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12 Essential Apps Every Backpacker Needs

Apps can be invaluable tools for backpackers. There are apps for whether you need to find your way around a new city, plan your public transport route, or even prepare for possible emergencies. But it's important to remember that you won't always have access to mobile data, and even when you do, you might not want to use your roaming allowance to figure out how many Vietnamese dongs you can get for a dollar.

Below, we look at 12 apps you shouldn't be without when backpacking in any country.

A backpacker in the Caucus Mountains (photo: Dmitrii Vaccinium)
A backpacker in the Caucus Mountains (photo: Dmitrii Vaccinium)

Mobile Apps

1. VPN

Using a VPN, you can log into your banking app and watch TV shows from home that you wouldn't usually be able to access while abroad. You may also need a VPN to access restricted sites in certain countries. Without a VPN, you won't be able to access sites like Google in countries like China, for example. 

VPNs work on any device, so whether you're a loyal iOS user or prefer Android, you can install a VPN app to support safer connections. Some VPNs work better with one operating system over the other, so if you love Apple, find a VPN that works well with your phone, and if you're dedicated to Android, find a VPN that offers Android device protection

2. Communication App

It isn't just Google that's banned in some countries. Access to the popular messaging app WhatsApp is also restricted, and while you can get around this using your VPN, you should have backup communication apps ready.

Download and install WeChat and other messaging services, and have emergency contacts do the same so you can be sure you can reach them if needed. You can also use these apps for general catchups and to send photos and other media you capture on your adventures.

3. Photo Backup

You will likely amass many photos and video clips documenting your activities during your travels. Losing them can be heartbreaking. Plenty of backup options are available, including some offering generous free options.

Google Drive and Apple iCloud are both very accessible, and you can sync your phone and other devices, so everything is safe. You can also upload photos and video files when connected to Wi-Fi to avoid using your data allowance.

4. Emergency Location App

You can't count on cell phone reception if you're trekking the Great Himalayan Trail. While that's great for disconnecting and can do wonders for mental health, it's not great if you have an accident. Whether the weather changes and you're stuck or you suffer an injury that prevents you from getting back down, you will need to be able to contact the emergency services.

An emergency location app like the what3words app enables you to give a precise location that can be easily tracked. It could be a lifesaver.

5. Translator

Generally, you should try to learn at least a few words of a native language before you travel to a country. But unless you're fluent, there will come times when you just can't get your message across or when you can't understand answers to your questions. A translator app will help.

The Google Translate app is an excellent free option. You can download the languages you need while you're online to use the app offline. A language teaching app like Duolingo can also help you master the basics with just a few minutes of practice a day.

6. Weather Apps

Most cell phones have weather apps already installed, but they aren't always the most reliable. Install a trusted local weather map that includes emergency alerts. Use the app to plan your activities. If there's any danger of storms, avoid the area and look for alternate activities. It can also be helpful in planning travel routes and itineraries.

7. Currency Conversion Calculator

The internet offers instant access to live currency conversions. But if you don't have access to mobile internet while you're traveling or don't want to use your mobile data whenever you want to make a simple conversion, a currency calculator can help. It will update while you're online and can be used offline to give a reasonably accurate and up-to-date conversion.

XE Convert is a decent example of a currency conversion app that will provide useful.

8. Hostel Finder

Backpacking is about saving money wherever possible, and hostels are an age-old technique. They offer cheap accommodations and opportunities to meet fellow travelers, trade travel tales, and get recommendations from others. Hostels vary according to price, level of comfort, amenities, and locale, though a hostel finder app enables you to find a local place to stay that won't cost the earth.

9. Couch Surfing Apps

An alternative to staying in hostels is to couch surf. With a couch-surfing app, you don't have to know people in every city of every country around the world. You pay minimal costs, help with cooking or other chores, and you can typically stay right among the locals to give you a better idea of what life is like in the area.

Always be careful when staying with somebody you don't know, and try to use an app that requires you and couch owners to be verified. If you want to couch surf in Japan, you will need to be a verified user.

10. Location Review Apps

Whether you're planning a stay in an affordable motel or an expensive hotel, you want to ensure you're getting your money's worth. That's where location review apps are handy. They offer access to genuine reviews from genuine users who have stayed in, eaten at, or otherwise visited and used the locations you're considering.

TripAdvisor has a mobile app and is one of the most popular destination review services, which means you should be able to find reviews for everything.

11. Ride-hailing Apps

Uber and Lyft are two of the best-known ride-hailing apps and can prove invaluable when traveling. You won't need to pay expensive cab fares, which can be devastatingly high in some cities, and with the app, it is easy to find local rides.

Check which service is the most popular in the area you're visiting and download that app, though. While Uber might be the most popular in some countries, it isn't even available in Bulgaria and some other countries.

12. Maps

There's a good chance your cell phone or mobile device already has a map app installed, whether Apple or Google. And, for the most part, these apps are accurate and reliable. However, you may want something more reliable if you're backpacking away from main routes.

Check for apps that include hikes and trails in the area you're visiting. For example, the OS Maps app in the UK will prove an invaluable tool in your backpacking arsenal.


Backpacking can be an affordable way to travel to new destinations, but it does pose particular challenges. Using the mobile apps above, you can plan your journey, keep a better record of your trip, and stay safe while adventuring. Most of the apps can be used offline, which is also essential if you have limited access to the internet, and they allow you to make the most of any Wi-Fi time you have when settling down for the night.


This story is published in partnership with Techopedia.

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