4+1 Travel Apps That Simplify Life on the Road

4+1 Travel Apps That Simplify Life on the Road

   Alright good, so you leave tomorrow and you’re loading up your iPhone with music and games for the long flight. While you’re doing so I recommend checking out these apps to help simplify your traveling experience:

Best Travel Apps for Making Backpackers’ Lives Easier


   CityMaps2Go is my main app for getting around while away from home. CityMaps2Go offers you the ability to download the map of any city, country, or region ahead of time and track yourself using GPS, even in offline situations. While the maps are fantastic, what’s even better is that the app also allows you to download a fully integrated guidebook with restaurant ratings, accommodation locations, information on local landmarks, public transport pickups and dropoffs, and loads of other helpful information. This app is a must.

Google Translate (formerly WordLens)

   The first time I saw WordLens it blew my mind. Basically it acts as a camera app that translates whatever words are on the screen IN REAL TIME. So if you are at an authentic Polish restaurant in Kazimierz and cannot read the menu just whip out your phone and this app will translate the descriptions instantly. As far as pronouncing “Jajecznica z kurkami i boczkiem” (scrambled eggs and bacon) when the waiter comes…. you’re on your own. I’d recommend pointing and grunting. Google recently bought out WordLens (of course) and paired it up with their extensive translation services, so when it comes to language apps this is the way to go. The dictionary currently translates 90 different languages, and the real time camera translation can handle 26.

ÖBB Scotty

   Scotty Mobil gives you access to every train/bus schedule in Europe. However, as far as I know, you still cannot buy tickets via the app. While it is a noticeably dated app, it is still the best at what it does. What puts this Scotty Mobil app over the top for me is the new GPS integration, and the fact that it lists every stop between your starting point and your destination, which makes it easy to monitor where you are and when you will arrive (and also helps you when tagging your pictures’ locations when you catch a glimpse of a beautiful castle or lake out of the train window).


   By now everyone knows about Skype’s worldwide video calling. However, not everyone has realized that it also turns whatever WiFi device you are using into one of the most user friendly and cheap worldphones in existence. Any time you are connected to a WiFi network you can call any phone on the planet for as low as 2 cents per minute for landlines and 10 cents per minute for cell phones. While this is rarely useful at home, while traveling I probably use it every day to book a bed at a hostel or a dinner reservation on a Saturday night. In fact, living in Prague I still use it when I call my parents so they don’t have to deal with computers and webcams just to talk to me.
Note: You just need to register your account and throw 25$ on there to draw from. I highly recommend it, if nothing else, as a safety measure.

And An Important One for Travel Safety


   SmartTraveler (or Smartraveler for you Aussies) is the app run by our State Department and while hopefully you won’t need its emergency services, it is incredibly important particularly in this increasingly volatile world (I mean it really isn’t, but the news definitely makes it seem that way doesn’t it?). If nothing else, just tell your mom about it and she will be more at ease about you traveling alone.
The app itself is really quite fantastic. It provides you with information on seemingly everything you could need regarding your destinations: from Embassy Locations to Visa Requirements to Health/Transportation services to Local Laws and Punishments. It also integrates the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which is a program where you are registered with the different Embassies along your journey so they can keep tabs on you and be prepared to provide you with what you need in the case of emergencies.

Mike Risser



4+1 “Don’t Backpack Europe Without” Items

4+1 “Don’t Backpack Europe Without” Items

   Ok so after reading my “4+1 Websites for Booking Cheap Flights” post last week you booked your super cheap flight to Berlin on SkyScanner, and you picked up your new ~50 liter travel backpack from REI. Great! Now what do you put in it? Backpacker Rule #1 is Pack Light! I absolutely second this motion, but I also highly suggest the following items to keep things comfortable:

Backpacker Necessities:

WiFi Ready Device

   Some people talk about just leaving technology behind and disappearing for a few weeks. What a beautiful thought! The truth is traveling without a WiFi ready device makes the backpacker lifestyle quite a pain in the ass. Nowadays booking hostels/buses/flights is all done online. There is also an abundance of apps that make your journey easier and safer (my next blog post is all ready and highlights these).

   When I travel, I carry an older iPhone 4s and a 7″ Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. The Galaxy Tab makes long airport waits a breeze. It is also hugely convenient as a photographer for keeping my photos flowing on to my Dropbox and Amazon Cloud throughout my trip.

Travel Adapter & Portable Battery

   Travel adapters are obvious necessities. A personal recommendation is spending a few bucks more for one that has multiple outlets and/or USB ports because many times hostels will not have not have as many outlets as guests (not to mention its benefit at cafes and airports). When you see someone already using the outlet at the airport it is a nice benefit to be able to ask if you can slip your mini extension cord in and share the outlet.

   The development of portable batteries has been an absolute game changer for me. Even at home I always have one with me. As far as bringing one backpacking, there are two options: a lipstick charger that is about the size of a tube of lipstick and can recharge your phone once or twice, or a high capacity battery that is larger and heavier but can recharge your device up to 7 times. I personally carry the Anker PowerCore+ Mini 3350 mAh ($9.99 right now) and the Anker Astro 15000 mAh and would highly recommend both. The small one really comes in handy when you’re out walking a new city all day with the GPS burning up your phone battery and the big one is excellent for long train journeys or airport layovers.

Microfiber Towel

   Do NOT forget this item. Can you rent towels in most European hostels? Yes. Do yo want to? Hell. No. Despite what you may be assuming this has very little to do with cleanliness. This is all about frugality. I stayed in a hostel in Copenhagen a few summers ago that actually charged 4 euros for a one night towel rental. While this is an exception to the rule, a free towel is very rare and paying even 1 euro a pop will add up.

