Essential Travel Apps

Must use apps and services for any traveler 📱💯.

14 categories, updated 1 month ago

Flight Deal Alerts

If you plan ahead, setting up alerts for flight deals can save you a lot of moolah. Money you could use on unicorn fraps instead 🌈. Yeah, services like Kayak and Skyscanner do alerts too but these deal specific services go one step further for more savings.

Tips
  • Google Flights' tracking feature is an easy way to monitor prices yourself: it graphs out the price's history so it's easy to see any patterns and emails you when prices change
  • If you find a good deal like ones from curated services, decide fast because they're usually fleeting
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Airfarewatchdog

Best for destination specific airfare alerts

Airfarewatchdog lets you set flight alerts from city-to-city, from a departure city, or to a destination city. However, you can't set specific dates so it's the best for people who are flexible and just want to be in the know on destination specific deals. Deals are less 🤖 and more 👫: they're verified by actual analysts instead of being based purely on data since flight prices are ultimately still an inexact science.

Hopper

For knowing the best time to buy

Know where and when you want to go but aren't sure when's the best time to buy? Hopper will tell you. They use a data centric approach that analyses billions of flight prices daily to predict the best time. Hopper is also smartphone only, no email alerts. They think mobile push notifications help people act faster to lock down deals, which makes sense. It's a more modern approach to airfare deals and the apps themselves are a joy to use.

The Flight Deal

Great curated deals from the US

Although The Flight Deal's website seems spammy (to the point where you might question it's authenticity 🤔), the deals they find are among the best with detailed breakdowns on how to book. They're mainly for flights from bigger cities in the US and are short lived so it's important to jump on them fast.

Scott's Cheap Flights

Great curated deals from a variety of locations with a premium twist

Set the city you want to depart from and this service will email you great international flight deals. The catch is there's two levels: free and premium ($5/month). Premium provides more deals and earlier notice, which can be crucial. As long as you're patient and flexible, there's money to be saved regardless of the tier.

Vacation Rentals

Vacation rentals and homesharing are when you stay in someone’s house, either by yourself or with the hosts. Compared to hotels, it’s usually a more authentic and local experience with a wider variety to choose from. There are modern mansions in the remote country side to cozy apartments in the middle of downtown. Prices vary more too, so it’s possible to find better deals especially if you stay longer.

However, this variety can lead to lower quality, cleanliness, amenities, and safety since there’s less regulation and you’re trusting one or two people vs. an entire hotel staff so really read those reviews. Checking in can also be a pain if arriving at odd hours or if there’s a language barrier (not to mention badly written instructions).

Tips
  • Consider staying longer since there are usually weekly and monthly discounts, some of which can be big (20% to 30% off)
  • If you're staying longer than a few days, try negotiating for a lower price as prices are set by hosts and not a company (we'd say it works 80% of the time if you message at least four hosts)
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Airbnb

Best for vacation rentals and homesharing, especially in urban cities

If you were to only search one place for a vacation rental, it'd be Airbnb. They went from selling Obama cereal to get more users to their status today as the preeminent vacation rentals marketplace with the most listings in the most cities. To top it all off, their design is top notch.

HomeAway

Great for whole home vacation rentals, especially in resort style areas

HomeAway (and its twin VRBO) actually started before Airbnb, but Airbnb came and sprinted past it reeeal fast. They've been trying to catch up ever since. Despite being smaller, HomeAway is still worth checking out. Their 1.3 million listings are nothing to scoff at and they're often better than Airbnb in resort style areas like Myrtle Beach since they bought regional focused marketplaces to build up to what they are today. They also focus more on whole homes instead of private/shared rooms, which may suit group trips better.

Tripping.com

Search major vacation rental marketplaces altogether besides Airbnb

Tripping.com searches dozens of vacation rental marketplaces, including HomeAway, all at once to provide you a better at a glance view. There's a lot of overlap between the ones they search and the listings generally aren't going to be much better than what you find on Airbnb and HomeAway, but it's worth checking if you really want to cover your bases.

Travel Credit Card

Travel credit cards can provide a lot of value but also get really complicated 😧. These are the best overall cards if you only get one or two and don't want to spend a ton of time/energy figuring out how to maximize every little detail. Want to start playing the travel card game? Check out sites like TPG, NerdWallet, and /r/churning.

