When was the last time you saw a student without a smartphone? Students, teachers, chaperones and others involved in student travel are all attached to their devices. Even if their travels take them beyond the U.S. border, smartphones are top travel tools. Whether you rely on a wi-fi connection or get a phone that can work internationally, your smartphone can keep you connected.
Years ago, I traveled in Europe phone-free. Changing plans on the fly, checking travel documents and itineraries and posting my experiences on social media were impossible. I missed the flexibility. I was even a bit uneasy at times, like when I arrived at a Hungarian bus station at 11 p.m. — no cab in sight and no translator to ease my way. I would’ve given a lot of money to have a working phone and internet connection at that point.
Now, of course, this isn’t a problem. Even the local purchase of a prepaid phone and plan is within most student travelers’ budgets. So how can they take advantage of this connectivity during their trip?
11 Must-Have Phone Apps for Student Travelers
The reasons to use apps while you travel are many. They can give you more information about where you are. They can help you communicate and stay organized. They make it possible to change plans and meet up with others in your group at short notice. And they can even help you stay safe.
Let’s look at 11 types of apps that no one involved in a student travel experience should be without. Sharp-eyed readers will note that there are more than 15 actual apps mentioned; if an app wasn’t available on both Android smartphones and iPhones, I’ve listed a comparable app.
- Photo Sharing / Social Media — Honestly, these apps are probably already on your phone: Snapchat and Facebook. But they’re hard to beat when you want to quickly share your experiences with your friends at home.
- Translation & Language – A good traveler always attempts to learn at least a few words of the local language. But what if you have to string together a complex phrase? Or what if you’re travelling in a place where another dialect or language is spoken? Google Translate (Android) and iTranslate (iTunes) to the rescue. They both translate over 90 languages, so you should be covered.
- Travel Itinerary – In the bad old days, travelers had to print out all their plans and pray that everything they printed made it into their luggage. Today’s travelers only have to worry about forwarding their confirmation emails. The TripIt app (both) creates an itinerary based on the emails you forward to it. You can also use it to share your plans with others and store your important travel documents. If you choose to upgrade from the free version, you also get real-time flight alerts, alternate flight notifications and other perks.
- Flights — If you’re looking for information on a flight you’ve already booked, I’d advise using your airline app. For example, Delta‘s app (both) lets you check in to your flight, look up flight statuses, get alerts and updates, pay for and track checked luggage and even explore the scenery you’re flying over. If you’re looking for short-notice travel plans and you’re not locked into an airline, Skyscanner (both) searches 1,200 travel operators to find your flight for less.
- Worst Case Scenario — The Smart Traveler app (Android, iTunes) is part of the U.S. State Department’s STEP program. This free service links you with current state department information about the countries you’re visiting, including health and safety information, travel warnings and U.S. embassy locations. Should an emergency arise, registering with the STEP program makes it easier for the embassy to contact you.
- Augmented Reality — In time, we’ll be able to point our mobile devices at anything and learn about it on the spot. For now, we’ll have to be content with apps that offer customized suggestions about nearby activities and points of interest. Google Trips (both) is my nomination here, and it has the added feature of organizing your travel itinerary by way of the emails in your Gmail inbox.
- Maps — The granddaddy of online maps, Google Maps (Android, iTunes) is my go-to map app. No matter how you go — bike, walk or ride — it shows you the options for your route and anything you may want to stop for on the way (coffee break, anyone?). Hint: If you’re looking for public transportation routes, tap the train icon.
- Communication & Organization — Now, let’s suppose that your phone has wi-fi but no actual phone capabilities. In this case, a trio of well-known apps can help you stay connected. WhatsApp (both) and Skype (both) handle texts, IMs, voice calls and video calls. And Dropbox (both) stashes group documents in an easy-to-access cloud storage facility.
- Money — If math isn’t your strong point, you probably avoid doing currency conversions at all costs. XE Currency apps (both) don’t look fancy, but they get the job done and help you stay in budget. Plus, they’re free.
- Safety — Even when traveling, safety comes first. The mobile app bSafe (both) lets you share your location with friends and use an alarm function to alert them if trouble happens.
- Health & Wellness — The CDC has a pair of apps to help you stay healthy while you vacation. TravWell lets you store your medical information, set reminders to take medications while travelling and use a customized checklist to make sure you pack everything you need. Plus, it comes with a list of emergency phone numbers. Can I Eat This? gives you advice on whether your food or drink choices are likely to result in a bad case of traveler’s diarrhea. Both apps are available on iTunes and Google Play.
Student travelers and those who travel with them will find themselves using some of these apps repeatedly. Others are there for peace of mind. Either way, staying connected during these expeditions is important.