Apps you should use while you are on your semester abroad
These days our smartphones are with us more often than not. Even in the slightly less developed South-East Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia, one can enjoy fast 4G connections in most populated areas, and even when outside the city areas, most often there will still be access to a slower 3G network.
With the right apps, you can enjoy your travels to the fullest! Photo by Joao Silas / CC BY
While we don’t encourage our students to be using their phones on classes (especially so for playing Candy Crush), through personal experience we have come to a conclusion that having a smartphone with some helpful apps on it may and will help you while traveling in Asia. We decided to make your life easier with a list of some free apps we use and would like to recommend to our students. Read through, and make sure your battery is fully charged before heading out
WhatsApp is a classic student favorite for staying in touch with friends and family. WhatsApp is a messenger app, similar to Facebook Messenger, with the exception that it is linked to your phone number, and doesn’t require one to be registered to any social networks. Users can conveniently chat, send photos and videos, and documents, and call each other – and all this happens without having to use money for text messages or phone calls. It is easy to create chat groups as well, so you can be having a conversation with many friends simultaneously, and make sure everyone will be in the know of the dinner party you are organizing tomorrow. Connect to the nearest free wi-fi point – or better yet – get yourself set up with a local sim-card and a data package, and you will ensure that you will always be reachable and able to stay in touch with your friends, no matter whether they are in the same country with you or back home.
2. Google Maps
Nobody likes being lost. And we like to make sure our students know their way to the campus and back. 10 years ago we would’ve suggested buying a map, but with everyone using smartphones nowadays, navigating from A to B has gotten a lot easier. With Google Maps you can save places of interests, mark your home and University as your frequently visited locations, plan your trips and get travel time estimates, and basically be always on the map (as far as your phone battery doesn’t die). However, it is good to remember not to blindly rely on the maps and route suggestions when in Asia, as some of the smallest roads marked on the map won’t be even makeable on a motorbike. Follow the main roads and always use common sense while traveling, and Google Maps will guide your way to the wanted destination a lot quicker than you would otherwise ever get there.
3. Sky Scanner
One of the most comprehensive flight search engines and it will fit in your pocket. Whether you are looking to book return flights from LA to Seoul, or want to island hop from Bali to Lombok to Java and back, with Sky Scanner app you will quickly find the cheapest options! There’s also a flexible search which allows you to look for the cheapest dates to fly within the week or a month you want to travel on. Sky Scanner app is available for both Android and iOS, and given that you can save hundreds of Euros just by making a few clicks to compare different flight companies, this app is a no-brainer for anyone who likes to travel.
4. Google Translate
What does that sign say? Besides being able to translate almost any language into whichever language you would like to translate the text you copied or typed in, Google Translate app now also offers translation from a picture that you show it through your phone’s camera. You can practically pick up any book or point your camera at a document you don’t understand a word of, and the app will tell you what the text is in your preferred language. While the translation may not be 100% accurate, in most cases it will at least give you an idea of what the context is. One more handy feature is the live speech recognition which allows you to speak to your phone in your language (English works the best) and then your phone will read out the same in the language of your choice. This practically allows someone who doesn’t understand a word of Mandarin Chinese to communicate in China by just using the smartphone as an interpreter.
For those who want to take a little bit of a more personal approach when communicating with people not speaking their language, there are a few great apps for learning languages. One of the better free ones is called Duolingo. Duolingo is a fun app, and while it will not make you learn as much as you will at a language class, it is a great way to pick up some basics before or right after moving to a new country. The app is like a little computer game in which you need to pass levels and gain points while playing – except that with Duolingo you will also learn to speak many languages!
Grab must be the most talked ride-sharing app of late. A user requests a ride, and sooner than later a nice, fairly new car will pull up, and it’s time to cruise! Payment can be settled in cash or via Paypal or credit card. Grab is nearly at every study abroad destinations available and is one of the cheapest ways to travel. One of the benefits of using Grab is its reliability, and knowing how much the trip will cost already before the journey. Whereas taxi drivers in Asia can sometimes try to trick you to pay more than what the normal rate is, with Grab you won’t have to worry about being ripped off. Funnily enough, quite often Grab also turns out to be a cheaper option than taking a taxi.
This app is Indonesia specific only – but well worth mentioning! In Indonesia, the traffic can get annoyingly busy at times, and if you feel like a little snack and a drink and don’t want to leave the sunny pool chair of your Bali villa, then all you need to do is order Go-Jek! Ojek is Indonesian for “motorcycles” and that’s what the app really is; there are thousands of people working for the company in all the most populated islands, and for a mere 1 to 2 dollars US, one can order a personal motorbike courier to deliver practically anything in a matter of minutes.. Oh, and did we mention… It’s not only for food, but one can also order a ride, groceries shopping, massage and beauty treatments, and even movie tickets through Go-Jek. This is definitely a must-have app if you are in Indonesia.. Go check it out!
8. XE Currency
If you like to know what’s going on the currency market, or just feel like it would be nice to convert the local prices into the currency of your home country, XE Currency is the app for you. Besides being able to convert all the currencies in the world, and saving the latest currency rates on the app memory (in case you don’t have wi-fi or 3G), XE currency also offers more advanced options for the business-heads, such as rates for valuable metals and historic currency charts.
You might also be interested in: How to Deal with Cultural Differences in Asia
Not sure where to stay tonight, and the hotels are fully booked? No worries! Airbnb works in most countries around the world and will find you all the listed apartments, houses, and teepees around your area. Punch in your credit card details, and the booking is ready. We have noticed that in Asia you can sometimes find very attractive last minute deals, as some owners of the properties listed don’t want their house to be empty, and lower the prices for last minute bookings if the property hasn’t rented. Easy to use, and proven to work! Can be a great and sometimes even affordable option to staying in hostels and hotels.
It is Friday afternoon, and you have traveled to a nearby city to get away from your university location for a little. You have now learned some language with Duolingo, converted your Euros or Dollars into local currency and made sure the rate was good by checking it first on XE Currency, and you also found a nice little apartment just outside the city center for the weekend with your friend, thanks to Airbnb. You both feel like going out for a little fun but are not sure what to do and where to start. Here’s a secret: PartyWith app will connect you with other people on the area! You can search and find expats, travelers, other students, or locals in the area with similar plans, and see if they would like to go out with you! It’s always more fun with friends, and the PartyWith app will help you find other people to share the fun with! A free app that can help you meet new friends, that’s what it really is! Use with caution and make sure to not stay out too late.
With these Apps you should be all set to take the most out of your exchange semester, and make more use of your smartphone – just remember to keep your phones safe and charged. It is good to not forget another truth which is that sometimes it is even better to just switch off your phone entirely and simply head over to the closest beach with nothing but a towel and your bathers.
Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible.