No more are the days of searching for an internet cafe and lining up for a computer only to find that it's dial-up slow and doesn't have a working mic. No more lugging pounds of books in your pack and searching through volumes of junk books for a decent trade. No more carrying a calculator or asking your friend how many thousand Dong to the dollar? No more frantically playing charades or flipping through a dictionary or phrasebook to find out how to say bathroom. As an avid "backpacker" I have experienced these circumstances too often, but now there is a solution.
The Ipod Touch (The Iphone can also be used for any of these apps, but the Ipod Touch is much more reasonably priced at roughly $220 for an 8GB model). I'm actually quite anti-Apple, I feel their products are over priced and too proprietary, but the Ipod Touch is really quite amazing. The Ipod Touch is currently the best do-it-all electronic device on the
market, as far as I can tell. That doesn't mean no one can beat it, just not yet. If you want to streamline your traveling experience, this little device is for you. If you have to pack all of your things into one 7kg carry on to make the budget airlines restrictions, this device is definitely for you!
The blessing of the Touch's popularity is that there are endless applications for it, the curse is that many of them are junk. I have been weeding through the junk in search of the most useful applications to take on our upcoming trip to Europe and the Middle East. To some people I am
cheap - I like to call myself frugal, so needless to say the apps listed below are all free.
Top "Backpacker" Travel Apps:
Wifi: (I know its not really an app) There is free wifi internet all over the world now. You can
check your email, browse hostels, or find out information on the go with a wifi connection. (If you end up stuck in a small town in Kyrgyzstan with one dial-up computer at the post office and a Kyrgyz lady trying to learn how to type for the first time and a line of eight other backpackers
hoping to check their email, you'll have to wait. But if you're in most other
"backpacker" places, the local fake starbucks will have wifi.)
Kindle, Stanza, Audiobooks, etc: These are awesome! Now you don't have to lug those heavy books around. No more bothering with book exchanges. You can read and listen to “public domain” books for free, and find discounts on new books as well. This is great, because we try to carry-on our luggage whenever possible, so this helps to keep the weight down.
Skype: Skype lets you call home or even call a hostel to
make a booking. (These first three apps alone make the Touch
well worth the investment, but wait, there is more!)
Maps: You can look at streets and search for things in the city you are visiting. If you push the home button and the sleep button at the same time, the Touch will take a screen shot which you can refer to later when you
don't have wifi. (I have read that there is an application that will save google maps of a city in the Touch's memory, but currently it is only available for jailbroken Touches; I have yet to break out of jail, there are too many mixed reviews. Maybe an app like this will soon be available from the App Store. I might even pay for such an app!)
Instapaper: This app is great! You can save text from any website for off-line use. I have used it a bunch to save travel info from lonelyplanet and wikitravel so I can read them later when I don't have a connection, like on a bus or in an airplane. You can also save text from a news article to read
later. (By the way, check out lonelyplanet's website and wikitravel.org, they have a lot of free resources, you may not have to lug the Shoestring guide with you after all.)
Clock: This is a useful way to see what time it is in a few time zones at once.
ezCurrency: This app lets you convert currency quickly and easily. It updates very quickly whenever you have an internet connection, and
converts to the last update when you don't have internet. There are lots of similar apps, but this one is the one I liked best.
Other: There are other free apps, such as language learning, dictionaries and travel guides. I live in China, so I use KTdict C-E for my dictionary.