Of course, we had our bags of electronics. Lighter than books and necessary for processing photos. Entertaining, too. And, of course, with the right software, they can vastly augment the travel experience.
The key is to find software that works well in areas of the world where Internet connectivity is a rarity. Offline modes are key.
Here are a handful of iOS applications that have proven to be extremely valuable during our travels. They fall into two categories; mapping and translation.
For mapping, my use fell into two focus areas. First, there is the obvious need to figure out where we were and what might be around us (and how to get there). As a secondary use, being able to drop pins on a map and take a few notes about what was found at that location proved handy.
For offline maps with tons of information, I haven’t found anything better than Pocket Earth (there is a pro version that costs money up front, but appears to have unlimited downloads of the offline maps which are in app purchases in the free version).
Beyond having excellent maps, there is a $5 add-on that offers topographic maps, too. This was fantastic as we wandered through the Andes mountains. We could spot volcanoes and know how high the peak was above us or know how far a waterfall was falling. Or how deep the gorge was that we were zip lining across.
As well, Pocket Earth will download wikipedia articles for whatever regions you download and it can also download wikivoyage articles, too. These are placed on the map so you can quickly learn about wherever you are!
You can also drop pins in Pocket Earth to keep track of where you’ve been. maps.me, however, has better pin dropping and diary features, and supposedly integrates with openstreetmap’s editing capabilities so you can push new points of interest back to the OSM database.
After having been to South and Central America a few times, I’m surprised by how much spanish I’ve started to understand and, even, speak. But I’m so far from being able to claim knowledge of said language that I need help. Lots of help.
This is where the Star Trek sort of experience kicks in; years ago there was Word Lens which did real time translation of text by simply pointing your iPhone’s camera at said text. Works great. Still does, but it is now in Google’s Translate app.
That is about all Translate does offline. The iOS app can’t do offline dictionary based translation, doesn’t have phrases, etc…
However, Xung Lee has got this covered exceptionally well. Traveling with this app bundle — Spanish English Dict Box Pro and Translator Pro Offline Spanish English Sentences — was fantastic. We were able to consistently convey what we needed in a polite (we checked with our bilingual guide to make sure we were conveying politeness and appreciation for the patience of whomever we were interacting with) fashion!
The dictionary app provides more than just translations of words, but every word comes with a long list of common combinations. Looking up “water” reveals “boiling water”, “carbonated water”, “cold water”, “hot water”, “foul water”, “ice water”, etc.. etc… etc…
The translator pro app is focused on phrases and sentences. Look up “tea” and you get all kinds of phrases about asking for tea, the cost of tea, someone making tea, etc…
Combine words and the app will come up with common phrases that involve both words. “Cold beer” comes up with phrases about desiring a cold beer and phrases about how nice a cold beer is on a hot day.
My kind of apps.
All in all? Probably $12 to $15 in apps. Which, frankly, is ridiculously cheap given just how much the above augmented our travel experiences!