I rarely take real vacations, but I do travel often. Since I’m a freelancer, my work can, and does, travel with me.
Case in point: I recently took a trip to Seoul, South Korea on a whim, to see my brother compete in the CrossFit Asia Regionals. Because this trip was sort of last minute, I didn’t really have time to block out “vacation” time (that’s where I try to finish a bunch of projects before the trip so I don’t have to work during the trip). Instead, I relied on in-flight Wi-Fi, a plethora of mobile devices and apps, and sheer willpower to get my work done—even while overseas, jet-lagged, and at a CrossFit competition.
Getting work done on the go is actually pretty easy these days, but it’s a lot easier if you have the right apps. You’ve probably seen “road warrior” app suggestions before, but you’ll need an entirely different toolset if you’re working in the air and overseas, because many of the typical apps won’t work without a cellular connection. I found seven apps that are essential for the international road warrior.
Of all the dozens of travel-planning apps, TripIt (free for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone) is my go-to for two reasons: It keeps all of my travel plans and itineraries organized and in one place, and it’s accessible offline. That second reason is particularly important when I’m traveling internationally, because not all airports have readily available Wi-Fi hotspots.
If you’ve never used TripIt, you’re missing out. At its core, it’s really just a simple organization app that gathers your various travel plans in one place, like flight numbers, and hotel and car rental reservations. You can either input these details manually, or use TripIt’s ultra-convenient “email itinerary” feature, where you link your email account to the app and forward all relevant plans to a special TripIt email address. TripIt can also identify travel-related emails that appear in your inbox and automatically update your itineraries.
What I like about TripIt is that you can access it offline—well, most of the time. To ensure you’ll be able to get your trip info when you leave your carrier’s network, you should open up your itinerary while you’re still connected so that the info is freshly stored. Later, when you get to your final destination, you should have no problem pulling up the itinerary offline. TripIt also sends email notifications if your flight is delayed, which is a great feature. For $49 per year, TripIt Pro adds more features, including notifications by text message, which are virtually useless if you happen to be in another country with a CDMA phone.
Airplanes are becoming more and more tech-friendly: I see in-flight Wi-Fi, under-seat power sockets, and even USB chargers all the time now. But while my flight to Seoul had Wi-Fi, there were no sockets to be found, except in the lavatories, and everybody knows those stopped working 30 years ago. Unfortunately, this was an issue for me, because my little MacBook Air gets about six hours of battery life on a good day, and the flight was 11 hours long.
Luckily, I had a 2-hour layover in Narita. And instead of diving behind the airport’s vending machines and ATMs in search of an outlet, I pulled up Plug Finder, a free iOS app that crowd-sources plug locations. (I may or may not have ended up unplugging a vending machine – Narita is severely lacking in open plugs, at least in my terminal.)
Plug Finder is a simple app that displays nearby outlets on a map. In theory, the app can be used to display outlets anywhere, but realistically, you’re only going to find a large number of pins in places like airports and train stations. The app uses your phone’s GPS (which still works overseas, even if your mobile network is turned off, by the way), but you can also enter in your location manually or just tap and drag the map. Users can upload plug locations with a photo of the plug and a description of the area, and most people are smart enough to mention terminals and gate numbers in their descriptions.
Plug Finder isn’t the most polished app, but it’s ridiculously useful for finding a nearby outlet when you have a short layover.
When you’re traveling internationally, finding Wi-Fi becomes your top priority, especially if you don’t have a phone or a SIM card from your host country. Opening up your Wi-Fi menu on your smartphone can be useful for finding networks, but it’s not the best way, especially not if you’re in South Korea, where I swear each fire hydrant has its own Wi-Fi network. If you just use the Wi-Fi menu, you may miss out on networks because your device will get overwhelmed with the sheer number of networks in the area. Or, you may not realize that if you take three steps to your left, there’s a free, public Wi-Fi network just waiting to be discovered.
