Long gone are the days of travelling with folded maps, the heavy but handy Lonely Planet Guide and, you could say, the use of our own gut instincts. The likes of smart phones, technology and apps have brought some riveting discoveries; from voice recognition translators, to exact location tracking and the ability to communicate without putting pen to paper, all with a simple touch of a button – if even.
We try to travel on a whim, getting lost is one of our favourite things to do, as well as using the knowledge of locals, which surpasses any Google search result. But at times we do wonder (and admire) how people travelled without technology. Sad really, isn’t it.
The word ‘nomad’ is defined as “a member of a people who travels from place to place…and has no permanent home” yet even such a word is dissolving, replaced by the less archaic ‘digital nomad’, a.k.a “the type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner.”
Nowadays, anyone with a phone or portable device and a backpack can call themselves a digital nomad, the very phrase makes us cringe as much as the word “influencer”. Call us judgmental hypocrites but a true nomad wanders; moving aimlessly from location to location, like a street dog with a nose for freshly cooked meat – they end up at the right place, at the right time with no fixed plan and certainly without Google’s help.
Which is exactly why we could never associate ourselves with such a term. We are technology dependent, not only for our blog and social media addictions but to help us travel efficiently, without hassle, stresses, and let’s admit it, without killing each other.
Without the use of our favourite apps, God knows where we would be. Probably still in Dublin airport if we’re being honest. Like I said, sad really. And although a life off the beaten track is one we constantly seek, the longest we have gone without WiFi was a month while living in the Peruvian jungle, a welcome way of living but one of permanence? Jesus the sweats have started!
I can almost hear the older generations tsk at this intro. “Kids these days don’t know the half of it” their painful cries and vigorous fist shakes falling on deaf ears. In the meantime, the rest of us are too busy glaring into the glow of a phone, while we search for answers.
So with our complaints and confessions comes the irony, a blog that shares our favourite travel apps. The ones that have saved us a quick penny, or lead us down the correct path. The apps that have helped us travel swiftly, with a peace of mind, and shamefully allow us to bow down to the Xennials of the world, those who travelled before the existence of dial-up!
To them, we salute you, we commend you and we envy you, but from our hypocritical corner where we would like to high-five the mothers of Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google) as we plug-in, start-up, and list for you the apps and websites we couldn’t live without.
Promotional deals, high res imagery and the list of facilities available, the following apps, while not always accurate, can help us determine our accommodation needs. From luxurious 5* hotels to budget backpacking dumps, sharing homes or sleeping on couches, there is something to suit us all. A simple download and what you have is a directory and unlimited number of options; here are out top picks.
This is our old reliable. People assume Booking.com can only cater to those seeking guesthouses, hotels or top tier properties but, as a budgeting travel couple, this is always our ‘go to’ and the first point of call when searching for a pillow. Be sure to sign up as a member to Booking.com, not only for a quick and easy way to save your payment settings in order to book with only two clicks, but to secure their ‘Genius’ deals. The more you use and review on Booking, the sweeter the deal, last-minute promotions, 10% off the asking price and a referral discount codes to pass onto others (we constantly send each other codes to ALWAYS bag a discount), we have saved a small fortune thanks to Booking.
In our experience, we find this site the best for couples, as it allows us to focus on private rooms rather than dorms, dorms being more expensive at times. The two main downsides for us are that you have to pay cash on arrival which sometimes means subject to VAT, and crappy currency exchange rates. An annoyance for us as paying using our card will help our budgeting ways and reduces the need for visiting ATM’s. However, the longer you travel, the more you get use to it. It would just be nice to arrive knowing that there is no outstanding payment, and should a problem arise we can dispute and seek refunds from Booking.com directly.
Another peeve is that sometimes, in an attempt to show a hostel/hotel’s popularity, the listing will be displayed as ‘fully booked’ or ‘one last room remaining’ despite this being a load of bull. Their marketing team must think it is a genius way to cause some sort of demand, whereas we see it as useless information and a ploy to create panic or a moment of “kicking yourself” that you didn’t book sooner. I mean, if it is fully booked WHY ARE YOU SHOWING IT ME?! Dzzzopes!
We never believe the hype and if we like what we see, we will always pop down to the hostel and see for ourselves 99.9% of the time, there are plenty of rooms available.
→ Best deals for couples looking for private rooms
→ Membership deals and loyalty discounts available
→ The more you use, the more you gain
→ Handy resource for researching accommodation in an area
→ Syncs with Google maps and calendar
→ Can only pay cash on arrival
→ Sometimes final fee does not include VAT or hidden charges
→ Does not list useful facilities such as a kitchen etc.
