Apple’s iOS devices have significantly changed the way we travel, providing immediate access to useful information and allowing us to capture more of our experiences on the road. The GPS capabilities mean that we never get lost (unless we choose to deliberately) and the high quality cameras mean that a unique moment is never missed.
The platform has also brought with it an explosion of creativity and ingenuity from developers and designers, making our interactions with our device that little bit richer and, over the last year since we bought our iPhone 5, we’ve collected a number of apps that have enhanced our travels or enabled us to be more creative and productive as we work on the road.
Apple’s Maps app has received a lot of bad press but in our experience it has been relatively reliable and it’s system-level integration for navigation can’t be beat.
However, Google Maps does still have the data. Often it has many locations that Apple’s doesn’t yet—especially outside the major Western destinations—so we have Google Maps installed as well and use it on those occasions that Apple’s Maps app fails us.
Google Maps: Free
Drafts is a a nifty little note taking app that integrates with so many third party services and apps. It launches quickly and with a new blank note, so I treat it as I would post it notes—somewhere that I can scribble something down quickly for dealing with later.
I also find that it’s a great way of posting tweets or Facebook updates without actually loading up those apps. It’s all too easy to be distracted by your streams, messages or @ replies so having an app that you can shoot updates off without seeing the feeds can be a productivity saviour.
The options available for working with text are crazy and it has full markdown support. You can do actions like append the note to an existing file in Dropbox, for example, or have it read your note and construct an email out of it.
Drafts: £1.99 / $2.99
If Drafts is my Post-It note app, then ByWord is my thick, letter-headed writing pad and is by far my current iOS note taking app of choice. Cleanly designed and easy-to-use, with full markdown support, solid Dropbox integration and an additional button bar that sits above the keyboard providing quick access to markdown syntax keys, it’s a great way to write on the go.
I pair it with NVAlt on the desktop which also syncs via Dropbox and provides an easy way to write on the Mac and then quickly pick it up on the iPhone/iPad (or vice versa).
Byword: £2.99 / $4.99
This classic app is a pleasure to use and it remains our primary list making app. It is much more suited to lists than a simple text editor, providing big, colourful boxes to interact with and those interactions are not only intuitive, but serve to remind of the joy to be had interacting directly with pixels using complex real-world gestures.
Clear: £0.69 / $0.99
Yes, another writing app. I’m a sucker for interesting and well designed ways to capture text.
Day One is the ultimate journalling app, available on iOS and for OS X. With photos, tags, locations, weather and markdown support all wrapped up in a beautiful interface including a calendar and a lovely photo view, it’s been one of my favourite apps for over a year now and I still use it every day.
Featuring both Dropbox and iCloud support, it makes all of my entries available on all of my devices all of the time.
Day One: £2.99 / $4.99
My competitive nature was piqued by the points and the leaderboards but this destination discovery app hides a valuable guidebook under its gamified exterior—often featuring places abroad that the map apps don’t have (or have in the wrong place), as well as recommendations and opening hours, we’ve found it an essential addition to locating out of the way spots wherever we are.
Yelp is a great app for finding restaurants and other businesses. It works best in the US although also has content for Canada, the UK, Australia and parts of Europe. We used it all the time in California, especially San Francisco where it seems every restaurant and cafe is extensively reviewed by users. We loved being able to type “vegetarian restaurant” or “sandwich” into the app and it’ll tell you the nearest places with comprehensive reviews and menus. I only wish we could use Yelp everywhere.
Useful for finding vegetarian restaurants while we travel as it tells you which ones are closest with reviews from users.
Happy Cow: £1.99 / $2.99
If you’re any sort of visual artist (or if you simply love colour), then this is a great little app for creating palettes from photos or the camera. Point it at something and it’ll automatically derive a palette from whatever the camera sees. It also features an interactive colour wheel with all of the standard palette composition tools.
Adobe Kuler: Free
My Read Later service of choice. Capture any web page for offline reading using the handy browser bookmarklets or through its integration with a zillion other web-based apps (like Feedly).
These pages can then be downloaded to your device or compiled into your own daily or weekly magazine and delivered direct to your Kindle ready for those long bus and plane journeys.
Instapaper: £2.49 / $3.99
We would be remiss if we didn’t include this one—we built it for ourselves first and foremost and still use it every day. Trail Wallet allows us to track our expenses quickly and easily, converts seamlessly between over 210 currencies, and groups our spending by trip/month and category. It helps us to stay on budget so we can continue travelling, and even manages to make budgeting fun.
