The Essential Smartphone Apps and Gear to Keep Productive When Traveling

Kannon Yamada 14-05-2013

best travel appsDo you find it’s hard staying productive when traveling? That’s because most mobile productivity hardware and software suck. In this article, I present some of the best equipment for working out of your smartphone.


I just got back from a tour of California’s beautiful Sonoma County, internationally known for its extraordinary wines and verdant, rolling hills. Unfortunately, with a deadline looming and no laptop available, the task of composing an article fell to my trusty smartphone, a suite of productivity software and a handful of peripheral devices.

Plan Your Trip

First things, first: Prepare for your trip.

Knowing the weather ahead of time will allow you to pack accordingly. On my wine-tasting trip, an unusual weather pattern brought in sprinkles and cold weather. Fortunately, having used Weatherbug and Google’s search feature, I managed to pack my bags accordingly. Unfortunately, not everyone in my party prepared and two found themselves huddled together around cups of coffee while I gloated and snapped pictures.

best travel apps

Another handy tip is to download maps of your travel destination ahead of time, using Google Maps. As I’ve mentioned before, Sick Of Your GPS App’s Data Connection Flaking Out? Try 3 Updated Offline Maps [Android] Not long ago, Chris covered three of the best offline GPS apps available on Android. Since then, many other GPS apps released or received major updates. Do these newcomers compare favorably with those reviewed by... Read More Google Maps offers an offline mode. Simply download and install the app. From the menu tri-dot, select the “make available offline” option. Maps will prompt you to manually indicate the region that you’re traveling to and will then save the entire region to your phone’s memory.


A number of other options exist for creating offline maps. GMapCatcher can download printable maps from Google. There’s also Stay Access All Your Travel Guides & Maps Offline With Stay [iPhone] Stay is a free fun web-based tool we have reviewed previously. Basically, it offers a great feature set for planning and mapping your traveling and then saving and sharing your plans with friends, relatives or... Read More for the iPhone.

Check the weather: As Joel can attest You Should Buy These: 5 Android Apps That Are Worth Every Penny, And Why There is a vast ocean of Android apps on Google Play and it can be daunting to browse, especially if you're new to Android in general. Free apps are great and all, and there are... Read More , it’s possible to check the weather of your travel destination using Weatherbug‘s forecast feature. If you’re on a desktop, searching Google + the region you’re traveling to will produce prediction results from the Weather Channel’s Weather Underground.

travel apps

Essential Applications

The most useful productivity software to take on a vacation is a combination of office apps, offline navigation, theft recovery and place of interest discovery apps.


Offline Navigation: Offline navigation can help when visiting locations where data access is poor, absent or expensive. Two of the best offline navigation apps are OSMand and the outstanding Google Maps. Both provide excellent turn-by-turn navigation, in addition to offline functionality.

Chris and I covered several 8 Best Free Offline GPS Navigation Apps for Android Need directions on your phone but don't have an internet connection? These offline GPS apps for Android will help you navigate. Read More of the best offline maps Sick Of Your GPS App’s Data Connection Flaking Out? Try 3 Updated Offline Maps [Android] Not long ago, Chris covered three of the best offline GPS apps available on Android. Since then, many other GPS apps released or received major updates. Do these newcomers compare favorably with those reviewed by... Read More available for Android. My opinion is that OSMand performs better for offline guidance, whereas Google Maps wins out in overall performance.

Office Applications: For free office apps two of the best apps are KingOffice and Google Drive. For paid apps consider DocumentsToGo or OfficeSuite Pro 7. While each app possesses various strengths and weaknesses, my preference is for OfficeSuite Pro 7 of the paid apps and KingOffice for the free apps. But overall, I don’t know if the additional features of the paid office suites justify their $15 price tags.

travel apps


Unfortunately, many office productivity suites lack important features found on the desktop or laptop. A big issue among Microsoft Office users is the lack of higher spreadsheet functions on mobile devices. While mobile software improves constantly, it doesn’t yet appear to be on the level of the desktop.

SwiftKey: Joel first suggested SwiftKey You Should Buy These: 5 Android Apps That Are Worth Every Penny, And Why There is a vast ocean of Android apps on Google Play and it can be daunting to browse, especially if you're new to Android in general. Free apps are great and all, and there are... Read More in his article on the best Android apps money can buy. And as I can personally attest, SwiftKey provides one of the fastest virtual keyboard experiences on any platform. I cannot suggest this app enough.