→ User dependent, sometimes displays different prices depending on membership
→ May display accommodation as full or limited to drive demand despite rooms being availabile
Hostel World & Hostel Bookers:
We cannot help exhausting our options, especially in a tourist-heavy area or during a high season when accommodation may be limited or private rooms are just too damn expensive. So, we always pop on over to both Hostel World and/or Hostel Bookers.
Now, these two apps are most definitely the better options for solo travellers, and while we have used them in the past, we don’t tend to rely on them as usually we can secure a private room on Booking.com for the same price (or cheaper!) than two single beds in a dorm room. The wonderful interface makes both sites easy to search and navigate your way around the virtual directory with an extensive list of facilities available. Although again, no kitchen facility listed which for us is a game changer.
Usually, you are expected pay a 10-12% deposit when booking, like a reservation fee. Whether you see the booking through or not, your deposit can be used as “credit” to use on another booking, but you must abide by the limited cancellation policy. The remaining payment is due on arrival however it does depend on the property itself who may prefer full payment when booking. We prefer this, but it may not suit everyone.
So if you are flying solo and seeking dorms, these two apps will be your friends far more than Booking.com. And although both sites are owned by the same company, always search both to find the cheapest, cheapest rate. Sometimes, there are significant rate differences.
We love the concept of AirBnB and almost wish we used it back in our renting days in Dublin. It can definitely be the more expensive option, but we found in some parts of the world such the very expensive US, Chile and Argentina etc., AirBnB was cheaper than our usually booking apps mentioned above.
Especially for us couples. At times we have been lucky enough to secure our own apartment for the same price as a double room or two beds in a dorm. DREAM! And even private rooms within people’s home are a huge bonus. Living with a local can be so beneficial. Great banter, discussions and teachings about the local area as well as opportunities to taste food and enjoy the comfort of a home.
The biggest bonus when using AirBnB is you are guaranteed a kitchen, and free laundry! So at those high-cost destination, definitely do your research as in the long run AirBnB can be the lesser expensive option. The sign up takes some time, and you will be required to verify yourself with a form of I.D but this is for the safety of the host, so get out the passport and get ready to scan and upload a copy.
We only wish that AirBnB would branch out and become more popular in places such as like Southeast Asia. Man would we love to stay and live with local homes across Asia but not doubt this will change as the years pass.
An honourable mention for Couchsurfing, even though we will admit that we don’t actually have the app downloaded. So many fellow travellers have asked why we don’t use Couchsurfing, especially since it guarantees a good time and a unique experience in a homestay. The concept of which is where you connect to the app and literally search for a couch (sometimes a bed if you are lucky) in a local home. The most appealing feature is that you can stay for free, hosts are not allow charge their guests, and with us being the ultimate budgeteers you would think that this would be right up our street.
But lads, we will be honest. The whole point of Couchsurfing is to socialise and that is something we could not handle. While no doubt you save a fortune on accommodation, we wonder how much you will spend on socialising itself such as beer, food, clubbing etc. For us, staying in someone’s home for free we would feel rather uncomfortable to refuse an invite out or go off to do our own thing. Maybe that is the Irish guilt/manners in us. That and the fact that a couch situation is not always good for a relationship. Not huge drinkers and haters of nightclubs and loud places and restaurants, we would be the most boring guests going!
But if you are a solo backpacker, on an extreme budget yet in search for some fun nights out, a private tour guide and the possibility of forming life-long friendships, go surf some couches.
Booking flights, sourcing bus routes, flagging a cab and hitting the pavements, there is an app for everything nowadays. While the mobile memory may take a hit, at least your pocket and your mind will have more head space to enjoy the days and hakuna matata the shit out of your travels.
Android or iPhone, all our handheld devices come with the pre-installed Google Map app, a handy feature that we admit we have come extremely reliant on. The lack of mobile data, and majority of our time spent away from WiFi, the offline maps feature has become a favourite of ours, but we soon discovered an app to rival the Google’s pin dropping service.
MapsMe is, hands down, our most used app. Not only is it pretty accurate but is great resource to discover recommendations based on previous travellers’ visits.
For example, MapsMe may show budget accommodation that isn’t listed on say Booking.com or a restaurant that offers low-cost dishes, it even has free Wifi hotspots and areas. You can manually input information and little tips for other travellers to use or follow suit What a welcome feature that has allowed us to find a cheap local ‘all you can eat’ buffets that were hidden down a lane away from the tourist streets. This advantage certainly kicks Google’s ass and is a way for us to support local businesses from quirky attractions and local supermarkets to guesthouses, street food and markets, all of which may not have access to the internet and therefore be unable to list their business.