The best travel expense tracker out there, even if we do say so ourselves.
Trail Wallet: Free for 25 entries (£1.99 / $2.99 In App Purchase for full version)
Useful for checking out the WiFi situation before committing to accommodation (or a coffee shop).
Speed Test: Free
Duolingo is a free app that gamifies language learning. It offers courses in Italian, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and English, and we really enjoyed using it to learn/revise Italian this summer. It’s available online and for the iPhone, iPad and Android. Erin preferred the iPad app as it was more portable than a laptop but has a larger screen than the iPhone. The app caches a limited number of lessons so you can have offline access.
It really makes language learning fun as you lose hearts if you get wrong answers, practice against the clock, and proceed through different levels. It’s also useful if you aren’t a beginner as you can take a quiz to skip levels. Another handy feature is voice recognition so you can check if your pronunciation is correct.
For the last year Erin has been running most days and has found that tracking her runs with an app helps keep her motivated and track her progress. She started with the free MapMyRun app but has recently switched to iSmoothRun which has many more features and is well worth the $4.99 price tag.
You can set workouts such as a simple 10k or more detailed customised workouts with intervals at target paces. The voice coaching during the run will tell you to run faster or slower and give regular progress updates. There are lots of other features too like being able to play music playlists direct from the app, cadence tracking, an auto pause function when you stop to cross the road, and it provides extensive graphs and statistics of your run.
iSmoothRun: £2.99 / $4.99
Our go-to weather app which we’ve found to be accurate and has breakdowns of the expected weather every two hours of the day in a well designed interface.
Forecast is actually a web app so you won’t find it in the App Store. Go to Forecast on your phone and you’ll be able to add it to your home screen.
If your life needs more over-saturated sunsets or sepia-toned food photos, then look no further than Instagram.
There are basically two reactions you could have to that last sentence, and which one you experienced will probably determine how much you enjoy using this photo app.
We love it (and you can find us here).
The interface is pretty ugly but it’s easy to use and takes some stunning photos with much better results than the iPhone’s built in HDR feature.
Pro HDR: £0.99 / $1.99
The accuracy isn’t perfect and it’s mainly online-based (although there is a favourites feature that caches the results for offline use), but Google Translate can be a lifesaver when we want to look up a word or phrase when we’re out and about and it comes in very handy to translate the text messages our Thai mobile phone service sends us.
Google Translate: Free
This is a more accurate dictionary than Google Translate if you just want to look up one word but it’s also only available online and it doesn’t cover as many languages as Google Translate.
A simple currency conversion app although it’s all gesture based which takes a bit of time to get used to.
Currency: £0.69 / $0.99
I couldn’t believe Garageband existed when I first saw it. I still can’t, really. Here was a powerful multitrack recording system, complete with a range of high-quality virtual instruments, on a device you could slip into your pocket. As a recovering drummer who can’t keep still and will tap away at anything, being able to pull out a phone and have all that tapping translate into actual, velocity-sensitive drum noises makes me so happy.
Garageband: Free (£2.99 / $4.99 In App Purchase for full version)
Travel offers a wealth of enriching experiences to those privileged enough to be able to enjoy them. The technology that a large number of us now carry allows us to capture, process, and understand these experiences more than ever before.
Of course, there is a price to pay with all these new abilities. Vigilance against the pull of the virtual over the physical is constantly required. Social media constantly battles for our attention, often distracting us from experiencing the moments at hand and finding the balance between harnessing the power of the technology and being consumed by it is the struggle of the modern age—nothing can destroy a beautiful moment like an unsolicited, snarky tweet.
The technology itself is neutral, nothing more than a tool to be used and, used wisely, it can enrich our travel and work lives in incredible and exciting ways.
You can also see my favourite iPhone games in my post on Gaming on the Road.
- If you’re not using markdown for drafting anything that might end up on the web, you should seriously consider it. It’s a way of writing that focuses on the writing first, and the HTML formatting second. We now write all of our posts exclusively in Markdown, only converting to HTML when we’re ready to drop the post into WordPress. ↩
- We’ve found that notifications need to be strictly managed in order to preserve our sanity and the sanctity of moments and we’ve turned everything off except for our calendars and the Reminders app. ↩
Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.