Experience local cultures on a deeper level with these five travel apps
Everywhere you go has its own story.
Travelers today are passionate about immersing themselves in local cultures. They’re looking for authentic experiences in every place they visit, and many seek to deepen their knowledge while broadening their worldview. There are a number of travel-related apps out there, but only a few are well-suited for those who want to forge a deep connection with the places they go.
Get these apps downloaded on your mobile before you hit the road.
Visit A City
Browsing hundreds of travel blogs and articles to find out what to do in a new city is time-consuming. With Visit A City, you’ll get free travel guides to major cities around the world. Whether you’re headed to Paris or Bangkok, this app will provide ready-made, multiple-day itineraries—including details about how to travel from A to B.
You’ll also see information about a city’s religious sites, historic landmarks, local markets, museums, and restaurants. For many popular spots, you’ll be able to access all necessary information (its website, address, contact numbers, and opening hours) within the app itself. It also ranks sights and restaurants by popularity and tells you the approximate time travelers usually spend in a given location.
For offline use, download the customizable travel itineraries whenever you have Wi-Fi. The app also offers organized tours and day trips, so if those interest you, you can book them easily with your credit card.
Having access to public transport routes and turn-by-turn navigation is quite handy in a new destination. But there’s often limited connectivity when we travel. That’s where Maps.me shines, as its maps work even when you’re completely offline. The app uses data from OpenStreetMap—information contributed by map enthusiasts, locals, and travelers—and covers the entire world.
Before you lose internet service, tap the name of your destination country or city on the world map. A bar will appear with a download icon, which will enable you to save the map for offline use. Once you’ve got the maps you want, you’ll be able to search them for nearby places by name and category, even without Wi-Fi or a cellular connection. That means easy navigating to shops, attractions, banks, and hospitals.
Many popular map apps like Google Maps give you options for public transport. But when you are in a remote location or hiking through the rural countryside with little or no access to public transport, you’ll need route information. It’s easy to get lost in a remote location that’s completely new to you. If there are bicycle, walking, or hiking paths nearby, Maps.me will show you. There’s also offline turn-by-turn navigation, which is handy in offbeat locations, but it’ll drain your battery a little faster.
Joining workshops, open mic events, art exhibitions, or food tastings in a new destination is a great way to experience the local culture and lifestyle. But we often don’t know where to look for exciting events. Enter: Eventbrite. No matter what your tastes, you should be able to find something fun in its vast, user-driven event directory: It’s got guitar contests, fundraisers, book fairs, tech conferences, and more.
You can search for events by location, time, and category. It’ll also let you filter for free online events and live, hands-on experiences. If you’d rather not spend any money, tap Filters after you’ve searched for some events and tick the option for “Only free events.” When you find something you’d like to attend, you can purchase tickets via the app. If you want to bookmark an event for later, Eventbrite has a shortlist feature so you don’t miss out. To use it, tap the heart icon next to the event. To view your shortlisted events, tap the heart icon on the app’s bottom bar.
Be it ordering food, taking public transport, or shopping for groceries, knowing a few phrases in the local language of an unfamiliar destination will help you deal with things more easily. It’s also a great way to connect with locals on the go. We’ve all used Google Translate or iTranslate to quickly convert words, phrases, or sentences from one language to another. What these apps do not offer are language lessons.
Duolingo does, and it makes learning fun.
Its lessons are tailored to personal language acquisition levels, meaning it uses your answers to identify areas you need to improve and offers further similar exercises. If you are completely new to a language, you’ll start with basic lessons. If not, you’ll take a placement test that will determine your fluency level.
Pick a language—there are modules for 22—and within a few minutes, the app will have taught you some common words and phrases. Duolingo also has speaking exercises, which are a great way to quickly grasp some useful day-to-day lingo. It allows you to speak a sentence or a phrase displayed on the app and detects whether your pronunciation was on point.
You can practice the basics and test your knowledge with in-app assessments before you move on to the next module. In order to move to an advanced module, you must pass these tests. The app introduces new vocabulary with images, which is great for visual learners. You can set weekly goals, as well.
As you book your accommodations, consider Homestay.com, which will help you stay in a local home while you’re abroad. Apps such as Airbnb offer the opportunity to rent an entire space, but with Homestay, your hosts are always present and you stay in their home. Staying with host families is an immersive cultural experience, and many will even include breakfast—a great way to try a new cuisine or home-cooked food during your trip.
The app is easy-to-use and pretty straightforward: Simply search your destination to pick a homestay. Before you book, though, you’ll have to contact the host to check their availability. You can contact multiple hosts at a time by adding them to the “Contact Hosts” list. To do so, tap the star button next to a listing. When a host confirms your stay, you’ll have to pay 15 percent of the total payment of the accommodation via the app.
The downside is that there’s no iOS app, and we weren’t able to find a similar app for Apple’s operating system, either.
Homestay.com is free for Android.