If you search on the App Store for travel apps, there are masses of options to choose from. You can find everything you could possibly need; airport apps, travel itineraries, accommodation apps, transfers apps. The list goes on. It can be an overwhelming choice.
But as a backpacker, how do you narrow it down to the ones that will really be useful to you? After 5 weeks tavelling Thailand and another 4 months to go*, I’ve found myself coming back to certain ones over and over because they’ve proved the most helpful. I’ve grouped them together for clarity.
When you backpack, it’s likely much of your bookings will be done last minute and/or on the go.
A must for any backpacker. It has an enormous database of hostels all over the world so is perfect for last minute bookings or planning in advance. The layout is clear, each hostel comes with photos, booking is straightforward and I particularly enjoy the rating system which is displayed at the top so you can see exactly what others think. The app runs really well on my phone and so far has never frozen. I’ve also never had problems with bookings, i.e. placed a booking that wasn’t received by the hostel. I think the only improvement would be to add a ‘sync to calendar’ option so you can sync it to your phone.
This is my go-to. It essentially does everything that Hostelworld does but with some slight adaptations. The first is that you can use this app to book flights, car rentals, airport transfers of view things to do. I have only ever used this for booking accommodation so can’t comment to the rest.
Secondly, on many occasions I’ve found the hostel price to be slightly cheaper here than anywhere else. Agoda often run promotions or last minute deals and I’ve saved £££’s booking through them compared to other sites like Booking.com. To add to this, you can sometimes earn points or gift cards to spend on your next booking, effectively like a coupon, something which Hostelworld don’t offer.
Thirdly, Agoda offers a ‘taxi helper’ in the country’s native language which has been a HUGE help in Thailand. You don’t need to be connected to WiFi to use it, you simply pull up the booking and show the driver the picture of the map with directions provided in the native language. I can’t tell you how many times this has helped me when I’ve been lost and many people speak minimal english.
Finally, Agoda DOES sync to your phone calendar with all the details of the booking so you don’t have to go into the app every time to check. One of the main reasons I love it.
My only bug bear with this app is that it has on occasion frozen or shut down on my phone. It isn’t often but does happen from time-to-time. For that reason,
Most of you will be familiar with this one I’m sure. It not only has a website but an app that is streamlined and fast. It is mainly geared more towards hotel stays but it does have the filter option for hostel too.
Like Agoda, Booking.com often has deals/promotions running as hotels try to fill up their rooms, so on the odd occasion I have stayed in a hotel, this is the app I would check first. As above, Booking.com also has a clear rating system, photos of each property, coupon options and an easy booking system. I also like how you can quickly save a property to your favourites so it’s easy to come back to later.
The app on my phone is reliable, I’ve never had issues with it, and is perfectly simple to navigate. It is typically aimed at holiday goers/business travellers and has that feel in the layout/design, but it is definitely a more than viable app that I would recommend.
4.) Air BnB
The app that lets you to stay in peoples homes. As a backpacker depending on where you travel, this isn’t always a cost-effective option but if you’re travelling in a cheaper country like Asia, it can be feasible and a nice break from the madness of hostels. I’ve used this myself and found it a straightforward experience. My host was helpful and easy to contact, and you are sent all of the information via email as well as the app. It functions much the same way as the apps above but obviously only shows you homes rather than hotels/hostels.
– City breaks.
– Choosing experiences.
I also like that again you can save properties to your favourites, have an inbox within the app for straightforward communication with your host, and see on first click exactly what the property contains. If you’re staying with a Superhost, they will often tell you what restaurants are good and how to get to the property which saves a lot of stress. Mine was kind enough to send me a thorough PDF including a map of the area, transport options in and around the city and how much I can expect to pay for certain things.
This app is well designed for mobile use, but improvements could be an easier search and filter function; at the moment it feels clunky having to click this then click that then back to this, but maybe that’s just my preference.
Of course there are other apps, such as HostelBookers and Hostelz, but the ones above are my preference.
Travel & Getting Around:
If choosing where to stay is the first hardest part, the second is deciding how to get there. Managing your own travel can be hard but if your a back packer, a necessity. Here are some of the apps that I’ve found remove some of that stress.
A hardy choice for everyone, backpacker or no. It’s like the Money Supermarket of flying but with the added option of organising car hire, hotels or onward travel.You tell the app where you want to fly from/to and when, and it will search across all databases for the best deals. You can filter it to cheapest, direct/non-direct and fastest so searching is painless. You can also turn on price alerts to see when the cost increases/decreases for best value for money. Once you’ve selected your flight, the app redirects you to the airline site to complete your booking. Easy. Just make sure you’ve checked your baggage allowance as some airlines exclude it!
I’ve just recently discovered this and am yet to explore it fully, but my understanding is it works much the same way as Skyscanner. When choosing your travel dates, it’s colour coded by price, i.e. a red date is high price, orange is medium and green is low. I think this is a great feature and is perfect if you have some flexibility.
I also really love the ‘wait’ option. If you select a flight, the app will calculate whether you should ‘wait’ for a lower price or book now. The app calculates what the prices are likely to change to over the coming weeks and continuously searches across all flights for the best deals. You set a ‘watch’ notification and when it feels like you should book sends you the reminder. This removes so much of the hard work and stress.
I haven’t booked through them yet (I’m ‘waiting’) so I can’t advise as to the booking process, but so far I like what I see.
When I first found this app I thought I’d hit gold dust; everything was so cheap! It was only when I went to book that I realised no baggage had been added and the price went up by £100, if not more.
It works much the same way as the two above and is simple to use, but when I did try to book, the airline site was down so couldn’t place my booking and I lost the deal. That’s not the app’s fault I know but that, combined with the trickery of the baggage, put me off.
I would say this is an option for people looking to do short hops with carry ons, not travellers with check-in baggage.
Another new one. This app provides comprehensive information on all airports, such as airport location, where the charging ports are, if there’s WiFi, where the toilets are located, and a live timetable of flights. You also have the option of buying access into the lounges if you’re feeling a little luxe. If you scroll down, you will be able to see people’s feedback on each airport although some of it is a little outdated.
I wish I’d known about this app when I landed in Dubai because that is a huge airport to navigate on your own and having a little help would have been great. I’m not sure how many of the features work offline so I will try it and report back.
So far, from what I’ve seen 9/10.
As with the accommodation apps, there are a whole load more to choose from not forgetting of course Google Flights, but I don’t tend to use that option for booking, mainly comparison.
I think we can all guess which is the main one here…
Tripadvisor is a go-to for many people for it’s straightforward and honest recommendations and user reviews. During my travels I have used this mainly to research companies/experiences, such as diving or elephant trekking, rather than hotels or restaurants. I tend to feel that like Booking.com this is primarily aimed at the mid to higher end traveller and not backpackers on a budget, although I have come across one or two useful recommendations.
2.) Google Maps
My main source since I’ve been travelling. Google Maps has been amazing for helping me to find incredible low price restaurants or quirky coffee shops that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. The reviews are up-to-date and the clear star system shows you at a glance what the general opinion is.
I’ve used Google Maps as my compass around all of Thailand and it has been 100% reliable every time. Before I go to a new place I always download an offline map of the area so I can use it without WiFi, letting me explore the city without getting lost. It’s also useful for gauging distance between places so you can decide whether or to that shop is worth the walk in 30 degree heat.
10/10 love it.
So there it is, my most used apps. All of these apps are free to download and, as far as I’m aware, compatible across all devices.
Let me know what apps you like to use to help you with your travels.
* 4 months of travel, not 4 months in Thailand.