Working in a different country, or while you’re traveling through several, is an amazing experience if you’re lucky enough to have one of the increasing number of occupations where remote freelancing is possible. But there can be a few challenges to working on the road.

Having gone global again recently, I’ve come to rely on a few essential apps that make the experience easier, smoother and even culturally richer. I’ve also quizzed a few of my digital nomad buddies to cross-reference their list of most useful travel apps with mine. I’ve either road-tested or explored each app covered, looking at the User Interface (UI) design and usability (UX), quality of the content, accessibility and price.

By no means is this meant to be a comprehensive list. I have deliberately omitted apps for accommodation and restaurant guides, as many of these (such as TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, AirBnB, etc.) are widely known and frequently used by travellers (including me). I’ve also left out productivity apps, as most digital nomads need to travel with their laptops to get the job done. So please feel free to share your own app suggestions in the comments.

Just in case you’re a newbie to the digital nomad life, it’s important to be aware of mobile phone data charges – they can be hefty when you’re overseas if you’re using your standard home mobile network. To help avoid this, you can switch off roaming and stick to WiFi to access the internet and app data.

If I’m in one country for a while, I prefer to buy a local pre-paid SIM card for both data and calls and give the new number to important peeps back home.

A mobile phone with dual SIM card ability is a great tool for digital nomads (it’s top of my current Wish List!).

Finding Your Way

There are quite a few apps offering great online and offline maps, but the good old G-machine’s Google Maps has unrivalled global coverage. It’s worth exploring the app thoroughly to get the most out of it.

There are several features that have helped me get around in a new place, from choosing the best route for my means of travel (car, foot, public transport, or bike), to saving an area of a map for offline use.

The verbal navigation prompts work pretty well when driving, as long as there’s stable data coverage (and I’m not driving too fast).

Tip: I login with my Google account to save frequent routes, access recent searches, and add reviews of nearby places. Some of the features aren’t that obvious in the app’s navigation, so it takes a bit of time to suss them out.

Availability: Android, iOS
Cost: free

Help With The Language

I always try to learn at least a few key phrases in a new country as a matter of basic courtesy and respect. But it has also helped deepen my knowledge of local culture and enhanced my overall experience.

I love the gamification element of learning a language on the fly with the DuoLingo app. It currently offers a selection of European language learning apps for English speakers; and English learning for a range of languages from Chinese to Czech.

Availability: Android, iOS
Cost: free

When I don’t have the right language app and I need a quick translation, the G-machine does it again for me, with Google Translate. The app has an extensive range of languages, with a simple interface for a quick translation of a word or phrase in text and spoken word.

Availability: Android, iOS
Cost: free

Find out What’s On and Explore

It can’t be all work and no play for the digital nomad, so an app that gives me an insight to understanding and exploring my host country is a must. There are plenty of great travel guide apps out there, from the well-established and credible Lonely Planet (paid) apps to the volunteer-written WikiVoyage (free) app.

I’ve only recently discovered the series of MyDestination apps, but they started their websites back in 2006. They have apps for over 100 locations worldwide (and growing). Each has a wealth of information (accommodation, sights, things to do, restaurants, shopping, and more), contributed by local experts who actually live in the destination they’re writing about, sharing plenty of handy insider’s info and tips.

However you need to head to their website to find a guide for local events. The site also features destination-specific travel articles, regional and other useful info (getting around, visas, etc), plus local weather.

Availability: Android, iOS

Cost: free for online guide apps, offline guides are individually priced per location or pay US$13.99 for the lot (iOS)

As a huge live music and arts fan, I’m always keen to find out about gigs, concerts, festivals, exhibitions, and other cultural events in a new location – but daily or weekly ‘what’s on’ listings are usually too detailed for many travel guide apps. It’s especially challenging finding this kind of info in an app for less mainstream destinations (frown emoji) so I often have to resort to the G-machine for info from websites (if they exist).

However, for heaps of popular international cities, the TimeOut range of apps are great. Their long-established London print magazine was my weekly bible for nearly seven years in London so I trust the quality of the content. They’ve embraced the online world and now have digital and print publications in over 30 countries.

There’s a general TimeOut app which currently covers 13 international cities. It features great quality but limited content. Categories vary for each city and can include restaurants, drinks nearby, current films; plus a range of editor’s picks for the week such as attractions, events, exhibitions; and even nightlife, concerts, or other cool stuff like vintage shopping (depending on the city). Some cities have special daily offers. The app has a lovely clean design and is easy to navigate. You can share a link to each article via Twitter, email or text; plus read user reviews of events and places or write your own.

