Backpackers and nomads, like myself, can greatly benefit from today’s technology to not only stay connected, but to travel lightly as well. Not even 20 years ago, travelers needed a different appliance or gadget for everything they wanted to do; now, most of those are easily replaced with an app.
One of the best travel investments I ever made was buying an iPad 2 last fall. (I also featured it in Best Gifts for the Wanderlust-Suffering Globetrotter (pt. 2).) I recently brought it along on my six-week trek through New Zealand and Australia, in lieu of a laptop, and in partnership with my iPhone 4S, it was pure magic. Lightweight, versatile, and slim enough to keep under my pillow at night, my iPad became my best travel companion.
The opportunities are endless when you replace a laptop with a tablet for travel. As a heavy blogger, photographer, and even a telecommuting media intern while I was abroad, I never regretted my decision. In this day and age, there are enough apps on the market to close the gap between tablet and laptop functionality for most people.
Here’s just a sample of the FREE apps I utilized, organized by category:
Apps That Replace Physical Objects
Leave the maps, novels, and MP3 players at home and save room in your backpack or suitcase with these digital replacements:
Kindle: Transforms your tablet into an e-reader, replacing heavy books and paper. You can download guidebooks for travel preparation and novels for entertainment.
Google Earth/Google Maps: Your iPad becomes a GPS-guided map with navigation, nearby points of interest, and geographic coordinates. Definitely saved my life a few times when I arrived in strange cities at night and had to find my hostel.
Evernote: One of my favorite apps ever (also available in desktop version.) Through the use of digital notes and notebooks, you can easily keep track of flight routes, itineraries, e-tickets, boarding passes, visa requirements, etc. Download the browser companion to “clip” articles, photos, and maps and export them directly to a specific notebook.
Skype: instantly chat with friends and family back home for free. Need to call Grandma who doesn’t own a computer, let alone know how to operate one? Get a Skype phone number and call her at home at a cheap, discounted rate.
Facebook Messenger: For Facebook users, this free app can be a great substitute for SMS. As long as you have a WiFi connection, you can instantly chat with friends and family back home, and receive alerts/notifications just like you would with a text message. (Available in the App Store or Google Play Store on your device.)
Mint: My favorite, trusted finance and budget app. Keep track of your budget, income, and spending while on the go. (U.S. and Canada citizens only)
WordPress: You can blog about your adventures, or read WordPress-powered blogs (like this one!) directly from the app.
Dropbox: Back up your travel photos, documents, e-tickets, etc. It’s also a good idea to keep scanned copies of your passport photo page, emergency contacts, and travel insurance docs in “the cloud,” so you can access them wherever you have an Internet connection. Just in case.
iProcrastinate: For Apple users – this is my favorite to-do list app. With reminders, tasks, and project steps, you won’t forget to pay bills, check in for that flight, or book the next hostel while you’re abroad. (iOS only)
iPhoto: In addition to keeping copies of your photo library, iPhoto is great for basic picture touch-ups. (iOS only)
Aviary: I also love the Aviary app for photo editing, and it’s available on more mobile platforms. It has a wider variety of tools, including lens effects, color filters, frames, sticker add-ons, and straightening, cropping, and focusing fixes. Plus, there’s a built-in meme creator.
FlickrStackr: have a Flickr account? This app is an optimized platform for viewing and using the web version. (iOS only)
Gogobot: My favorite app of all time, Gogobot is also an incredibly addicting travel social network. Users share travel tips and reviews, plan trips, create a digital passports, and engage in community networks to put together the perfect world adventure. And while on the go, use their fantastic app to read up on where you are and where you’re going, or snap a pic and upload it as a digital postcard for your friends and fam back home. (Head on over to Gogobot now, and say hi to me!)
TripIt: Keep track of your travel itinerary, including hotel and flight bookings, confirmation numbers, and schedules.
SkyScanner: Find cheap flights on the go and book directly from the app.
iTunes: Music, podcasts, TV shows, and movies on the go. The best part: rent movies for $2.99+ and watch them on a long-haul flight that may have poor or no onboard entertainment. (iOS only)
Angry Birds: for those periods of time in airports, on planes, trains, and busses when you are sick of reading or watching movies. If you don’t already have it, get it.
What are YOUR favorite apps when on the road?