Whether traveling solo, joining a group trip, or backpacking Asia with friends, you can take the stress out of your travels by downloading several helpful mobile apps. Smartphone apps can help you navigate local transport, translate foreign languages, book accommodation, keep track of your budget, and much more. However, to use most of these apps, you will need to have access to the internet. We recommend getting an eSIM to avoid searching for WiFi spots or facing high roaming charges from your usual network.
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What Is An eSIM?
An eSIM is a digital, non-physical SIM that allows you to make and receive calls and texts and access the internet. Google, Apple and Samsung made their smartphones compatible with eSIMs in 2017, 2018, and 2020, respectively.
Here are some benefits of using an eSIM:
- You don’t need to go to a local store or queue at airport phone kiosks.
- You can purchase and activate your eSIM in advance so it is ready to use when you arrive in a new country.
- You can keep your native phone number. However, receiving calls from back home may still come with significant charges.
- You don’t need to open your phone’s SIM card tray and dispose of the plastic cards in each country.
- Some global data plans allow you to stay connected throughout multiple countries without buying or switching to a new plan.
Ahead of your trip to Asia, you can download an app belonging to one of the many eSIM providers and choose your plan. Here are some options:
Airalo’s Asialink eSIM works in 14 Asian countries, including Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macao, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Prices range from $5 to $185, depending on how much data you need (1GB to 100GB) and how long you are staying (7 days to 100 days).
Airalo’s Discover Global eSIM works in almost all Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, India, and the United Arab Emirates. For a data-only plan, prices range from $9 to $69, depending on how much data you need (1GB to 20GB) and how long you are staying (7 days to 365 days). Prices are slightly higher for a plan that includes local calls and texts.
Nomad has unique eSIM plans for Southeast Asia and Oceania (called the SEA-Oceania), which work in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand. Prices range from $6 to $60, depending on how much data you need (1GB to 20GB) and how long you are staying (7 days to 60 days).
Nomad also has the SEA-Plus eSIM, which is more expensive but covers more Asian countries, including the ones listed above, and Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. Now you’ve decided on a suitable eSIM app and data plan for your travels, let’s have a look at seven other apps that can help you along your journey:
7 Mobile Apps to Help Backpackers
Revolut – For Managing Money
Revolut is a great travel card offering some of the best exchange rates and helpful budgeting features. The Standard plan is free if you’re happy with using a virtual card from your smartphone wallet. However, with the Standard plan, you have to pay if you want a physical Revolut card, which allows you up to £200 per month of free ATM withdrawals. Alternatively, you can upgrade to Plus, Premium, Metal, and Ultra plans for a monthly fee. These plans provide more benefits, such as higher fee-free withdrawal limits, discounted airport lounge access, and a free physical card.
In addition, Revolut offers an option to set an overall budget and allocate spending amounts to each category, such as shopping, transport, restaurants, entertainment, and more.
ATM Fee Saver – For Avoiding ATM Fees
Regarding budgeting, ATM Fee Saver can save you money on cashpoint fees while traveling. The app’s map displays nearby ATMs and information about each machine’s fees and withdrawal limits, making finding no-fee or low-fee ATMs easy. However, if you do have to pay a fee, the app also includes a handy calculator to determine how much each withdrawal will cost you before getting to the machine. About 30 destinations are currently covered, including many countries in Southeast Asia.
XE Currency – For Currency Conversion
The currency is confusing when arriving in a new country for the first time. XE Currency allows you to store up to 10 currencies offline, meaning you don’t have to be connected to the internet to work out how much something costs.
However, it is essential to remember that the app uses the latest rates, which means you will probably see better conversion rates than what your bank gives when you pay. The more you use XE Currency, the more familiar you will become with local prices and exchange rates.
Top tip: Try to remember what $10 is in local currency. For example, in Thailand, $10 is around 355 Thai Baht. From here, you can judge whether to buy that drink or those elephant trousers based on whether they are more than $10 or less.
HostelWorld – For Budget-Friendly Accommodation
HostelWorld is made for backpackers and keeps all your hostel bookings in one place. You can choose between female, male, or mixed dorms and rooms with ensuites or shared bathroom facilities. Whilst Booking.com lets you book hostels and other accommodation options such as hotels or apartments, there are more benefits for backpackers who use HostelWorld, including:
- 14 days before you arrive, you can see the age and nationality of the other people in your dorm room.
- 14 days before you arrive, HostelWorld will add you to a group chat with all the other people staying in the hostel on your dates. This is great for making new friends.
- You will also be added to a city chat for all staying in HostelWorld accommodations across the city. This is great for finding out things to do and places to see.
- You can join advertised Linkups at your hostel, which can be anything from walking tours and day trips to pool tournaments and pizza nights in the communal areas.
Unfortunately, for those who tend to change plans, HostelWorld bookings require a nonrefundable deposit by card. So, if you have to cancel your booking, you will lose your deposit.
Rome2Rio – For Getting Around
Rome2Rio is one of my favorite apps for getting around a new city or traveling from one city to another. Type in where you are and where you want to go, and you’ll get a list of transport options, their prices and journey times. It gives travellers detailed timetables and route numbers for various transport options, including buses, trains, flights, and ferries. Here is an example:
A bonus is that you can book all your transport tickets through the app!
Whilst you may be able to get by in popular destinations around Asia with the English language, you may need help if you stray away from the usual tourist trail to the likes of Quy Nhon in Vietnam or Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesia.
- Translate typed text from one language to another. You can quickly learn to say please and thank you in a new language.
- Take pictures of foreign text (we’re thinking of those tricky food menus) to scan and translate it into your chosen language.
- Speak into your smartphone and pick which language the app should translate your speech into. This allows two people speaking different languages to have a conversation.
TripIt – For Trip Planning
For trip planning and keeping all your bookings organized in one place, there is no better option than TripIt. Forward your hotel, flight, car rental, or other booking confirmation emails to firstname.lastname@example.org, and TripIt will create a master itinerary – which you can even access offline.
In addition, you can subscribe to the Pro version for $48.99 per year, which gives travelers access to flight check-in reminders, real-time security queue information, flight departure times, interactive terminal maps, and more. However, even the free features are helpful for backpackers on a budget.
Whilst this article focuses on eSim plans for those long-awaited Asian destinations, the smartphone apps listed above will also help those travelers planning to interrail Europe or road trip around Australia. Remember to stay safe, be alert, keep in contact with friends and family back home, have lots of fun, and as always, Travel Till You Drop!
Author’s Bio: I’m Neve Wilkinson, a content creator at Solvid, with a passion for writing long-form content. I’m proud to have work published on GirlTalkHQ, the Future of Commerce, HR Cloud, and more. Please check out my Gravatar, LinkedIn, and Twitter!