   Beyond all that I must say these microfiber towels are pure magic. They are incredibly absorbent, dry in less than an hour, are antibacterial (no smell) and pack down small enough to fit in your pocket.

Pakems Shoes

   Alright, so Pakems. Pakems are foldable shoes with rubber tread that weigh 15 ounces and come with their own little carrying bag you can strap to your backpack. They are a little goofy looking but they are ABSURDLY comfortable. I brought a pair of the low-tops to the Himalayas and after every day of hiking they were an absolute godsend. In fact, just writing this reminded me how badass they are and inspired me to buy another pair before I even started this sentence (here’s PROOF!).

   Honestly, while I LOVE these and highly recommend them, you could also just get some flip flops and strap them to your bag. In either case, do not forget to bring some form of comfortable house shoes.

Optional “Put Your Mind at Ease” Item:

Pacsafe Backpack Protector

   I have had one of these for more than 4 years and I think I’ve used it MAYBE 3 times. That being said, those 3 times I was really glad I had it. If you are nervous about the possibility of your things being stolen while you travel, a Pacsafe backpack protector should put those feelings of discomfort to rest. Pacsafe makes TOP of the line security products. The backpack protector consists of an incredibly strong stainless steel wire mesh netting that covers your bag, entirely preventing it from being slashed or rummaged through. It definitely makes swimming at the beach more comfortable not having to swim in shifts or keep an eye on your stuff from 100 meters away.

Mike Risser


4+1 Websites for Booking Cheap Flights

4+1 Websites for Booking Cheap Flights

Berlin to Brussels for $5
Prague to Rome for $20
Prague to Sarajevo for $37
Prague to Los Angeles for $257
New York to Bangkok for $276

  These are just a few of the tickets I have managed to land over the past 2 years. I believe everyone has a superpower and I believe mine to be finding cheap plane tickets. Traveling on a budget starts with getting there. Of course there are fairly well known trade secrets (like flights being cheaper on Wed/Thurs/Sat or the fact that most websites do not update their conversion rates as quickly as your bank so paying in a foreign currency can save you big), but the real secret to flying on the cheap is as easy as ABC. A-Always. B-Be. C-Checking. Always Be Checking. Always Be Checking. If you want cheap flights you have to keep your eyes open and be ready to pull the trigger at the drop of a hat. Here are the best websites to keep your eyes on:

Best Aggregate Websites for Getting Cheap Flights:


   SkyScanner cut its teeth dealing strictly with European budget airlines and while it remains the absolute top of this field, it has expanded exponentially to deal with airlines all over the world. SkyScanner does not sell flights directly, instead it is more or less an aggregate of aggregates. It offers the widest range of search results of any site and permits you to search entire states/countries/regions and entire months (instead of +/- 3 days) for the best deals.

   SkyScanner is my go-to site for absolute steals like the ones listed above. In fact, searching “PRAGUE to EVERYWHERE during CHEAPEST MONTH” has worked itself into my morning routine.

Google Flights

   Google has recently entered the game after buying out and converting the ‘information only’ ITA Matrix Airfare Search website into Google Flights. Just like most of their ventures, Google has bought up the absolute top technology in the field and gone ahead and created the most streamlined and user-friendly search engine for flights. Similar to SkyScanner, on Google Flights the results you will be given are as wide or as narrow as the search criteria you input. Google has taken the opposite approach of SkyScanner, starting with large airlines and international travel and working their way down to the budget airlines.


   AirfareWatchdog (one of the many branches of TripAdvisor) takes an interesting approach; they employ a team to search out and identify the cheapest possible flights which they then pass on directly to the consumer. To use their service, you set up “Low Fare Alerts” on their website and they notify you via email when sales or significant price drops occur that involve your chosen airports or regular routes. While their everyday rates and search functionality are not quite on par with the likes of SkyScanner and Google, this alert service they run can save you big. As of right now their services are heavily weighted towards American routes and travelers, but they do function globally.


   And then there’s Skiplagged. Skiplagged made such an immediate impact on the airline industry that in late 2014, United Airlines (unsuccessfully) attempted to sue the 22 year old founder for exposing trade secrets and costing them millions. The concept behind Skiplagged is known as “hidden-city” and it’s creator lays it out as such: “Basically, hidden-city is where your destination is a stopover; you’d simply leave the airport when you arrive at your destination. It turns out booking this way can save you hundreds of dollars on over 25% of common routes, especially in the USA.” For example, if you are in Chicago and you want to fly to New York, what Skiplagged does is search for cheaper flights from Chicago to other destinations that would have New York as a layover. Then, when you arrive in New York rather than getting on the next flight you would just leave the airport.

   The founder does mention that there are a few caveats to using their method: “1. You have to book a round-trip as two one-ways (which Skiplagged handles automatically), 2. You can’t have any checked baggage, only carry-ons, and 3. technically you may be breaking an agreement with the airlines known as contract of carriage, where it might say you can’t miss flights on purpose.” Even with those in mind when the situation warrants it Skiplagged can be a solid choice.

Best Airline for Crossing the Atlantic on the Cheap:

Norwegian Airlines

   Norwegian Airlines made the headlines in October when their CEO announced that 69$ flights from the United States to Europe were “right around the corner.” Even though the proposed date of these sub-100$ flights is sometime in 2017, at this point in time the absolute best deals on flights across the Atlantic are being still dished out by Norwegian Airlines. While it is certainly a ‘get what you pay for’ budget airline, there are reasons Norwegian is a perennial award winner including its 787 Dreamliners with good airline food and more than adequate entertainment options.

   As was stated above, many times the euro-dollar conversion rate for these travel websites lags behind the banks so it can be cheaper to purchase in euros, this is one of those websites.

Mike Risser (instagram: @mikerisser)