Do take advantage of the offline map and download the entire country instead of local areas, it doesn’t take up too much memory. This is especially handy for countries such as Thailand where Google Maps is restricted and does not allow offline download so is obsolete.
Just be sure to input information as you find it, it will be of huge help to other backpackers and explorers.
Apps and Flights:
Other than how to budget, the one question we are always asked is where we find and book cheap flights. We have managed to fly Dublin to Mexico for less than €250 each, and again from Colombia to Thailand via New York for only €600 for the two of us. But how the hell do we do it? Time, research and the following three apps.
#1 Sky Scanner
Everyone and their mother has heard of Sky Scanner and although we have never booked a flight via the website, we do use it to research flights, costs, destinations and airlines. Personally, Sky Scanner isn’t the cheapest flight search site out there – we have always managed to find cheaper using the below two however this site is extremely handy to suss the flight algorithm.
When is the cheapest month to fly from one destination to another? What airlines fly the route you are looking to travel? Know your departure location but have no idea where you should go on your strict budget? Let Sky Scanner find you affordable flights and splash some embrace the surprise.
Sky Scanner is a really good starting point to the overwhelming flight search process, but it definitely shouldn’t be your final stop – excuse the pun.
When it comes to booking flights we rely heavily on the Kiwi app, the app being better than the actual website. What beats all other flight scanning sites is the fact that you do not need to be specific with your search. For example, flying from Ireland to Thailand, we input just that, which allows the app to not only include all flights coming and going, including stop overs, but all airports too. Maybe a flight leaving Belfast is €100 cheaper than Dublin, you never know!
Another favourite feature is that you can select a range of dates to find the cheapest day to travel, it could be a week or even a month. So if you have no exact holiday dates planned, Kiwi will help you define the best time to fly. Kiwi also lists connecting flights and gathers info from majority of airlines and other flight scanner sites such as Sky Scanner etc. Those with all the time in the world, a stop over flight may mean sitting in an airport for 12 hours but worth it if you are flying across international waters for the same price as a city trip from Dublin to the UK. In our opinion any way!
Another little plus with Kiwi is you can set up price alerts, maybe that flight you had your eye on will drop in price. Well, don’t miss it!
It was actually Kiwi.com that introduced us to Trip.com. We noticed when searching flights via Kiwi that Trip.com was the one site that continuously revealed the cheapest flights. But what makes it stand out among the trillion other sites out there? Well, Trip.com will list a number of flight times and prices, majority of which offer checked luggage – definitely a burden when it comes to finding low-cost flights. There is nothing worse than scoring yourself a decent priced flight to find out that prices quickly ramp up thanks to card fees, and adding checked luggage.
So when on the hunt, search to your hearts content and remember to flick onto Trip.com to see if you cans save yourself hassle and a few bob by picking a flight with checked luggage included. Another lil feature is that it displays whether the size of baggage you can bring too. For example, maybe the 9am flight from Malaysia to Indonesia allows you 15kg for €30 but the 7pm allows 25kg for an extra €5 (this has happened!).Download The AppDownload The App
Overall, we have booked majority of our flights through Kiwi and Trip.com with a stress-free swift click. However we recommend that, before you book through any third party sites such as these, always triple check flights via the airline’s own website. So once you find the ideal airports and cheapest date to fly, log on to the airlines actual website as you may even secure cheaper than the above. Another bonus of booking through the airline is that you can sign up as a frequent flyer. Something we have started to do a lot more of recently, especially with the likes of Finnair, Air Asia and Emirates etc. we may not fly enough to avail of those huge air mile discounts but better to start accumulating than missing out altogether.
Another reliable site we have used in the past is JetCost.ie, but it doesn’t come close to the fantastic low-cost price the above sites return.
At the very beginning of our travels, us nervous nellies were taxi crazy having slight fear walking the streets of Mexico. Although nowadays we prefer to use local transport which certainly adds to the travelling experience, having a credited Uber account can be handy and seen as a welcome security measure. Local taxis, no matter what part of the world you are in, charge extortionate prices.
Simply set up an account and link your credit or debit card. The pre-fixed rates and option to carpool allows a stress free journey. Not only are the rates cheaper than local taxi options but it is also much safer with more and more incidents and scams happening riding in the back of a local taxi. In our honest opinion, taking a bus late at night in any country across Latin America is far safer than grabbing a flagging a cab.