Tips
  • When paying in regions like South America, always ask for them to bring out the card machine so it's safer
  • The best deals when redeeming points are usually by transfering miles to an airline partner like United
  • Use these cards for car rentals and expensive purchases since they include additional coverage and protection
What we look for
  • No foreign transaction fees, saving you ~3% on every int'l transaction
  • Rewards like sign up bonus, points earning, points redemption value so your card can work for you
  • Add'l perks like travel credits, lounge access, TSA Pre reimbursement, better coverage/protection, etc
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Chase Sapphire Preferred

Best overall travel credit card

The Sapphire Preferred offers the largest opportunity for normal travelers assuming you don’t have any special use cases like flying a specific airline a lot. Very few cards beat it especially in ease of use.

  • Annual fee: first year free, $95 afterwards
  • Rewards: 2x points (aka 2% back) on all travel/dining, 1x for everything else
  • Sign up bonus: 50K points rewarded after spending $4K within 3 months, worth at least $625 when redeemed through Chase and more if you transfer to airline partners
  • Points are worth 25% more when travel is booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, which is considered the most flexible rewards program
  • Primary rental car insurance so you don't need to pay for the rental agency's insurance
  • Made of metal: You'll feel baller using it 💵
  • 5 Reasons Chase Sapphire Preferred Should Be Your First Card
  • Lesser known CSP benefits
Aren't traveling much yet but want to start building Chase points?
  1. Sign up for a free Chase card like the Freedom
  2. Build up Chase reward points using that card
  3. When ready, sign up for a paid Chase card like the Preferred or Reserve
  4. Transfer your existing points to the new card to take advantage of the better redemption value

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Best premium travel card suited for frequent travelers

This card has everything its sibling CSP (Chase Sapphire Preferred) has but more and used to be a no brainer with its original 100K sign up bonus. However, despite the now lower 50K bonus and the $450 annual fee, it still offers enough benefits to be a great card for frequent travelers or high spenders.

  • Annual fee: $450 but a $300 travel credit effectively reduces it to $150
  • Rewards: 3x (aka 3% back) on travel/dining (vs. 2x for CSP)
  • Sign up bonus: 50K just like CSP but points with the Reserve are worth 50% instead of just 25% so the 50K is worth $750 instead of $625
  • Airport lounge access through Priority Pass, easily worth a few hundred a year based on what Priority Pass charges normally (and damn does it make flying more enjoyable)
  • Global Entry/TSA Pre fee reimbursement every 5 years (worth $85+)
  • Better travel coverage and purchase protection than CSP
  • Battle of Premium Travel Credit Cards
  • CSP vs. CSR

Discover it

Best card with no annual fee suited for younger travelers

One of the only cards that has no foreign transaction fees nor annual fee. It's great for students or people just starting adulthood with average credit, since both the CSP and CSR are considered premium cards that require higher credit scores and income.

Travel Debit Card

Cash is still king in many parts of the world where both credit cards and bank accounts haven't caught on. The best way to get cash when traveling is usually to draw directly from a country's ATM when you arrive using a debit card. It's convenient and will get you a great conversion rate, but you have to choose the right card to avoid fees which can add up. These are our favorites.

Tips
  • Watch out for ATM scams: yank and twist the card reader to ensure there's no skimmer
  • Remember to notify your bank of travel before leaving so they don't think your ATM attempt abroad is fraud leaving you stranded with no cash
  • Use the ATMs of bigger banks as the bigger the bank the better their conversion rate
  • Stay away from no name random ATMs at airports, hostels, hotels, etc as their conversion rates are usually bad and they often tack on fees
What we look for
  • No foreign transaction fees saving you ~3% each time
  • Refunding of ATM fees saving you ~$3 each time
  • As few fees as possible (monthly, yearly, setup, etc)
  • A large ATM network so you can use ATMs worldwide
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Schwab Bank Investor Checking

Best overall debit card for frequent travelers

This card is as close to the ideal travel debit card as it gets. Not only does Schwab not charge any fees but they also refund any ATM fees you incur when using it across the world which is rare. Great customer service as well.

  • No account minimum for the checking, but it does come with an extra brokerage account (that you don't have to use)
  • Website and mobile apps are average, but getting better
  • You incur a "hard pull" aka a temporary credit score drop when applying so make sure you really need it

Capital One 360

For the occasional traveler that still wants a good bank

Travel-wise, the Capital One 360 is slightly worse than Schwab: no foreign transaction fees but they don't refund foreign ATM fees. However, it's easier to open an account since it's an internet based bank and they have a better website/app. It's a good choice if you don't travel as often but still want a bank that's generally travel friendly.

