Having access to cell data while traveling overseas is often complicated, slow, limited and/or expensive. Even in the US, fast, reliable coverage everywhere is far from certain once you get outside major metro areas.
Fortunately there are many travel apps that don’t need a real-time data connection at all. Instead, they can be synced via Wi-fi in advance, then used in offline mode while on the move, saving money and frustration.
Here are eight examples I use all the time, and there are many others depending on your needs. All are available on at least iOS and Android.
Google Maps has a checkered history when it comes to its offline abilities, but recent versions bought back support for unlimited saved areas, and added offline turn-by-turn navigation. It's easy to pick towns, cities or regions, sync them to your phone, then use them even in flight mode.
For an alternative that includes walking and public transit directions, plus simple downloading of entire regions or countries, try Here Maps instead. I recently used it on a data-less road trip through three US states, and it worked without a hitch.
Tripit has been around for years, and is still the best way to manage your itinerary with or without a data connection.
It can monitor your email for travel bookings and updates, or you can forward confirmations manually if you’d prefer.
The app will then periodically sync the latest updates whenever it has an Internet connection.
Hotels, flights, car rentals and more are all stored in one place, and the service automatically builds a detailed itinerary for you.
The basic Tripit app is free, while the Pro version adds several features such as delay notifications (by email, SMS and in-app) and reward point tracking for $49/year.
XE Currency is another long-time favorite, this time for making currency conversions quickly and easily. Add the currencies you need and sync ahead of time, then use the free app anywhere you need to.
It’ll instantly convert from a selected currency to all the others you've saved. It takes a few seconds at most, which makes it ideal when out shopping, or standing at the bureau de change to ensure you’re being offered a reasonable exchange rate.
If you're looking for a travel guide, check out Triposo. It grabs information from Wikipedia, Wikitravel and elsewhere, and bundles it together into a useful, easy-to-use offline guide.
Download the data pack for your destination(s) before leaving home, since they can be pretty large, and you’ll have activities, hotels, and restaurants, maps and basic directions, all at your fingertips.
There’s background country information, phrasebooks, currency conversion and more, all available without Internet. Impressive!
When it comes to translation, Google Translate is the stand-out performer. Both the iOS and Android versions let you download 50+ different language packs, allowing for quick translation of words and phrases when on the move.
While offline, you can either type in the words you'd like to translate, or just point your phone camera at a menu, sign or other printed material.
Whenever I'm planning a trip, I end up bookmarking a lot of information about my destination -- restaurant recommendations, places to go, navigation information, and the rest -- plus long articles I don't have time to read in daily life. To make sure I can access them all without data, I use the Pocket app.
It automatically pulls down everything I’ve saved whenever it has a Wi-fi connection, meaning it's ready to read no matter where I am, with no need to get online.
Finally, there’s even an offline app to help you get online. The paid version of Wifi Map lets you download its database of Wi-fi locations for entire cities ahead of time, so that you can then fire up the app when you’re away from home and find the nearest hotspot.
Information, including location and password, is entered by the apps users, and there are over five million networks currently listed around the world.
As mentioned, the version with offline support isn't free -- but at five dollars, it's a small price to pay to have Internet access when you need it.