Wi-Fi Finder is a free Android and iOS app for finding Wi-Fi whether you’re online or offline, and whether you can currently see the networks or not. Wi-Fi Finder has a scanner, which you can use to scan for networks that your device can actually see. The scanner delivers information about each network, such as its signal strength and how it’s secured. The app also has a “Public Wi-Fi Near Me” option, which gives you a listing of public Wi-Fi hotspots in your area. This is where you’ll find restaurants, cafes, libraries, and other establishments that offer public Wi-Fi either for free or for a fee.
I actually ended up using Wi-Fi Finder more often than I thought I would, because my typical strategy for finding Wi-Fi when I’m overseas is to hop into the nearest Apple Store. But guess what? South Korea has no Apple Stores.
Desks Near Me
As a freelance writer, I don’t have a lot of overhead. I don’t need an office, or even a desk, to do my work. But not everyone is so lucky—plenty of people need meeting spaces to meet with clients or collaborate with colleagues, and hey, some people just work better in an office environment.
Desks Near Me is a handy app for finding various work spaces when you’re overseas. The free app, which is available for iOS and also has a web version, lets you search for “desks near you.” The app uses your phone’s GPS to locate nearby work spaces, but you can also manually enter in your location. You can filter for price (free to $200 and up), number of desks (from one to 10 or more), and amenities, such as 24-hour access, child-friendly spaces, or business equipment like fax machines and copiers.
“Desks” are listed by type—you’ll find a lot of conference rooms, private offices, and shared workspaces, especially if you’re looking in the United States. International offerings are less impressive, but still there: I found a small meeting room in Seoul renting for just 2,000 won (about $20) an hour. You can book a desk directly through the app, or you can call the provider for more information, assuming you have phone service.
The last thing you want to do when you’re traveling is try to find a printer, a post office, or a fax machine—but what else can you do if you have to sign a contract and send it back while you’re overseas?
Well, you can use DocuSign Ink, a free app for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone that lets you virtually sign and date documents and email them to clients and employers. DocuSign Ink is a cinch to use: Just open up your document (usually a PDF) in the app and tap to sign it. If you have a physical version of the document, you can also take a photo of it and then virtually sign it.
You don’t even need to sign every single document: The app has you sign once and then it takes that signature and places it into future documents. You can sign as many documents as you like for free, store them in cloud storage services such as Dropbox or Evernote, and send them from the app (you get 5 free sends per month, and you can buy more with in-app purchases). DocuSign Ink is compliant with the eSign Act, so your signature is legally binding.
If you’re traveling, you’re probably spending a decent amount of money on things you normally wouldn’t: hotels, food, and other incidentals. But if you’re traveling for work, those costs could be expensed to your company—or tax-deductible if you’re self-employed—so it’s a good idea to keep track of them with Expensify.
Free for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone, Expensify not only tracks expenses and creates expense reports, but also lets you track other variables (such as time and mileage), snap photos of receipts, and track bank and credit card transactions. Expensify works offline, too, so you don’t have to worry about being connected to a network to use it.
Expensify is a lifesaver for people like me, who are terrible with paperwork. But even if you plan to save all your physical receipts and take them home with you, Expensify is still useful if you’re traveling internationally. It’s got a built-in currency converter, a trip manager (which you definitely won’t need if you’re already using TripIt), and real-time flight updates if you’re connected to a network.
Although I didn’t use Word Lens in Seoul (Korean is currently unsupported), it’s still a great app for international travelers. Free for Android and iOS, Word Lens is an augmented reality app that uses your phone’s camera to read text and translate it into different languages in real time. The app is currently in the process of being acquired by Google, and all language packs—which normally cost around $15—are free until the acquisition is complete.
Word Lens offers language packs for English to Russian, Portuguese, German, Italian, French, and Spanish. It’s not the greatest app if you want to translate a chunk of text, because the augmented reality can get a little confused—point Word Lens at a paragraph and you’ll see words jumping all over the place. But it’s perfect if you’re looking to translate just one word.
And for those of you who don’t think that’s useful, it is, especially if you’re traveling. Think map directions, train station exits, warning signs, the remote control in your hotel room, and on and on. Word Lens even helps if you’re learning the language, because it’s like an instant dictionary.
This story, "7 essential apps for international road warriors" was originally published by TechHive.