Availability: iOS, Android
Cost: free

TimeOut also has some individual city apps with more detail, such as their London app (plus Paris, New York, Barcelona, Los Angeles, Zagreb, Tokyo, Penang, Melbourne, and more). Many of these provide full listings of what’s on.

Availability: iOS, Android
Cost: free, with in-app purchase of the weekly what’s on guide (e.g. London is US$0.99 or US$35.99/year

Find out What It Costs

A currency converter with reliable exchange rates is a must for travellers and digital nomads. The XE Currency app has been around for quite a while now and I check it pretty much every day. It provides live proprietary rates every minute, and I can see what my aussie dollar is worth in up to ten foreign currencies at a time with the free version (20 with the Pro version).

The app’s UI is simple and clear – I can easily set my base currency, select conversion currencies then drag and drop them into my order of preference, or swap from one to another. I also find the exchange rate historical charts useful for viewing currency fluctuations over a week, a month, three months or a year. If offline, it stores the last rate update and still calculates conversions.

Tip: Shake the phone to reset rates.
Availability: Android, iOS
Cost: free, Pro version US$1.99

Keep Tabs on Your Spending

I’d previously tried a budgeting app for business trips that scanned receipts and automatically updated my expenses; but there were several functionality bugs and the subscription cost to add more than 10 expenses was quite high, so I ditched it. But I need to track my budget when travelling, so I’ve started using TrailWallet and it’s a gem of a find. The design UI is clean and simple. It’s easy to set up trip details, add a daily and overall budget for each trip, categorise expenses, and tap in each purchase or spend quickly on the go.

I can enter expenses in the local currency then tap to convert and see what I’ve spent in my base currency. The free version only allows for 25 items to be added; so I was more than happy to buy the upgrade so I can use it for multiple destinations and longer trips.

Tip: Add, edit or delete trips by going into the app’s Settings and tapping Add/Edit Trips. You can also add your own expenditure categories in Settings.
Cost: free for 25 item entries, US$3.99 unlimited
Availability: iOS only (sorry Android peeps!)

Keep Mind And Body Healthy

As a digital nomad, most of my work is computer-based and it’s easy to get into lock-down mode for long periods when I’ve got a deadline. I’ve read research revealing just how bad a sedentary job can be for health and longevity (yikes).

So I use the MapMyWalk app to help motivate me and track how much exercise I’m doing (or not) through various activities. These can include running, walking, swimming, cycling, dancing or boxing – there’s a huge range of activities to track and log. It measures distance, duration and other stats then calculates the calorie burn.

The app can also share results with friends (although I choose not to, out of embarrassment mostly); suggest a local fitness challenge to join; and – for the die-hards – even log food intake.

A weekly email with a summary of workouts makes for a great reminder to get out there and exercise. There is a Pro version for serious trainers, but I find the free version serves me adequately (although the pop-up ads get a bit annoying).

Cost: free, Pro version subscription US$5.99/month, US$29.99/year
Availability: Android, iOS

Train the Grey Matter

When I’m global-roaming, I need to keep my brain sharp and keep my wits about me as I familiarise myself with each new environment. My favourite tool for this – Lumosity, a clever yet beautifully simplistic app, designed by neuroscientists, that trains memory, attention span, problem-solving and more with a selection of simple games. It logs my scores then tracks my progress over time, giving me an overall score of my LPI – Lumosity Performance Index (previously called Brain Performance Index).

Both the UI design and functionality are excellent. I’ve been using the app for about six months now and have quadrupled my LPI with noticeable improvements in my short-term memory and attention span. The weekly emails usually have articles with fascinating background information related to the games and research from the Lumosity team. A brilliant app, highly recommended.

Tip: There are tablet and website versions of the smartphone app, offering a few different ‘games’ but syncing well with personal scores as long as you’ve initially registered and logged in.
Cost: free for a limited amount of games, subscription US$14.99/month or US$79.99/year gives full access and a personalised training program
Platforms: Android and iOS.

Browse Filter-Free And Securely

Using public WiFi networks can be a security risk, as well as creating annoying content filters which, in some countries, could block sites like Spotify or Vimeo. Even booking travel online can be challenging if the ISP defaults to a local version of the site in its own language (I just spent a frustrating week grappling with this).

Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to browse via an external country’s ISP put an end to those headaches. TunnelBear, a simple to use app for smartphones and laptops, works a treat for me and I’ve installed it on both my devices. I can choose to browse from eight countries or let it default to the closest ‘tunnel’.

Availability: Android, iOS
Cost: free for 500MB of data per month; unlimited data for US$4.99/month or $49.99/year

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