Friday, July 10, 2015

Phone Apps for Travel

We use several applications on our mobile phones that are useful for travel. I thought I would share what we have learned. All of these apps require you to have a data plan that is good wherever you travel or the ability to use wi-fi when traveling. (we have T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan that allows us to use our phones in 121 countries/places around the world with no roaming charges.)

Most of these applications are free, but are supported with ads. I often purchase the ad-free version for a few dollars. The cost of the ad-free versions is usually minor.


When we were in London in 2014, we needed a mobile phone app that would help us navigate the city - something that would help whether we were walking, taking the bus or riding the Tube. We discovered Citymapper and it became our go-to app for getting around London.






We knew we were moving to Singapore, but Citymapper didn't work there. However, there is a link on the app to recommend additional cities. I voted more than once for Singapore. A couple of months after arriving in Singapore, I was notified by email that Singapore had been added and immediately loaded it on my Android phone and on Pat's iPhone. We have been happily using it ever since.

The list of cities they now support: New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Washington DC, Madrid, Boston, Barcelona, San Francisco, Chicago, Milan, Rome, Tokyo, Lisbon, Manchester, Hamburg, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Sao Paulo, Amsterdam, Toronto, Vancouver, Brussels and moreto come.


For tracking my reservations when I travel, I use Kayak. This phone app, or the website when using my laptop, can be used to find hotels, flights and rental cars. But I primarily use it to store and track the details of my trips. With this feature, Kayak notifies me when to check in and what terminal and gate to arrive at. If there is a gate change, even when at the airport, I get a text message with the new gate information. The app even provides a screen to show to a taxi driver with the hotel information in the language of the country you are staying in!

To create an itinerary, you can either enter the information manually, or forward your confirmations to Can't get much simpler than that! 





Exchange Rates

Another app that has turned out to be very useful is the exchange rate app, Exchange Rates (this is only for Android phones). It is always nice to know what something costs in U.S. Dollars when you are in a foreign country. With this app you click on the local currency, enter the amount and the display then shows the equivalent amounts in all the other currencies. Although I only show a few currencies, you can add additional ones easily.



For the iPhone, Pat uses GlobeConvert, which includes currencies, volumes, weight, temperature and lots of other conversions. She uses the free app with ads. There is a $0.99 version that is ad free.

Text Secure, Signal and Red Phone

For local private texting, I recommend Text Secure (Android) and Signal (iPhone) from Open Whisper Systems. In addition, for secure calling use Red Phone (Android) and Signal (iPhone), also from Open Whisper Systems. If you and the person you are connecting with both use these apps, you are protected from eves dropping. These are end-to-end encrypted communications and are, therefore, safe to use to send account numbers and other private information.



WhatsApp and Viber

In addition to these end-to-end encryption applications, you should also install WhatsApps and Viber. These apps are used by many people outside the U.S. for messaging and calling. They both use your data plan for communicating and are encrypted between you and their servers, and between their servers and the person you are communicating with. The big difference between these apps and the previous ones (Text Secure , Signal, and Red Phone), are these are unencrypted at the vendors' servers, where the previous ones are only unencrypted at your mobile and the contacts mobile.




When you are traveling, you should check with any overseas contacts, including restaurants and other businesses, to see if they use WhatsApp or Viber. If they do, you can maintain contact using these apps. Many of the overseas businesses will not return international calls, but can contact you using one of these apps.

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

When traveling, I use VPN (Virtual Private Network) software on both my laptop computer and on my phone to protect me when surfing the web. "To prevent their IP-addresses from being visible to the rest of the Internet, millions of people have signed up to a VPN service. Using a VPN allows users to use the Internet anonymously and prevent snooping." - from Torent Freak website article on which VPNs take your anonymity seriously. I have chosen Private Internet Access for both the laptop and the phone.



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