Maps

20 years ago there was no way to hide the fact you were a tourist: you had to use fold out paper maps. Not sure Beyoncé can even make that look cool (okay she can). Now, we can now hide our poor sense of direction and lack of spacial awareness with amazingly detailed and accurate maps right on our phones. Suave new world indeed.

Tip

GPS works on smartphones without signal, so you can keep airplane mode on even while using your maps offline and save yourself from roaming if needed.

Did you know?

The size of countries you see on typical maps is wrong. Say whaaat? They're distorted so our spherical world (ahem flat earthers) can fit onto a flat piece of paper (called Mercator projection). For example, Africa is actually much bigger than our maps give it credit for. See for yourself. Something to keep in mind when guesstimating distance and travel time.

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Google Mapsworks offline

Best overall mapping app for travel

Google Maps is the king of maps and deservedly so. It's fast, constantly updated, accurate, and can be used across the vast majority of the world. They also have specific features that make traveling easier: offline maps, accurate public transportation for most cities, and a lot of content for finding interesting local attractions (see its sister app Google Trips).

Where it falls short: certain areas can't be downloaded offline (like Japan), for which we then recommend Maps.me (below). Furthermore, despite Google's ubiquity, there are specific countries where a local company's maps works better:

Tips

Maps.meworks offline

Great backup you should have just in case

Maps.me was the go to mapping app for travelers until Google Maps added offline features. However, we still recommend having Maps.me on your phone for a few reasons:

  • Walking and biking routes still work offline, they don't on Google Maps
  • Offline maps can be downloaded for anywhere, including areas Google Maps won't let you
  • It's well made, fast, and includes useful features like Uber integration

Basically, Maps.me can competently fill in where Google Maps is lacking.

Citymapperworks offline

Best for public transit in big cities

If you're traveling to a big city with a widespread but complex public transit system like Tokyo or NYC, you have to download Citymapper. Google Maps isn't bad for public transit, but Citymapper takes it to a new level with real-time updates on arrival times and disruptions with convenient features like notifying you when to get off, all wrapped in a pleasant and clear design.

They're in most big urban cities and are always adding more. They even launched a new bus route in London by using their data to find underserved areas.

Ride Hailing

Still waving your arms like a neanderthal to catch cabs on the street? Save your energy, as tapping on a screen is much less work. While old school taxis are still a good option in big cities like Tokyo and NYC, ride hailing apps like Uber are often easier especially in unfamiliar cities since you can input the address into the app vs. trying to explain in a foreign language, the rates are usually cheaper, and you don't have to worry about being price gouged since the prices are set by the app.

Other popular regional options
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Uber

Best worldwide ride hailing service

Uber is in by far the most number of cities worldwide than any other ride hailing app. They do charge in the local currency, so make sure the payment option you provide has no foreign transaction fees (go to our Travel Credit Card or Travel Debit Card sections). Depending on the city, they'll have a few different options that range from carpooling (cheapest) to black car or SUVs (expensive).

Lyft

Great for rides in the US

Lyft is the second biggest in the US with great coverage across all major cities and regions and to many has a better reputation than their rival Uber. Their mobile app's design is also top notch.

Check the cities Lyft is in »

Didi Chuxing

Best for rides in China

Didi Chuxing is the biggest ride hailing service in China (after it merged with Uber China). It used to only be available in Chinese but recently became much easier to use for foreigners: it's now available in English and also accepts international credit cards. 谢谢 very much.

Grab

Great for rides in Southeast Asia

Grab is Southeast Asia's homegrown option that's in 30 cities across Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. If you're not tied to Uber (we know it's always easier to not have to download another app), Grab is a great option that works similarly.

BlaBlaCar

Great for affordable, carpool style rides in Europe

BlaBlaCar is a popular option for getting rides between cities in Europe (and increasingly parts of Central/South America). When a BlaBlaCar driver is going on a specific route and you tell BlaBlaCar you are too, you'll get matched up and pay a fee that's usually cheaper than the train or plane. It's basically new age hitchhiking made for the trust age (ya we just wrote that).

