There are loads of great travel apps out there, and Geocaching is just one of them. Photo: Geocaching
There are a lot of travel apps and adventure apps out there. We know, however, that a lot of people would probably rather use none of them. A lot of people like to travel, and spend time outdoors, to get away from the digital world – not to use it even more so. And that’s completely fine. We get it. Sometimes you just need to unplug. But on the other side of things, there are many ways in which carrying a smartphone in your pocket loaded up with the latest travel apps can really enhance your time on the road (or in the hills!).
Whether it’s giving you a bit more peace of mind while you’re out there, helping you pack or just keeping you entertained while you’re waiting around in a train station. Here are just a few suggestions for some of the best…
The app of the moment, what3words is not so much a mapping app as a location app. What3words have basically divided the entire world into grids of 3m x 3m squares (53 trillion squares in total). Then they’ve given each one of them a unique three-word address. The address of Edinburgh Castle is buck.ears.match, for example. Machu Picchu is referred.grilled.folktales and Everest Base Camp is midsection.nametag.recoiling.
Emergency services in certain areas are actually recommending that people download the app. They say that it can help them save lives when people get lost in the great outdoors. A recent story on the BBC told the story of some hikers in Hamsterley Forest who called 999 and were told to download the app. Having done so, they were quickly found by the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team. There are numerous other reports of people who have been saved by the emergency services after downloading it, too.
The best option for Mountain Rescue remains a grid reference of course – as a phone GPS isn’t always reliable. And if you’re going for any sort of trek, you really shouldn’t be relying solely on any phone navigational system for directions, as they can get muddled easily. You can’t beat a map, compass, and the knowledge of how to use them. But this app is great as a back up in case the worst does happen, and it’s no stress to download.
A cool thing about what3words is that the app doesn’t even need a signal to tell you your three-word location. Mercedes Benz now uses what3words in their cars, it’s been translated into 35 languages, and the country of Mongolia even use it for their postal service too. Awesome, right?
2. Star Walk 2
We’re well aware that Star Walk 2 sounds an awful lot like a low-budget rip-off a popular space-based movie franchise. Trust us on this one, though. It’s awesome. Star Walk is an astronomy app, which makes stargazing simple no matter where you are in the world. All you have to do is take out your phone, load up the app, point it at the sky and then look at your phone screen. The app will then tell you which constellation you’re looking at in the sky, as well as highlighting any nearby planets, asteroids, comets or points of interest. All in real-time.
We’re betting Star Walk has given tens of thousands of people a newfound interest in astronomy. It really opens up how you can interact with the dark skies above you. Plus once you’ve looked at Orion’s Belt and seen the same stars in the sky, from beaches in Europe and rainforests in South America, you’ll really get a sense of how small our place in the world actually is. This is one of our favourite travel apps on this planet or beyond (though admittedly, we’ve not tried out many of the travel apps beyond).
3. PeakFinder AR
PeakFinder AR is similar to Sky Walk, but for the mountains! It’s a great option if you’re looking to get hilltops, peak names and heights delivered to your fingertips. Peakfinder works in a very similar way to Sky Walk 2. Point the screen at the hills or mountains in front of you, and PeakFinder AR will show you the names of all the mountains and peaks in a 360° panoramic display. It has more than 650,000 peaks in its database and it also works completely offline – because the database and elevation model are integrated into the app.
Using the camera mode, the app uses the images from your camera, and the GPS information provided from your phone, to overlay its mountains and show you the stats. If you touch a mountain name, you’ll then get access to a whole host more information about that particular mountain. So you’ll never find yourself looking at an anonymous peak again – unless you want to, of course. This is a particularly cool travel app/adventure app to download if you’re going to be climbing a mountain range you’ve never been to before or exploring a new route.
4. Google Translate
This one probably seems quite obvious. Google Translate’s app is more of a travel app than an adventure app. It can be incredibly useful if you’re going somewhere where you don’t speak the language. The great thing about it is that you can “download languages”. This then means you can access the entire dictionary of that particular language offline. So if you’re going to France, download ‘French’ and then you can look up any phrase you think of at any given time while you’re away. You won’t even need to use the data on your phone to do so. This can be useful for everything from translating signs and menus to translating phrases into the native tongue of your travel spot. So you can communicate with the locals and learn a little while you’re away. If you find yourself needing to chat to somebody without a common language, this app could just save your adventure!
