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“What are the essentials you can’t leave the country without?” As a travel blogger, it’s a question that I am regularly asked.

But it’s a question that I always have a ready answer to: a good pair of shoes, a good book, a passport (!) and a good smartphone. A perfect pair of shoes allows comfortable and enjoyable endless walks, the only physical exercise I do these days. A good book inspires and allows me to think and feel; it’s like a mental and emotional workout. A passport – well, that’s self-explanatory!

But the most powerful must-have for me is the one I keep in my pocket – a smartphone. Sure, as travelers, you can argue that we actually can travel without them (although it’s going to be a dull trip). But when blogging is involved, it’s a different story. It becomes an essential, at least for us. Living a nomadic life entails ensuring that we connect with our readers regularly, keep ourselves updated with what’s happening around us and back home, and empower ourselves with the right tools. And tools are aplenty. There are thousands of travel apps that you can use for a safe, rich, and memorable journey. It’s just a matter of picking the right ones for you, depending on your travel style and habits. These are the twelve that we use most often.

Kayaking in El Nido

1. SkyScanner (Flight Search)

Most people have this idea that travel blogging is insanely expensive. It can be quite costly at times, but it’s not as costly as people think. Based on experience, the bulk of the expense is the one you spend even before the trip begins – airfare. That’s why flight search-and-compare apps are a huge help for us. Our favorite is SkyScanner, which rummages through millions of flights to give you the most convenient route.

2. Facebook (Social)

A huge chunk of our follower base is on Facebook. Through the Facebook app (and Pages app), we get to update and interact with them on a regular basis. It has also become our link to everyone back home (something very important to us) and our primary source of news as we also follow media outfits to keep up to date!

The Ruins of St. Paul’s by night
The Ruins of St. Paul’s by night

3. Instagram (Social/Photography)

We love taking our readers and followers with us wherever we go, albeit virtually. And Instagram is the best tool for that. Internet users have been increasingly visual and impatient, and we use snapshots of our travels to keep them interested and engaged. This makes your device choice vital, too. If you’re still looking for one, take a look at the camera features.

For example, Huawei’s GR3 smartphone is equipped with a 13MP rear camera and a 10-level auto-face enhancement mode. During moments when you don’t want to bring your bulky DSLR with you, its 7cm micro view with photosensitive area reach of 1/3.06 has you covered. And just like most people, we love selfies too! Its 5MP front camera and audio camera (which can activate photos using only your voice) take away the wrist-bending awkwardness when taking selfies.

Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang

4. Snapchat (Social/Video)

The past couple of years have proved that video is an incredibly important medium in engaging with other people. Snapchat allows us to offer a longer and closer real-time glimpses of the places we visit, food we enjoy, and adventures we take. And for some reason, it does feel very personal, which our followers appreciate.

5. Google Maps (Navigation)

I like getting lost every once in a while, but there are instances when it simply isn’t practical, like trying to catch a flight or train, or you have very little time to explore. While I am starting to fall in love with CityMapper, its limited scope means I cannot use it in destinations outside popular cities like London or Tokyo. Google Maps remains, for me, the most comprehensive and useful. From public transportation routes to walking trails, it enables me to reach destinations worry-free.

Climbing to the top of the main spire requires a lot of energy.
Wat Arun in Bangkok.

6. Waze (Navigation)

But when I’m the one driving, Waze is my best friend. Its social, crowdsourcing features keep this app extremely reliable especially when it comes to traffic warnings and alternative route suggestions.

7. Uber (Ride-Sharing)

The most common tourist scams around the world involve taxi drivers: meter tampering, overcharging, money switching. Ride-sharing apps offer a great alternative. I have tried it in major cities and they really are safe, fast, and reliable. There are a number of options out there. Uber and Lyft are the most popular, but you can try and compare others too.

8. Converter (Utility)

One thing that I never get used to about travel is converting currencies and units of measurement – I hate numbers! There are hundreds of converter apps available so it’s just a matter of taste, but my favorite is GlobeConvert. It converts almost everything: centimeters to inches, kilos to pounds, Celsius to Fahrenheit. Currencies are included, too, and rates are updated daily.

The South Gate of Angkor Thom
The South Gate of Angkor Thom

9. Google Translator (Utility)

Have you ever stumbled upon a signage bearing foreign characters that looks important but you just don’t understand? Or have you ever dined at a restaurant with no English menu? Happens to me all the time when I’m in Japan and China. But Google Translate eliminates the problem. I just take a photo of it and the app detects and translates it automatically. You can also type English words and it will translate it to any of the dozens of languages available, so you can easily tell the cab driver where you’re going or the waiter what you’re ordering.

10. Splittr (Utility)

As you know, this blog is owned and maintained by two travelers. And although we prefer traveling alone, we also enjoy traveling together. That’s when things get messy and confusing. We don’t split costs on the spot. It’s more like, “I pay for the tour; you pay for lunch. Let’s sort it out later.” But the problem is, all it takes is five minutes and we have completely forgotten about everything. Splittr was created exactly for our type of travelers. You just have to input the numbers and the app will do the math. You can even export data as a PDF file.

11. TripAdvisor (Reviews/Utility)

Nothing beats user reviews when it comes to finding establishments to take your business to. Whether it’s hotels, restaurants, attractions, or tours, TripAdvisor provides testimonials from actual customers, assisting me in making an informed decision. Photos also help manage our expectations. Sure, there have been surprises – high-rated but turned out to be rubbish, low-rated but pretty good – but it reflects reality in most cases.

The sunset blowing away the blues at the Mekong River
The sunset blowing away the blues at the Mekong River

12. GoSkyWatch (Astronomy)

One of my favorite things to do when in a foreign land is camping. I just love being intimate with nature and being away from all the urban chaos. Stars are much brighter when there’s no light pollution to block them, making stargazing an activity that I always look forward to. GoSkyWatch is an app that searches, identifies, and explains stars, planets, constellations, and other celestial objects. It’s much more entertaining when you know what you’re looking at.


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Laura //

Thanks for this list. I hadn’t heard about Goskywatch until now. How fun!