Car Rentals

Let's admit it: renting a car won't rank high on anyone's list when traveling, but it's kind of a must when going outside cities without Uber. Thankfully, these services make it easier and in some cases more fun. Who knows, maybe we'll miss renting cars and driving ourselves one day. When autonomous cars are the norm in 30 years, we could be the grumpy adults saying to children: "back in our day, we actually had to drive ourselves ☝️."

Tips
  • If you're in another country, verify if an International Driver's Permit (IDP) is needed
  • If crossing borders, verify with where you're renting from about their border crossing policy along with the country you'd cross into
  • It can often be cheaper to cab into downtown or a suburb and rent there instead of at the airport
  • Make sure to specifically request automatic in regions like Europe and South America where manuals are common
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Turo

Best for multi-day trips in the US and Canada

Turo is the "Airbnb of cars" where regular people rent out their cars since they're usually not being used. It's the best option when traveling since they focus on longer duration, multi-day trips where people need to go further. They're in over 4,500+ cities across the US and Canada which includes airport pick up so you can bypass the line at a typical rental counter, pick up a car, and go. Furthermore, with such a big variety of cars it can be a better value than traditional rental cars or you can get a much cooler car, like this McLaren or Tesla. Ya ain't gonna to find those at Hertz.

Many credit card companies, however, don't recognize Turo as a valid car rental service so you can't use the additional insurance these cards offer. Check with yours. The coordination with the car owners can sometimes be tricky too (but that's true of all peer-to-peer marketplaces).

Rentalcars.com

Best traditional car rental search

If you prefer the traditional car rental approach, there are dozens of them: big ones like Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, etc but also smaller regional ones. Rentalcars.com searches lots of them for you at once and can generally get you good deals.

Tips
  • Once you find a few leads, check the car rental service directly to make sure you're indeed getting the best deal
  • Rental car bookings are usually cancellable all the way until you pick up the car, so no harm in locking in a good rate ahead of time
  • After reserving, use with AutoSlash (mentioned below) to check for price decreases

AutoSlash

For receiving alerts if your rental's price drops

You can usually cancel a traditional car rental reservation anytime up until you show up at the counter. This means you're free to comparison shop all the way until then and rebook if you find a better deal. Too lazy? Let AutoSlash do it for you. Just give it your car rental booking info and it'll automatically email you if they find a better price for a similar booking. Many report considerable savings without much effort.

MyTripCar

An honest car rental search (Europe only for now)

Renting a car can quickly get complicated with random hidden fees, credit card holds, insurance requirements, and more. MyTripCar is a new car rental search that shows you all of these hidden costs up front before you rent in what they call the final price. No other car rental searches today do that.

They're currently Europe only and only have a few rental partners so not a truly useful tool yet for global travelers, but we like their "do right by the customer" approach and thought they were worth mentioning in the hopes they grow to more regions.

car2go

Great for short trips within cities

If you're traveling to a city and prefer to drive yourself for short trips (think minutes/hours), we recommend car2go. It's a modern take on city carsharing that uses GPS to let you pick up and drop off cars anywhere with the entire process from beginning to end done through a mobile app. No human interaction needed. Since it's the brainchild of Daimler, the maker of Mercedes Benz, you also get access to some cool cars like the CLA. Prices are cheap enough it won't be far from what you'd pay for an Uber/Lyft (not to mention there's no surge pricing).

car2go is currently in 27 cities across US, Canada, Europe, and China with more to time. Zipcar is your best option otherwise since they're in hundreds of cities and airports, but they have a monthly membership fee which can be a no go if you're only there for travel (although the membership gets you access everywhere).

Crowdsourced City Guides

The perfect crowdsourced city guide doesn't exist. We wish it did. Some are better in certain countries. Others have more in depth content. Some have content better meant for a specific audience. They're all different, and maybe that makes sense. Everyone's different, and no one's perfect. Maybe that's the true wisdom of the crowds. Using some combination of the apps mentioned here though, you're guaranteed to find interesting things to do wherever you travel to.

If all else fails, just go to a place with a line. Lines are the real life reviews.

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TripAdvisorworks offline

Will point you in the right direction, but use with others

TripAdvisor is the behemoth of crowdsourced travel guides: their stickers are everywhere when traveling. They do have the most reviews and pictures for the most cities, so it’s hard to go wrong, but it's also hard to go very right. Their reviews are very tourist focused and generally middling quality so in order to find real gems it takes a lot of digging. The design of their apps are lacking too: interactions like filtering, sorting, mapping, etc are all a step below apps like Foursquare and Yelp. The main bright spot is you can download a city's reviews for usage offline, a rarity among these apps.

