and want to learn more about the person. Swiping left will mean that you have rejected that profile. Only if both parties swipe right will they will be matched and able to chat via the app. We here at South East Asia Backpacker are in no way a cynical bunch but it is only fair to warn you that Tinder matches don’t always end in happily ever after. Just ask these guys about their Tinder fails!
Kindle – Free
Anyone who has already checked out our Southeast Asia packing list will have already invested in a Kindle but for those who haven’t, it is definitely worth downloading the Kindle app for your phone. There are over 1 million book titles available and even though you are on the trip of a lifetime, you will still have a few dull hours which you will need to kill. The Kindle app is also a lifesaver for those who have Kindles which break whilst on the road. Trust me when I say, with import fees, these can be seriously expensive devices to replace when you are abroad!
Netflix – Free (Subscription based service)
Where would we all be without Netflix? Commonly recommended as one of the best backpacker gifts ever, a Netflix subscription is something that every traveller needs. Download the app on your phone to watch tv shows and movies from anywhere. You can even download select films and programmes to watch offline later. A Netflix subscription starts at just $5.99 a month for their basic package.
Best Communication Apps
Keeping in touch is a really important way of staying connected to your family and friends back home. Luckily, we’re long past the days of postcards which take weeks to arrive and now you can speak to your loved ones with one click of a button!
WhatsApp – Free
For a fast and simple way of staying in touch with your pals whilst you’re off on the backpacking trip of your dreams, download WhatsApp. As well as acting as an instant messenger, you can also share locations, partake in group chats and send voice recordings and photos. It is one of the best ways to keep up to date with all of the gossip happening at home!
Skype – Free
This video calling app is super useful for all of those special occasions. Backpacking over the Christmas period? No worries. Just check in with your nearest and dearest via Skype on Christmas Day. As well as telling them all about your adventures, you can even reveal your new Thai tattoo, (we definitely recommend doing this when Grandma is too far away to slap your wrist)!
Got a Backpacker App to Share?
And so concludes our round-up of the best apps for backpackers recommended by our readers. Remember to make sure you have enough storage space on your phone to download these and also don’t forget to share your Polarsteps journey with your folks! Got a backpacker app you love that we’ve missed off of our list? Be a part of the community and let us know in our Facebook group! We would love to hear your thoughts!
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