So whether if you prefer to travel via taxis or yet again want that extra peace of mind, download Uber. The only con is that you must be online to book but you can easily book and contact the driver to arrange a pickup point, before you leave the WiFi zone.
Popular across the US, Uber is now growing across Latin America with more and more pick up options available. Just be mindful using Uber in Brazil as unmarked cars can be seen as a threat in the wrong area, especially if the car has tinted windows. Always ask your Uber driver to roll down the windows and make your foreign self visible, especially when driving through shanty towns.
In a nuthsell, Grab is the exact same as Uber but more popular across Southeast Asia. When crossing the Pacific be sure to swap over these apps. Similar to the above, the you need to be connected to book a Grab but you an easily contact the driver to arrange a pickup point, and take note of the driver and car reg number.
Local Travel Websites:
What website isn’t mobile friendly these days, with more and more services transferring to mobile applications, you could go as far as saying that the Google or iTunes stores are as popular as your local shopping street. This goes for local transport websites, whether it is bus or boat. Again, despite the fact that we prefer to visit local bus terminals and boat harbours to use our Irish charm to haggle the pants off locals, using local transport apps and sites is a great way to research prices, routes and plan our budget.
Sometimes, it may even be cheaper booking online than in person which is a ,win, win for us as we have both options in the palm of our hand.
Two of the most popular sites we have used are BusBud in North and South America, and 12Go Asia across Southeast Asia. Know that 12Go Asia doesn’t have an app but their website is mobile friendly and easy to use.
The more obvious app and website we all tend to use for translation is Google Translate, an app that helped me in particular to move fluidly through Latin America and one that certainly spiked my Spanish-speaking skills.
But since arriving to Southeast Asia we have ditched aul Google and jumped on Bill Gate’s bandwagon by downloading the Microsoft Translator app – and we find it exceedingly better.
Similar to Google Translate, the Microsoft app allows you to download languages offline. However when disconnected it doesn’t exactly help with pronunciation and we found the offline option to be a bit temperamental.
While Google has more languages available, Microsoft allows you to use majority of theirs offline. You can also pin certain phrases and vocab to save for easy access. When you are connected, this app is worth every second of your time. Not only does it allow speech to speech translation and a wonderful feature where you can point the camera at a particular text to have it translate in realtime, it also has a speaker option so you can in fact work on your pronunciation. We found the app particularly helpful with languages that do not have an alphabet i.e. a segmental writing system. In this case the app displays the translation in the local writing and then a phonetic version using the alphabet to help us understand the word.
Moral of the story, although we do have both apps downloaded Microsoft Translate wins hands down, that is down to it focusing more on conversational translation rather than phrases or vocab.
Currency Plus Converter:
Free to download, accurate with regularly updated rates according to global exchange rates provided by the European Central Bank, Russian Central Bank and AccuRate, this app is ideal for offline use, has all available currencies and allows you to have up to 10 currencies displayed at the one time. When travelling across a number of countries, this app is extremely helpful and allows you to wrap your head around the many currencies while keeping on top of your spend and budget.
Simply search ‘Currency Plus on your app store, available on both Android and IOS.
It seems like the days of using Skype as a primary platform to keep in touch with friends and family are in the past. Thanks to WhatsApp, Viber, and even Facebook Messenger, all of which offer free calls and a voice message feature, we tend to turn to the likes of WhatsApp to keep in touch with those nearest and dearest. We tend to shudder when hearing the Skype dial tone, as it seems the Skype application still to this day has issues with freezing and being cut off. It certainly tests our patience!
In saying that, we still have the app downloaded and ready at hand as it is useful for making international calls. Whether you want to call a landline, your bank, insurance company or a local business, Skype allows you to make calls for little cost thanks to its Skype credit service. Although you do still need to be connected to the net, simply add €5 credit to Skype knowing that you can make calls for less than 1cent per minute. This has come in handy for when we had to call our bank, something that would cost us a fortune and hit hard on our roaming data. We have also used Skype to call and enquire with local businesses from tours and transport to accommodation and tourist offices.
Not to mention my Nanny, who hasn’t yet converted to today’s technology. It allows me to call Irish landlines and mobiles, again for less than 1c per minute meaning I can natter away for hours without making a dent in the Skype credit. Top up using your credit or debit card and have this calling option for emergencies. It has been a God send for us!
There are many entertainment websites to keep you busy while travelling those long distances, and while the most obvious ones are Spotify and Netflix, they both do come with monthly subscription costs, well, you can get away with Spotify if you have data but if you want to use it offline, cough up and pay out! Bearing in mind that not all countries give you access to say Spotify (such as Laos!) and same goes with Netflix restrictions, our old reliable is PodBean, available both on android and IOS.