We recommend using TripAdvisor as a starting point but to supplement with other city guides to get a better balance between tourist-y must dos and off the beaten path or local gems.

Yelp

Great in the US and some of Europe

Yelp is great in areas Yelp is used, which is mainly the US but increasingly parts of Europe and South America. Compared to TripAdvisor, reviews on Yelp are generally higher quality and more from locals, so you’ll see a slight bent towards restaurants, cafes, bars, and businesses than tourist attractions. The design of their apps and website are also a strong suit.

Foursquare

International content, great design, and useful personalization

Foursquare started off as a trendy check in app (remember that?), using that to grow into the full blown city guide it is today. It consistently has content all across the world, but there's generally not a huge density of it like you see on TA or Yelp and instead of reviews they use concise tips which can be good or bad depending on how in depth you want to go. Their design is the best in this category: sleek and easy to use with fun details sprinkled throughout 👌🏼.

A neat feature, especially when in a new city, is Foursquare's use artificial intelligence to provide personalized recommendations based on where you've been before. Love burritos? They'll automatically notify you with a list of nearby Mexican restaurants with bomb burritos.

Don't just check me out, check me in

Foursquare broke off their "check in" feature into Swarm, a separate app that's similarly well designed and fun to use. It's a great travel companion to log and remember where you've been.

Google

Enough content to be useful and conveniently integrated across all Google apps

Google's local reviews can conveniently be accessed through any of their services: when searching on Google ('things to do in [city]'), Google Maps, their new trip planning app Google Trips, and others. There's going to be reviews for nearly everywhere you go, but it's rarely the best or most plentiful. The one area they are consistently great about is having 360 panaromic style photos for major attractions, which can be useful when planning.

Considering that nearly everyone probably uses Google in some way everyday already, it's an easy and quick place to look.

Trip.com

A more personalized, fun approach to local recommendations

Trip.com (damn, what a domain name) uses time of day, weather, the type of traveler you are, and more to provide timely and personalized recommendations. It's a different approach than other crowdsourced city guides that can work well if a city on Trip.com has enough reviews (which it does for most). As for the app itself, it's cute and designed with "gamification" techniques like badges, points, leaderboards, etc similar to Foursquare/Swarm to incentivize people to write reviews.

Professional City Guides

The other side of the city guide coin is written by professionals. People who are well traveled, good storytellers, and refined in their taste... so basically Anthony Bourdain. Only good grammar and professional photos found here. It's a different approach that can be a lot less work than sifting through dozens of TripAdvisor reviews saying "1 star for being closed" and wildly out of focus pictures. Thanks! You're sooooo helpful.

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Lonely Planet Guidesworks offline

Beautifully designed app with Lonely Planet's signature quality

Lonely Planet, historically known for their dead tree books, has quietly reimagined itself for the mobile age with their new Guides app. It's a joy to use: a clean and straightforward interface, powerful filtering, offline ability, convenient bookmarking, and beautiful pictures. Oh, the content is also to the point and well vetted with all the detailed information you'd need like the typical cost for lunch or dinner. Although it started off sparse they now offer over 100+ cities. We're big fans.

The New York Times: 36 Hours

Succinct and practical guides with balanced recommendations

The basis of this series by The New York Times is what to do if you only have 36 hours to get to know a city. They're stylishly written and very practical. The best part is they don't just recommend the tourist traps but also places that are more local or off the beaten path so you get a better idea of what the city is actually like. The more recent ones also come with helpful annotated maps to get your bearings. These should be your go-to if you're pressed for time.

Prefer books? They sell region specific compilations like this one for Europe

Wikivoyage

The Wikipedia of travel city guides

Although not technically "professional" by strict standards, Wikivoyage is high quality enough to be considered so. Wikivoyage is modeled after Wikipedia in that information is added and edited in a crowdsourced manner but publicly checked and held to higher standards than what you'd find on something like TripAdvisor. Each city is well researched making it similarly fun to fall down the "oh this looks interesting" kind of link clicking rabbit hole we all do on Wikipedia.

Anyone can use Wikivoyage's data since it's publicly licensed, so for iOS we recommend Modern Atlas. It presents Wikivoyage's data much more eloquently.

