Best Free Apps for Backpackers (and Travelers in General)

I’ve been backpacking and rambling around for the past five years, and for that time I have had my trusty phone by my side to help when I need it. At home, I try to be as minimal as possible and use an old clunker brick phone, but let’s be honest: Smart Phones have made us spoiled yet better travelers. I really only use my phone for a few things when I travel, but here are my top 5 favorite apps for when I do need to switch on my phone.


1: Maps.me

Google Maps is great, but only when I have unlimited data or a good wifi connection. This is not always the case when hitchhiking in Greece or a Norwegian fjord. For that, Maps.me shines. The app works offline, all you have to do is download the regional map when you have reliable internet before you travel. I have used the app countless times when I have gotten lost in the wilderness or needed to know which direction to point my thumb. The app does not have good public transport advice like Google Maps, but they have just added a layer which allows the user to see where they are on the subway of a particular city. That’s a step in the right direction, and hopefully, the app will be better for public transport soon. But in the meantime, Maps.me is something I use almost daily when I am out and about on a weekend ramble.

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2: Couchsurfing

I use this app way too much when I travel. I swear by it wholeheartedly. It makes me so sad when I hear about couch surfing horror stories because I have only had amazing experiences. If you are not yet using it, I recommend you grab an account sooner rather than later.

For backpackers, the Couchsurfing app allows users to message hosts just as efficiently as the webpage. The advantage to the app is the added “Hangouts” and ‘Events” sections. I have joined free tours, pub crawls, language lessons, and awesome hikes because of the events listed on Couchsurfing. It is a fantastic way to get out when solo traveling and in need of some socialization or education.

Hangouts are a bit more sticky to navigate. Hangouts allow users to meet up with other users wherever the users may be. Simply open the app and go to hangouts, say that you want to “grab a beer” or “explore the city” (or whatever else you want to do), and start meeting up with cool locals and like-minded travelers. Using hangouts has given me some crazy experiences, both good and bad. I have met some amazing people that have become travel buddies and friends, but I have also had and heard of quite uncomfortable situations. Use Couchsurfing with care, and do make sure to double check the profiles and references of whomever you are meeting with. This is, unfortunately, especially important for female users. But the hangout function can be a blessing when you are feeling lonely in a new city. It is also a great way to meet with locals and experience a more unique view of the city that most other visitors won’t experience.

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Check out the story with this photo here.

3: Skyscanner

I have had many exhausting debates with other travelers about which flight purchasing app is best: Kayak, Momondo, or Skyscanner. The truth of the matter is that they are all good, and often show different prices for the same flight. The other truth of the matter is that Skyscanner is probably the best for backpackers who are a bit more flexible and open about their next destination.

While the app is not as good as the webpage version, the basic use is still the same. If I happen to want to leave Hanoi on June 23rd, but don’t know where to go, I can simply put in “Everywhere” as an option and the app will show me which destination is cheapest to fly to on that day from Hanoi.

Likewise, if I have a month free and want to find the cheapest flight to Spain from Copenhagen, I can put in that information as well as the “Whole Month” selection for dates. This then provides me with the cheapest day and destination in Spain I can fly to from Copenhagen. Maybe Skyscanner is not the cheapest for some flights, but it is absurdly cheap and great for the flexible backpacker and traveler.

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Story from this photo here.

4: Yr.no and MyRadar

These are the only two weather apps you could ever need on your phone.

Yr.no is the Norwegian forecasting service, and it has been one of the best weather forecasters I have ever used. The app is easy and gives you fairly accurate (how accurate can you actually be, honey?) with real-time and future forecasts. I’m the kinda guy that likes to look outside the window for his weather forecast, but when I need an app Yr.no has my back.

MyRadar is great when anticipating travel plans. The app gives a live radar of the weather conditions of your location, which is cool if you plan on taking a boat or plane and need to know if you are going straight into a hurricane. The app also provides information for natural disasters like earthquakes. Pretty cool and possibly unnecessary, but it is nice for giving peace of mind and a better understanding of the local weather patterns.

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5: Spendee

Spendee is a great lil money managing and budget app that makes spending your life savings aesthetically pleasing and somehow fun. Not everyone wants to know how much money they are spending when they vacation, but it is pretty useful if you are traveling on a budget. The app is easy to use and pretty appealing on the eyes. You can set up budgets and add payments as you make them or set up future payments. The app also uses every currency imaginable and automatically does the math to convert that amount to the currency you are used to. You can also add your bank information to show how much you are really using, but that’s a bit too Big Brother for me.

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This is me looking at my bank account. Read the story behind the photo here.

Honorable Mentions

Mobile Pass

This one only works for US and Canadian citizens entering into the US by plane (or boat, at only three ports). It saves you a heck of a lot of time going through border control, and it’s absurdly easy to use. Either use your phone’s 4G as your plane taxis or connect to the airport wifi on your walk to the border control. Then, fill in your personal and passport information and take a selfie. Press the ‘Go’ button, and the app will spit a bar code at you. Show that barcode to the overworked and sassy Border officer, and they’ll point you straight at the line for processing rather than waiting in line for those silly kiosks. This app has saved me a good amount of time, especially at big airports during rush hour. You completely bypass the kiosk check-in line, and go straight to the stamp and “What did you bring in” chat with the Border Police behind the desk. It could save you a good hour of nonsense waiting.

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This is actually from a steamy train in Azerbaijan, but it fit the context so suck it up.

Google Translate

The technology for this app is getting better and better. You can now speak into the app and have it translate and speak the translated text into multiple languages. This is great if you are lost or hitchhiking, and the languages can be downloaded for offline usage. I am all for learning the basics of the country you are visiting, but that can get a bit tough in places that require a bit more work like Albania, China, and Georgia.

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More about Georgia here.


Here we have it, the most important apps for the backpacker and traveler rambling around the globe. Thank you all for reading, and I hope that some of these apps can make your vacation easier and more enjoyable. If I left anything out, please comment on what I missed! I would love to hear what you guys have been using to make your trips better. Keep rambling!

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