Yelp: The Yelp app finds businesses pertinent to whatever you crave, in addition to offering augmented reality. Augmented reality apps Augmented Reality Apps: Useful, Or Just Hype? MakeUseOf Tests In 2011, analysts predicted the rise of Augmented Reality mobile apps. The nascent technology would revolutionize the way we interact with our mobile devices. Flash forward two years and dozens of AR apps populate all... Read More visually overlay locations pertinent to your needs on the phone’s screen. Simply select a category from a number of Yelp’s predefined filters, such as restaurants or bars and Yelp takes care of the rest, using your phone’s camera to display places near you. Just wave the phone around and it shows the location’s proximity and direction.

Cerberus: Cerberus provides a formidable defense against thieves. One of its most effective features includes the ability to track a stolen phone even in the event of a SIM card swap. Another handy feature lies in Cerberus’s ability to activate the phone’s microphone, which helps in identifying the thief and assisting recovery of the phone. It also includes remote tracking from a desktop, and the ability to activate if another SIM card is swapped in – handy if the thieves resell the phone. Frankly, Cerberus is the ultimate security for your phone.


travel apps

Unfortunately, Cerberus doesn’t come free. Alternatives that cost nothing, fortunately, do exist, although they don’t provide the same features. Plan-B is among some of the better alternatives.

Essential Smartphone Gear

best free travel apps

One of the best features of smartphone gear is that it’s lightweight. Compared to many laptops, even ultraportable Chromebooks What Is a Chromebook? What is a Chromebook? What's a Chromebook good for? How does a Chromebook compare to a laptop? We answer these and more. Read More , a bag full of smartphone gear feels like a bag full of feathers. Additionally, they often provide a redundancy not found in a heavier computer. For example, if any individual device fails, such as a battery or charger, you can rely on the phone’s internal keyboard or battery. It may shock you that the SwiftKey app helped compose half of this article.

Bluetooth mouse: Having a mouse makes the mobile computing experience very similar to the desktop in several important ways: First, the mouse scroll-wheel perfectly integrates into Android, providing a seamless means of zooming around a word processor. Second, a mouse allows you to completely detach from touchscreen dependence, freeing you up to focus entirely on typing and editing. In my experience, almost all Bluetooth mice work with Android Honeycomb (3) and above.

best free travel apps

The mouse pictured is the Eclipse Touch. While not well reviewed, in many ways it beat its two-star Amazon rating by offering good performance and portability. However, at $25, better mice can be found. Regarding peripheral devices, you may as well go as cheap as possible since not much of a difference exists between expensive and cheap mice. For example, some of the expensive “touch” mice on the market don’t require mechanically activating a mouse button and instead incorporate a touch-sensitive material. While the technology feels more organic than “clicky” traditional buttons, you’re better off with something inexpensive and disposable. Theft runs high while on the road and minimizing your risk should take precedent over novel or unique features.

Bluetooth keyboard: A keyboard provides many times more “words per minute” typing efficiency than does a virtual touch keyboard. While a travel keyboard may require batteries and drain quite a bit of energy over Bluetooth, they provide an optimal means of typing papers. They also oftentimes include keyboard shortcuts to the phone’s core functions, such as the dialer.

Unfortunately, most keyboards that can work on older versions of Android tend to run a high cost and offer poor functionality and performance. On the other hand, newer versions of Android (4+) offer excellent keyboard compatibility with Bluetooth devices. And some can in fact be found for relatively little money.

OTG Cable: On-the-Go cables allow newer Android devices (4+) connectivity with many USB devices. Erez did a great write-up How to Connect a USB Keyboard to Your Android Phone Ever wanted to use a real keyboard on your Android device? It's actually pretty easy to set up! Here's a step-by-step guide. Read More explaining how OTG works. Christian also elaborated on how-to implement a keyboard-tablet pairing MakeUseOf Experiments: Going Tablet-Only For a Week & Staying Productive You took one look at the headline and thought "this guy is crazy", right? That's pretty much what I thought at first, but as the week progressed I found myself struggling with apps, multi-tasking and... Read More , which he actually used as his primary computer for a full week. One of the advantages of using a standard keyboard is that it doesn’t require its own batteries, instead drawing current from the mobile device itself. OTG cables sell on Amazon for just a few dollars, too.

