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Is there an app for that?

Yes. There usually is. And when it comes to travelling through some of the world’s most advanced cities, there is usually a bunch of dedicated apps that you can download before you go.
app, smartphone, travel, city app, travel guide
For a lot of younger travellers today, independence while travelling is a big part of the fun. Image: Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio.

Where we travel may have changed a bit thanks to the pandemic. But how we travel is also changing. In the past, booking through a travel agent and hiring a local guide may have been the obvious choice. For a lot of younger travellers today, independence while travelling is a big part of the fun. Going somewhere and figuring it out yourself enhances the travel experience. The challenge is part of the charm. which is where smartphone apps that aid travel come in.

Of course, relying on technology is second nature to millennials. Being glued to Google Maps on the smartphone or consulting Siri and Alexa for local advice isn’t seen as lame, as perhaps following a fixed itinerary decided on by someone else is. Which is why smart tourism boards and city councils have started investing in and developing their own city apps, through which they can curate experiences for the new breed of traveller. Thus, they can guide tourists to the best things about their city without intruding on their independence.

app, smartphone, travel, city app, travel guide
The Visit London app points you to free attractions and offers discounts and skip the line options on tickets to West End theatre shows, comedy nights, musical gigs, and more. Image: Pexels/William Fortunato.

A case in point is London’s free city guide. Packed with ideas and inspiration, the Visit London app claims it has everything you need to experience London like a local. It allows you to create your own personalised map and itineraries by saving all of your favourite things to see and do. It points you to free attractions and offers discounts and skip the line options on tickets to West End theatre shows, comedy nights, musical gigs, and more.

There are tabs that tell you all about the top markets you can visit, cheap eats to be had, the top 10 things to do in the city, what’s happening that weekend and even a list of unique experiences that locals recommend in ‘Secret London’! And the best part for the budget traveller is that it allows you to save an offline map, showing the location of every point of interest so you don’t have to do all your searching on roaming rates.

app, smartphone, travel, city app, travel guide
Almost every city has its own app for public transport and booking. Image: Pexels/William Fortunato.

Similarly, Turisme de Barcelona has a set of handy tools designed to narrow it down by your specific interests. Foodies will love Barcelona Restaurants, the city’s official restaurant guide app which features a selection of 120 of Barca’s top-quality restaurants. Art buffs can download Gaudi’s Barcelona, which will handhold you through places such as the Sagrada Família, Park Güell, the Casa Batlló and the Casa Milà.

Medieval Barcelona helps you identify and appreciate the Romanesque and Gothic architecture of Barcelona’s golden age as you walk through the city. And if you’re worried about crowding at the next stop on your itinerary, consult the CheckBarcelona app, which informs you in real time about the influx of visitors at the various landmarks! Many of these apps and audio guides are multi-lingual, so they can help tourists from afar.

app, smartphone, travel, city app, travel guide
The VR Guide to NYC is a location-based app that tells you your relative location to the famous attractions in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Image: Pexels/William Fortunato.

You can trust New York to be on the cutting edge of creativity and tech. MotorCo’s VR Guide to New York City app is like Tinder for tourists and sights. The location-based app tells you your relative location to the famous attractions in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The locations are listed, as the crow flies, from nearest to furthest, based on proximity. So, you will know when you are in SoHo, how far you are from Trump SoHo, MSG, Peter Lugers, Carnegie Hall, etc, as well as all of the other main attractions in the city.

Each location is described in more detail when the user clicks through and has a live Google Map which will direct the user to the location, as well as a virtual reality description of the attraction. Michelin-star restaurants, music venues, hotels, parks, iconic shops, museums, and a lot more are profiled in the app so you can see what they are all like inside and outside before you go. According to the creators, the main idea is for the user to have a real-time update as to where they are in relation to all the major things as well as a simulation.

Almost every city has its own app for public transport and booking, be it Mumbai’s m-Indicator that helps you with local train schedules, or IRCTC that lets you book tickets for them, or the Västtrafik ToGo app in Gothenburg, Sweden, on which you can book bus, tram, and ferry tickets. As a traveller, all you need to do is figure out whether your mode of payment is accepted and you’re good to go. Other useful apps could be some that give (genuine) advice from locals about the best places to eat, see, or be entertained. Of course, asking the hotel concierge or a friendly local does work too. Sometimes old school can be cool.

app, smartphone, travel, city app, travel guide
Many of these apps and audio guides are multi-lingual, so they can help tourists from afar. Image: Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio.

Tips to idiot-proof your app experience

  • Research and download all the apps you need for your trip at home. Try them out. Some may ask you to register using a local number of the destination, others may need you to pay for the more complex (and useful) bits of information. It’s best to test out a few, read online reviews, and be sure you can rely on the app once you’re out there.
  • If there are offline features, use them. For example, saving a map of a route you know you will be taking just makes things simple in the event of weak wifi or no network.
  • Always carry a fully charged power bank if your smartphone is going to multi-task as a map, camera, information source, payment instrument, and yes, communication tool too!
  • Whatever other apps you have, definitely put a translator one like Google Translate within easy reach, especially in a destination where you have no grasp of the native tongue.
  •  If there are two travellers, put the most useful apps on both people’s smartphones. Or add them on your tablet, so you can access them at a pinch in case your smartphone is stolen, lost or stops working.
  • However efficient the app at storing useful bookings, things like entrance tickets or important reservations, it’s best to still carry a set of printouts of in your main travel bag, in case the above worst-case scenarios play out.

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