It's great to be able to rely on your phone when you're on your travels, but these apps will ensure you don't spend too much time buried in your screen...

When not jet-setting around the globe, Jon Buckthorp is our resident travel expert here on Vodafone Social. This year alone he’s journeyed around huge swathes of Europe and Asia, and wherever he goes his phone is never far behind. But today he’s taking the (blogging) route less travelled, by talking about apps that encourage you to use your phone less.


I’ve just jetted back into the country following a trip that took in a host of new experiences, culture and people. And, given that I’ve worked in the technology space for more than a decade, it still surprises me to see high speed data access and perfect voice coverage in all the areas I travel to – the small things really do make a difference when travelling long distances for fun.

But the aspect of travel I’m going to concentrate on today isn’t how to keep up with what’s going on at home. It’s about how using mobile tech can help you be really present in whichever country you travel to. This is a mobile guide to looking up.

Download, down phone

My latest trip took me to Asia, taking in two destinations in Bali and a city break in the wonderful and vibrant Hong Kong. As you’d expect, my use of mobile technology before the trip enabled a deeper choice of experiences, but for the majority of my holiday I tuned out of the digital world and enjoyed my surroundings. Keen to do the same? These are the apps that allowed me to experience my surroundings without being overly glued to my technology.

Make My Day

Part of the joy of travel is the joy of finding your way round a new destination, and of getting lost. This is fine when you have time, but this brilliant app from the guys behind the renowned Lonely Planet series has a solution if you don’t. Covering 12 major cities, Make My Day allows you to shape yours from a series of brilliant experiences in the morning, afternoon and evening. All with maps, prices and guides to where to refuel and recharge on the way. It’s brilliantly made. It’ll sort your entire day in a flash.


Visual search is something I experienced for the first time when using the Google Glass demo units on launch. Despite looking a bit too much like Heston Blumenthal for my liking, the joy of searching by just looking at something allowed me to experience the world in a brand new way. This great app picks up where that tech leaves off, allowing a point and click search engine that uses your smartphone’s camera to take in the world around you. It’s really useful for gleaning new info when visiting monuments, for example, or even for identifying products in store – especially useful with the interesting product selections found in supermarkets across Bali!

Google Trips

Ok, full disclosure: this app has just been released, so I didn’t have time to use it when I travelled east. I do, however, have the opportunity to meet up with some pals in Mallorca very soon, and I’ve got it installed and ready to use straight away. If you’re a Gmail user, Trips will collect all your tickets, bookings, flight information and – in real time – offer up context-based extras around them. That means it can give you a great restaurant suggestion, a hotel nearby, or a map of hotspots without having to proactively search for them. It’s like having a holiday PA in your pocket – one that gets smarter the more you use it.

GO-JEK Travel ecosystem 

This one is very specific to Asia, but I have a feeling we may see something like this hit UK shores soon. Imagine a world where you have one single app to help broker all forms of travel, entertainment, food shopping, clothes washing and courier. That’s GO-JEK – it’s like Uber, but for just about everything. Given that we already have UberEats in the UK, GO-JEK feels like a glimpse of the future. It’s a fantastic way to live like a local and make your life easier when you travel.


The Yak 

The Yak app is another location-specific app, but it’s a great example to any would-be app developer of how to make a great travel app. It’s the digital version of The Yak Magazine, Bali’s best guide on what to do and where to go, an it helped us find those amazing, once in a lifetime spots. It’ll even help you book tables, with an in-app email feature that’ll connect you to Bali’s hotspots in a flash.

OANDA Currency Converter 

I cannot understate how powerful and useful OANDA was as we trekked across Bali, especially given the current economic instability and the millions of Rupiah you use to buy anything in that part of the world – where a coffee will cost you 50,000! This simple-yet-powerful app gives you real-time ATM and retail prices in whichever country you’re in, and for 189 others, in just a few clicks, helping you enjoy more and worry less.

Google Translate

The opportunity to try different languages beyond the usual “hello” and “thank you” is something I really encourage. But it can be daunting. Don’t worry, though, we now live in a world where – thanks to apps like Google Translate – myriad languages are available to be typed or spoken aloud and converted in real time. You can even hold your phone’s camera up to menus and street signs for an instant conversion into English. This is all so useful when in Asia, specifically when it comes to specific Cantonese language skills and intonations. Download this app wherever you live and, after your initial awe, be sure to use on your next trip.

Get more great apps… Click here to read our rundown of this month’s hottest new and updated apps.