AC adapter: When you’re not out and about, or sleeping, an AC adapter, AKA charger, keeps your device from draining out. Unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, you make extremely poor decisions and frequently purchase incompatible or poor quality computer parts. To illustrate, my AC adapter ended up failing, necessitating that I rely on a backup battery.

Backup battery: A backup battery will help in the event that you are unable to charge using your AC adapter. In my case, the AC adapter failed – however, the backup battery provided an entire additional day of charge. It also doubled as a flashlight.

Man-bag: While the majority of you would scoff at a man carrying a purse, I defy such rigid gender stratification. The canvas man-bag comfortably fit all my gadgets, including a Nexus 4 Smartphone, prized rooted Nook Simple Touch, Bluetooth travel keyboard, Bluetooth mouse and Cocoon gadget case. The whole kit weighed only a few pounds, to boot.

Towel: Never forget your towel.

best travel apps


If you hate lugging around a heavy laptop, and mobile productivity ranks high on your list of priorities, try rolling your very own mobile productivity kit. It takes little more than a handful of the best travel apps and gear to get up and running.

Anyone else love working on the go? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credits: Cellphone via

Related topics: Offline Browsing, Travel.

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  1. Vida
    October 24, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    I find GoogleMaps useless when travelling abroad.
    Yes you can cache the map.. but the search feature requires you to have a data connection.
    If you don't have one you're sunk.

    And when I'm abroad I'm not going to pay data roaming charges.

    So, I bought the tomtom android app.. pricey but very effective.
    Earns its price when I can say no to the car rental companys extra satnav charge.

  2. android underground
    May 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Some essential Android apps for on the road:

    International data roaming costs a fortune, so you need a few apps to minimize data usage.
    - AFWall+ to stop data guzzling apps from exploding your roaming bill.
    - AdAway 'cos you don't want your phone or tablet to download ads at €10 per MB.
    - Opera Mini to compress the web.

    Google Goggles to translate foreign text by shooting a picture of it, and Google Translate now that it works offline.

    A VoIP app or two. Skype has terrible voice quality, so use Viber or CSipSimple instead. And WhatsApp, 'cos international SMS is way overpriced.

  3. Robert Largent
    May 14, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    My Favorite Travel apps.
    Trip it--To track my itinerary
    Urban Spoon--Yelp is sparse in some areas--US seems more comprehensive
    Trip Advisor--Review the hotels in the area before I travel--Also does some restaurants
    Each Airlines App-Dependent on Airline I am flying
    Each Hotel Chains app--Dependent on where I am staying
    Twitter--So if I have a problem I can tweet to the offending company
    Google Googles--Cause it's fun
    Field Trip--Has some interesting info pop up based on where you are

  4. Marilyn
    May 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Some of my favorite travel apps are Skype (communicating over wifi); Taxi Magic (finding a taxi); OpenTable (dinner reservations); and our app - LifeTopix (travel agenda, appointments, packing checklists, to-dos, organizing docs I might need during travel, travel journals/note taking, travel bookmarks and passwords). Solar keyboards are also very useful - in addition to Bluetooth.

  5. Huzefa MS Shakir
    May 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    "Never forget your towel."
    Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference!

  6. Jean-Michel A
    May 14, 2013 at 8:51 am

    I Love it i got well an equivalent of a lenovo A2107H which well as sooon as i can afford it will get the real thing them chinese android well they can be problematic but having everything on that list would render me efficient and not just out of country but in country as well then all i would need is that sony bluetooth that remote answers and there you'll have it the perfect office home away from home

  7. Frankie Williams
    May 14, 2013 at 5:57 am

    I travel out of the USA frequently and one of the best apps I have found is Simply Declare. I put in the amount I am allowed to bring back into the US without having to pay duty and taxes, put in what I buy, take a snapshot of the receipt in case I lose the paperwork, and then the app gives me a handy list to help me fill out the forms at the border. This is a great app and the best buck I could have spent in the AppStore.