Atlas Obscura

For finding cool and off the beaten path gems

Atlas Obscura specializes in places you don't often find in typical guides, like an abandoned subway station or an island full of cats, making it great if you've already hit all the tourist must sees or you fancy yourself a weirdo (raises hand). The writing, visuals, and design are all well done and even integrate cool community features like saving places to a "want to visit" list.

Prefer books? See their best seller An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Book Local Experiences

Walking around yourself using what you read in books or the interwebz can be fun when traveling, but paying money to have authentic local experiences or to gain deeper insight into a place can be the difference between a good and great trip. Street art tours, cooking classes, ziplining... you name it and it's out there. Whether or not the oft repeated mantra of "experiences over things" is something to adhere to, at the very least you can show off about it on Facebook 😛.

Tips
  • Tip in accordance with local customs, as tipping too little or too much can hurt a local economy. Use The Basetrip to see how your destination handles tips.
  • Don't book up 100% of your time with planned activities. Make sure to leave some time for spontaneous exploration. A good balance between the two is what makes for a memorable trip.
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PlacePass

Best overall local experiences search

There are hundreds of companies offering local activities and tours all across the world. PlacePass searches the biggest ones, including Viator and GetYourGuide, all at once for you. They offer over 100,000 experiences in 800 destinations and growing. While still a relatively new company, their website is well designed and the large amount of results for each city bear out its claim. At the least it's a great place to start your search.

Klook

Great for booking discounted local experiences and services in Asia

Klook is a must check for anyone traveling to Asia and Australia. They curate a great selection of must do local activities, many with exclusive discounts they've negotiated. Convenient services like airport pickup and wifi hotspots are also listed. We've booked these additional services ourselves and can attest to their usefulness as organizing them separately can be a pain. Their website and apps are clean and easy to use.

They've begun expanding to North America and Europe but it's still relatively sparse there. Expect that to improve over the coming year.

Context Travel

For more in depth, intellectual tours

If you're well traveled and crave more insight into a locale than the typical free walking tour, try Context Travel. They set themselves apart by hiring Ph.D and MA level scholars to lead tours that provide deep, intellectual insight for culturally rich cities across the world. We joined one explaining the intricacies of Japanese zen gardens in Kyoto and it was magnificent. They're typically a bit more expensive than other tours, but considering the quality and how different they are we think they're worth it.

ToursByLocals

For private or customized tours led by locals

No one's going to know a place better than locals, at least according to ToursByLocals. It's a marketplace that connects travelers with local guides, vets the guides to ensure quality, and takes care of the payments to ensure guides deliver on what they promise. These locals do post their own tours, but what's even better is they make it easy to contact these guides directly to set up custom private tours that cater directly to your interests and needs. No cookie cutter tours here. They should just default the tours to "Places to take pictures that'll get the most likes."

Airbnb Experiences

For hip and atypical experiences

Airbnb's recent foray into local experiences is still growing, but what they have so far is promising. As the resident "hip" brand among modern travelers, their experiences tend towards the opposite direction of the tourist laden "must dos" you see on TripAdvisor. Think socially conscious produce gardening, cave diving, electronic music production classes, etc all lead by local experts. The branding for each class is beautifully done and it's all built using Airbnb's signature design. If Airbnb lists experiences for where you're traveling to, it's worth checking out.

Translate Languages

I can't even. 我甚至不能. No puedo ni siquiera. Je ne peux même pas. Don't let language be a barrier to letting others know you can't. With these translation apps, even you, yes you, can. #anythingispossible

Tip

Many are unaware you can translate live video aka whatever your camera is looking at even when offline. It's a fast way to translate big signs without having to manually type it in (especially if it's non latin like Chinese).

Did you know?

Competition is brewing among tech giants on who can use artificial intelligence (AI) the best, and improving language translation accuracy is a key battle ground. All the major translator apps today use an AI technology called machine learning aka it's really good at finding patterns in data. After Google added this new system in 2016, it "demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime." Skynet, anyone?

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Google Translateworks offline

Best overall translation app

If you were to only use one translation app, it'd be Google Translate. It supports the most languages (103), lets you download most for usage offline, and is now more accurate than ever thanks to AI. You can translate through five methods: type, speak, draw, picture, and live video translation (which can be really useful for signs).

Sorry iOS users, but Android gets a special "tap to translate" feature that lets you translate directly in chat apps. If you've ever had to chat in a foreign language, you know how big of a time saver that could be.

