When I did my first backpacking trip in 1998, I didn’t even own a mobile phone. I went to Nepal and could only rely on snail mail or long distance landline calls to reach the rest of the world. I never dreamed I’d have so much ‘necessity’ at my fingertips, as I do now.
Although on this trip, I’ve only been on the road for a few days, I can see what apps, devices and web pages are going to be the most valuable to me as I travel around Europe, and thought I’d share what they are, for anyone reading this who might find them helpful.
1. My mobile provider
As I was in the uk for 3 1/2 months before leaving for the continent, I had enough time to review and explore which mobile providers offered the best coverage for Europe and opted to go with Vodafone. This simple text received from them upon my arrival in Luxembourg is the reason why.
I decided to get a £20 a month SIM only package from Vodafone, which allows me to call, text and send picture messages to anyone with a European number (still including the UK) for free! So if I want to call my Mum and Dad, send a funny picture to a friend or text to ask someone how they’re doing, I don’t have to worry about any exorbitant costs. Not only that, with the 4GB of inclusive data per month, I can browse the internet, without being too restricted by how long I’m online for.
2. My Kindle
I swore never to get a kindle because I love books and turning pages so much – even hugging a good book once it has finished, if it has stirred me emotionally. However, after sailing around one of the archipelagos of the Philippines last year, having finished my book, while everyone else only had Kindles so I couldn’t books swap like I normally do, I relented and decided to buy one. Quite possibly one of the best decisions I’ve made. To have that many books at my fingertips and not having to lug so many paperbacks around in my bag was so helpful. I read a lot and when you’re abroad and need some downtime, reading is essential. I now have at least 20 books waiting to be read and have all my favourite fictional characters travelling with me. The extra space in my bag has also been well utilised! I will continue to read books when I’m in one place but as a traveller, I believe a Kindle is essential.
3. The Hostelworld app
For the majority of this trip, I will be staying in hostels. They’re cheap, convenient, flexible and often incredibly well located. I used the Hostelworld app pretty much for the first time when I went on my UK road trip and it is so user friendly. They have a myriad of hostels in pretty much every country around the world and all are rated, reviewed and reasonably priced. Hostelworld also provide up to date photos and directions of how to reach the hostels from nearby transport hubs. It is extremely accurate in its ratings as well and I’ve never stayed in a bad hostel. You secure the hostel by paying a deposit through the app and then pay the balance upon your arrival at the hostel. Easy as.
When I met Julia in the Lake District, she told me about the maps.me app and having used it for the past 3 days, I cannot see how I’d live without it for the rest of this Euro adventure. When connected to wifi, you download the map of the city/country you’re in and then you can use it, data free wherever you need. If you need to walk from A-B, it uses your GPS and you walk the route as if you’re using a sat nav. It categorises restaurants, view points, sights, public toilets, shops, entertainment, transport, WIFI, Post Offices and plenty more. It directs you to them and shows them all on a clear, easy to understand map. You can drop a pin on your hostel or a bus stop you need to get back to and you’ll always know where you are and where you need to go. All this is accessible even when your data and WIFI is turned off, so doesn’t cost you a penny. There aren’t even adverts or slow loading content to worry about. This is quite possibly the best travelling app I have come across.
5. A portable charger
Having access to all of this via your phone does mean that you are using it a lot of the time. I currently use an iPhone 6 and I find it extremely user friendly but the battery life is pretty shocking. I’m find I’m charging my phone 3 times a day, so having my portable charger is essential. I picked up a Sony one from duty free one year for about AU$80 and it’s slim, lightweight and holds a lot of charge. It’s definitely worth investing in one if you’re unlikely to know when you’ll be able to sit near a plug socket and recharge.
6. My phone
This probably should have been number 1 as nearly every point listed above can’t be used without it. However as I use it so often, it doesn’t spring to mind as it’s like an extended part of my hand. I’m even staring at it now, as I write this blog. Of course different handsets suit different people but I’m happy to say I’ve never had a problem with iPhones and Apple and will continue to use mine. I would really struggle without it now, so it’s no reason I rarely put it down!
Not only do I need it for my apps, I am using it to take all my photos as well , so if you’ve ever had a look at my Instagram page, you can see why I’m so happy with the camera and editing function.
Also, It has ALL of my music on it, so is essential for long journeys, escapism or when trying to ignore the weird guy in your dorm who won’t stop talking or constantly clearing his throat.
7. Multi adaptor, universal USB charger
I have a charger which has different plugs, which can be used depending on where you are in the world and it can charge 4 devices at once. So that’s my phone, my kindle, my portable charger and right now as I type, someone else’s iPhone who has forgotten his charger. I’ve no idea who he is, I’m just doing my good deed for the day.
Power points can be rare in some hostels. In a hostel in Dublin, there was only one available in a dorm shared by 8 of us and it was always in use. At least now I can charge every thing up at once, wherever I’m allowed to plug it in and not have to spend ages alternating devices.
8. The AirBnb app
Every now and again, when travelling, you just need your own space. You need your own room, want access to a washing machine and your own bathroom. Hotels are fine but when on a budget, can be expensive. Airbnb gives you everything you need but for a much more palatable price. I used the app a lot on my UK road trip and again it was super easy to use. The payment process is easy peasy and with pictures, reviews and messaging services, it is easy to get a good feel for where you’re staying and 9 times out of 10, the reviews are accurate and the places you stay, whether it be a room in someone’s house or the whole house itself can be as central or as remote as you need it to be.
9. My laptop
I was unsure whether to include this, as I rarely use it but I have chosen to bring it with me and it is often helpful. This is the first blog I’ve written using my phone, as I much prefer to see the layout of the page on a bigger screen and there is more functionality available to you than there is on a phone. Also, because I’m using an Australian phone, I can’t download my UK banking app or watch Netflix outside of the country, however I can access whatever I want on the laptop and with all my passwords saved, I don’t have to spend an age remembering them. Plus, being able to sit back and watch a movie one night when you’re having a book hangover, not ready to read the next one or make small talk with Sven from Germany about why the UK is so much bigger than just London, it really is a godsend.
10. Both the GoEuro and Trainline EU apps
Say you wanted to go from Luxembourg City to Brussels in Belgium, type this into GoEuro and the dates you want to go and it’ll give you every possible way to get there, from train to plane to coach to carshare, via Bla Bla Car. You make payment via the app, choosing the mode of transport that best meets your budget or time frame and then print your ticket once it is emailed to you.
Trainline EU does exactly the same but just for trains. However it’s usability is excellent and sometimes provides better departure times or some operators not available on GoEuro.
There are many alternatives to the ones I’ve suggested but these are my top 10 and I can’t imagine travelling without them.
If you’ve got any better suggestions, please tell me in the comments below, so I can check them out.