When I think about the fact that college students used to spend semesters in Europe before the invention of smartphones…my mind is blown. If you’re one of those gifted travelers who can figure out where they are from an old map and which direction the sun is setting…then I’m incredibly impressed but we probably have nothing in common. But if you’re more like me and could sooner hitchhike through Paris than figure out which way is North, then take note of the best travel apps to download for Europe!
For more ways you can prepare yourself for study abroad or European travel, check out my post How to Pack for a Semester Abroad.
Between Apple and Google Maps, Google Maps is the far superior option. On top of having some geographical mistakes, Apple Maps is not nearly as helpful when it comes to displaying transit options, which is a very necessary feature. As long as I had Google Maps up and running on my phone, I could get wherever I needed to go easily, no matter the country or the language!
Of all the apps on this list, Google Maps is the most important app to download for European travel!
Although essentially the same idea as Google Maps, Moovit tends to be a bit more reliable when it comes to transit times. Just type in your destination and Moovit will display the amount of minutes until you can expect another bus or train at your specific stop. It also provides a clear display of where each particular route will take you in the city!
Unless you conveniently speak 30 different languages…I would recommend downloading this app before traveling anywhere, not just within Europe. Google Translate has a great feature which allows you to download languages and use the app even when you don’t have internet! This came in handy many times when Vodafone cut off my wifi unexpectedly.
When it comes to fair rates, some cab drivers around Europe can be less than trustworthy. Uber was the much more reliable option for a broke college girl’s budget. We preferred it in most countries simply because it tells you the price before you ever get in the car! It was also convenient when the Italian taxi drivers went on strike every other week.*
However, if you do plan to use Uber in Europe, I would suggest being overly-cautious and always using the buddy system. In certain cities, Uber is not regulated to the same standards it is in the States.
*Update: Uber was used in Rome when I studied abroad in 2017, as of 2019 the app only works in Milan.
Unless you’re solo-traveling all semester, Venmo will be one of your most important apps abroad. Going out to dinner in large groups can get tricky, especially on a continent that typically refuses to split checks. Sometimes there’s no way around booking Airbnb’s, hostels and flights together on one card. Venmo is by far the easiest way to make sure everyone pays their share! Because Venmo requires a phone number to set up, it’s much easier to activate before you leave in case you plan on getting a European SIM card abroad.
Local Taxi Apps
On the rare occasion that the taxi drivers weren’t on strike, the IT Taxi app was very useful when I didn’t feel like calling a cab in broken Italian. It never hurts to download the local taxi app in whichever country you’re visiting as a backup!
Airbnb is one of my favorite and most-used apps! I started using Airbnb when I moved to Italy the first time, in January of 2017, and I haven’t booked a hotel in Europe since. This app is your ticket to booking beautiful cottages, apartments, beach houses, etc….at a fraction of the price of a hotel. Especially for those traveling in a group of six or more, Airbnb will oftentimes be your best option for accommodation anywhere in Europe.
Another one of my favorites, Hostelworld has compiled all of Europe’s best hostels at the click of a button. Just enter the city you’re visiting, the dates you’ll be there and how many people you’re traveling with and the app will load dozens of affordable, safe hostel options in seconds. Some of my personal favorites from Hostelworld were Villa Manos in Santorini, Hostel Adelino in Ibiza and Seven Hostel in Sorrento (check out my post A Long Weekend in Amalfi).
My Currency Converter
There’s no tool more important to a broke college student than a handy currency converter. It wasn’t as much of a problem when the euro and the dollar were neck and neck, but it definitely came in handy when we were trying to figure out the Czech koruna! Don’t plan on traveling Europe without downloading a currency converter, your wallet will thank you!
If you are one of the brave travelers that vetos a European phone plan and decides to travel on wifi and luck alone, this is the app for you. CityMaps2Go allows you to download maps of entire cities on wifi so you are able to use them even when Internet isn’t an option. It allows you to star landmarks on the map, so we would always make sure to star our hostel or Airbnb. This feature came in handy while trying to find our way home after Vodafone cut off our data (which happened more often than not).
If you love to participate in organized tours and excursions, make sure to download Viator. It’s full of fun activities such as boat cruises, biking tours, guided hikes, wine tours and many others. We booked a lovely bike tour through Austrian wine country while visiting Vienna. €80 included full use of a bike, helmet and rain gear, a nine-hour guided tour, three wine tastings in the scenic Wachau Valley and a delicious lunch in a picturesque little Austrian town. The tour was wonderful and ended up being one of my favorite experiences in Europe. Check it out here!
If you’re not finding any activities that interest you on Viator, check out another one of my favorites, Get Your Guide!
There’s nothing like the stress of having to book a flight on-the-go. In my experience it’s always good to have at least one flight-booking app on your smartphone, although I usually have three to compare prices. If you’re under 25 and currently in school, or have a student ID that hasn’t expired, Student Universe is going to be your best friend. After submitting the two documents to prove you’re a student, you will be an official member and able to book flights at the best prices on the internet!
If you’re not a student and don’t have Student Universe as an option, Skyscanner is the next best tool for booking flights easily and at the cheapest price. Skyscanner will let you search by country instead of just city, allowing you to find cheaper options leaving from all nearby airports!
Next time you’re planning a trip to Europe, make sure to whip out your trusty iPhone and download these apps before you leave. Coming from a fellow traveler, a few of these have saved my ass more than a few times (pardon my French). And next time you’re stranded in the Italian countryside with nothing but a iPhone and your non-Italian speaking Mother, you’re going to thank God for the transit feature on Google Maps!*
*This actually happened. We took the only bus in Cinque Terre and bought a bottle of Chianti to drink on the train.
Thanks for reading! If you like my posts make sure to follow the blog as well as my adventures on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps 🙂
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