Geocaching is one of those things that people have preconceptions about. Some think it’s for kids. Others think it’s for old people. Others think it’s for bushcraft or tech nerds (who tend to be somewhere in between that age bracket). What that proves more than anything else is that preconceptions, by and large, are normally wrong.
Geocaching is a game where you use your phone GPS to seek out containers called “geocaches”, or just “caches”. The caches are hidden at specific co-ordinates around the world. If you find one, you’ll find a small waterproof container, logbook and a pencil with it. You sign the log to prove you found it, then go get another one. You’ll also often get a larger container, like Tupperware, alongside it containing trinkets for trading. The idea might seem a bit farfetched at first, but if you try geocaching you’re probably going to get hooked. It’s a tale as old as time. Or as old as geocaching has been around, at least. Which is roughly since the Millenium. If you’ve ever felt slightly resentful that you don’t get to go on any treasure hunts anymore because you’re now an “adult”, Geocaching is for you. It’s pretty much just a big treasure hunt. But across the world and constant.
Cairn is another hiking safety app. Its features include showing your loved ones live updates on your location while you’re in the wild. The app can send out safety notifications at the start and end of each of your trips too, and provides an overdue notification if you return late. So it can give you a bit of peace of mind if you’re hiking solo. As they put it, “getting to the top is optional; getting home is mandatory”. And it’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going, and how long you’ll be, if you’re heading out into the outdoors alone.
The app also shows you where other hikers have found mobile phone coverage near you. So if you need to make a call in an emergency, it can help you find a spot to do so. The information is crowdsourced by users, and as the website says, “Cairn is the only place you’ll find this specific sort of crowdsourced information for the outdoors.”
Again though, we’re keen to emphasise that not getting lost is still, of course, significantly better than getting lost and having a decent app on your phone to help you out. Don’t just stick some safety apps on your phone then head out into the outdoors unprepared. Know your route, plan properly, bring a map and compass – that you know how to use – and then maybe stash some apps on your phone as an extra precaution.
PackPoint is an app that a lot of travellers probably do not need. As is the case with most apps, we suppose. But it’s also an app that some people – and let’s be honest, you know who you are – absolutely can’t live without. PackPoint is an app designed to help you pack your bags for travel. It creates kit lists for your trip depending on what kind of travels you’re going on, how long you’re going for, what the weather is going to be like (it uses your phone to check) and what you’re going to be up to while you’re there. It’s a fantastic, yet simple travel app.
If you’re going to be cycling, it’ll tell you to remember sunglasses and bike lights. If you’re going camping it’ll remind you about eating utensils and matches. Or if you’re going hiking it’ll list items like hats, first aid kits and water bottles. Plus a bunch of other stuff. If anything, we’d say it probably goes a bit hard on recommendations at times, but at least that means you consider everything listed and can bring whatever you’ll actually need. Of course, a specialist trip, like climbing Mount Toubkal in winter, will require speciality items that likely won’t feature on the app, but it’s great for reminding you of the smaller essentials you might otherwise forget.
GeoGuessr is less of a travel app than an incredibly addictive time-killing app. But it’s on our list of travel apps anyway because a) it’s great and b) we’ve all spent hours waiting on delayed flights in airports before. GeoGuessr is a game. A very simple game. First, you choose an area of Earth – a specific continent, country or the entire world if you’re feeling particularly confident. Next, the game will dump you somewhere random in the world in Google Maps street view and, finally, you have to work out where you are. That’s literally it.
You can look around you and move around the area you’re in to get clues to the location. You’re looking for things like street names, languages used, what side of the roads cars drive on, the kind of scenery, a national flag or anything that could give you an indicator of where you are. It is, as you can imagine, often incredibly difficult. When you think you know the answer, you click the guess button, stick a pin in the world map denoting where you think you are. Then the game tells you how close you were, and gives you points as appropriate. It’s simple, furiously addictive and deeply satisfying when you finally get one absolutely spot on.