List of supported languages »

Microsoft Translatorworks offline

Great alternative, especially for live conversation translations

Microsoft Translator only supports 60 languages to Google's 103, but if you were to look beyond that one measure it's actually better in a few ways. Google Translate lets you save phrases for future use, but Microsoft goes further and includes an entire set of commonly used phrases for quick reference. Microsoft's image translation is also easier to use (you don't need to manually highlight words).

However, the biggest feature that sets Microsoft Translator apart from Google Translate is simply called "conversations" that translates conversations in real time between multiple people and devices. It lets people partake in discussions regardless of language in a more natural way vs. having to constantly speak or type into a phone in a jilted back and forth manner. It's what a future where language isn't a barrier would feel like.

Baidu Translateworks offline

Best for Chinese or when in China

We recommend Baidu Translate if you're going to China (since Google is blocked there) or if you want more accurate Chinese translations like local lingo. Baidu is basically the Google of China so it's not surprising Chinese is their specialty.

Learn Languages

It's said you don't truly understand your own language until you learn another because until then you never think about all the rules you use to express things. Why does 'ding dong' sound right but not 'dong ding'? Same with 'bad big wolf' vs. 'big bad wolf'? Contrasting your language with another is an enlightening experience, and some say even good for democracy.

The general way to learn a language is to first understand fundamentals like grammar, reading, writing, etc and then learning all the vocabulary to go with it from basic to advanced. The apps mentioned here are usually used in some combination with each other and can take you all the way to being an expert.

Tips
  • Classes and learning apps are great, but nothing will beat how fast you learn actually using a language intensely in person
  • Another excuse to Netflix and chill: watching a show in another language is a great way to supplement especially if it's an engrossing show you want to fully understand. Most streaming services like Netflix/Hulu have a good collection of foreign shows.
Did you know?

Languages across the world have a different base number of colors. English has 11, but some only have 3. For example, the Wobé language used in Ivory Coast describes blue, purple, and brown all using one word. The order in which they're named though does follow a trend. Check it out »

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Duolingoworks offline but limited

Best overall language learning app

Duolingo is by far the most popular and modern way to learn a language today and deservedly so. It's free, fun to use, well designed, and very effective especially when starting out with a language. Their science based approach lets you learn via listening, translation, and some speaking and specifically is set up not so you just memorize vocabulary but so that you actually understand how a language works, like usage and grammar. However, many quickly outgrow it and want more advanced vocabulary, which is why it's usually combined with apps like Memrise.

Memriseworks offline

Best flashcard app for learning vocabulary

Memrise is a well designed and easy to use flashcard style app that's great at helping you remember vocabulary words through a variety of methods including associating them with images. An effective strategy that many use is to learn the basics with Duolingo and then master advanced vocabulary with Memrise.

Official Memrise courses are guaranteed to be high quality, but anyone (including you) can make flashcard sets. These community created ones are plentiful, easy to find, and many are great quality. The best ones have audio spoken by native speakers, which is a big time saver.

Ankiworks offline

Great for remembering hard vocabulary long term

Anki is a powerful flashcard system that advanced students of all academic pursuits swear by, not just for learning languages. It's great for helping you remember difficult items like your anniversary using a technique called spaced repetition (which other apps use, but not this well) and by letting you customize it to your heart's content.

However, Anki's design isn't as user friendly as apps like Duolingo and syncing between multiple devices is a pain, so it's harder to set up and get right. The iOS app also costs $25 (although the rest is free). If you're set on becoming a master though, investing the time and money into Anki can be worth it.

Beelinguappworks offline

Learn by reading and listening to books

David enjoyed reading and listening to books as a way to learn languages but found it slow to constantly look up words he didn't know, so he decided to fix his own problem and create Beelinguapp. It displays a story in two languages side by side while giving you the option to have it be read out loud. The stories are translated and narrated by native speakers so you know it's right.

Currently Android only, but an iOS version is on the way. Some stories do cost money to read, but they're cheap.

The original Kickstarter for Beelinguapp »

Tandem

Learn through conversations and talking to people

Tandem is a fun service that pairs people who are interested in speaking each other's languages and improve together. They add nifty features to make it easier like setting a desired topic, being able to correct each other, and providing multiple ways to converse (text, audio call, video call, photos). You can also pay to talk to professional language tutors. Assuming you already understand the basics, Tandem is an effective way to get to the ultimate goal of any language learner: to have fluid and rich conversations with another person.

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