Whether you are accustomed to the odd podcast or not, Podbean has huge benefits from podcasts to help you learn a new language, story-telling, meditation, travel podcasts *cough* like ours *cough, cough*, comedy, crime and general knowledge. Podbean will keep you entertained, educated and prevent sheer boredom while making those 16+ hour bus journeys fly by. We have fallen in love with the world of podcasting, where anything goes and any topic your heart craves is available.
Not only is it free to download, but the best part about Podbean is that you can follow as many podcasters as you want, ticking the automatic download button so when a fresh podcast is uploaded, it will be downloaded to your Podbean library without taking up any memory on your device. Yes, you do need to be connected when the download takes place but that is the beauty of automatic, once connected it will do its thing, compiling your favourite voices ready for your offline listening pleasure.
So if you have yet to introduce yourself to the aural world, do! We can promise you will be entertained, and you can thank us later.
Last but not least, our trusty HelpX.net. We left this one until last as it might not be for everyone, but if you are hoping to travel long-term we definitely suggest you looking into the world of volunteering.
The only issue we have with HelpX is the website is not mobile friendly and there is no app, but setting that aside, HelpX has saved us a fortune and allowed us to experience things that we never could have predicted. From working on a chocolate farm in Colombia, to assisting a shaman in the Peruvian jungle, helping at an orphanage in Bolivia, an English school in Chile and an animal sanctuary in Thailand, we have not only gained insanely helpful skills along the way but we have made friends for life, and now have homes and families across the globe that we can always return to.
The reason we went for HelpX is down to cost. While the volunteering website ‘Workaway’ seems to be the more popular option among travellers, the €25 annual fee per person versus Help X’s €2o fee for a couple only to be paid every two years made this the winner in our eyes. It is a site we depend on regularly and has essentially paid for itself.
International listings, a variety of categories from English teaching to farming, hostel working and quirky jobs such as chocolate-making, it is money well spent.
We talk about it in great detail in our weekly podcast which you can listen to here, and feel free to contact us with any other questions regarding volunteering.
We started using Trusted Housesitters during our year of travel in Southeast Asia and wow did it come in handy. A costly enough sign up fee, a year’s membership priced at a hefty $119 (€105) however we will admit that bagging even one week housesitting opportunity can save you anything from €60 in accommodation costs. So the membership fee does essentially pay for itself. This site is so handy for those looking to travel long term and we have really enjoyed taking a break from the road to unpack our backpacks, cook in a well facilitated kitchen, relax on a coach AND, the best bit, mind people’s pets!
Simply log onto the site to see the abundance of hosts looking house and pet-sitters. From luxurious island-based houses to city penthouses, beachside bungalows and everything in between we are big fans and always use house-sitting to catch up on some downtime, work, and just to remind ourselves of what having a home feels like, without the commitment.
There is no app for android as of yet but the web version is mobile friendly and you can search for houses before you even sign up so do jump on and suss if this is for you!
Should you decide to sign up, we have a 25% discount code available (every member gets one!). If you do use our code or sign up link, we receive two months membership for free – so thank you!!
DISCOUNT CODE: RAF235196Visit Trusted HousesittersVisit Trusted Housesitters
Leaving this one until last as it may not be for everyone, but since July 2018, after our stint volunteering at the Thai Animal Sanctuary in Thailand where we were introduced to vegan only diet, we decided to remove meat from our diet altogether (still sucking on the scales of fish though!) and have to admit we found it a little tough at the start especially when in some countries the concept of vegetarian doesn’t even exist yet!
Happy Cow has saved our meat-less asses on many occasions and helped us stick to our personal promise by showing location- specific vegan and vegetarian eateries across many countries. It lists price, people upload menus and comes with reviews. While it may not list every available vegetarian friendly restaurant, we have relied on this app on many occasions.
If you do decide to use the app, we suggest helping the community to grow a little by adding any newly discovered local restaurants you find, and please do upload the menu so others can see prices and make a call. Uploaded menus is SO handy especially when on a budget!
And that is that! Our favourite sites and travel apps that have gotten us through our travels so far. Now, let us finish this by saying that we are in no way affiliated with any of the above sites or apps, should you click or download or visit it benefits no one but the company in question.
As always, we hope the content we share on The Ungraceful Guide can help you plan your travels with ease and less of a headache. We also love to hear from you guys, and so if there is anything we can help with – never hesitate to get in touch.
Until then, happy planning and enjoy the travel prep, it may not seem like it now but it is such an exciting part of travelling.