The mobility of the nomadic lifestyle comes with great freedom and excitement as well as a unique set of stresses and challenges. You know- trying to decide which continent you will be on in three days, navigating your way through new and unfamiliar places, finding your way to the airport without functioning data on your phone or trying to explain to a server that you don’t want a pickle on your sandwich.
So, whether you are trying to send money to a web developer in Macedonia or just find some free WiFi, these are my favorite apps and websites to make living and working on the go a little bit easier.
If finding his way home was Odysseus’ never-ending quest, finding good WiFi is the Digital Nomad’s. These are a few of my favorite tools for staying connected wherever I am.
- KnowRoaming: KnowRoaming is basically a sticker you affix to the back of your existing SIM card. When you arrive in a new country, it automatically connects you to the local carrier. I’ve travelled around the world using this service for over a year now and nothing is more comforting than knowing that I can get immediate access to data whenever I want, wherever I want. Rates are on the higher side of the spectrum (for example, $7.99/day for unlimited data), making KnowRoaming a good option for those who do frequent shorter trips to multiple countries.The convenience of being able to activate and access the local network minutes after arriving is a big benefit of the service. The service does falter at times, requiring some fiddling with your network settings or a reboot of your phone, but it is, in general fairly reliable. Note- your phone must be unlocked for this service to work.
- WiFi Finder: I wish I’d known about this app months ago, when I think about the amount of time I could have saved when wandering around new cities in desperate search of a WiFi signal. WiFi Finder is an easy-to-use app that helps you find both free and paid WiFi hotspots. It also allows you to download the entire database for scoping out WiFi hotspots while offline.
- WifiMapper: This another WiFi finding app that uses a crowdsourced approach to create a database containing the details of more than 500 million networks worldwide, with two million recommended options. By measuring the quality of the WiFi networks, the app leads you to the most reliable options. In addition, WiFiMapper shows not only whether a network has free access but what kind of location it is.
Finding a place to sleep
Whether it’s your style to parachute into a new city on a whim or to plan out your next destination well in advance, with these apps at your fingertips you will never have to worry about breaking the bank with a last-minute booking at a pricey hotel or end up spending the night at the train station, huddled for warmth under your 32L backpack.
- MyTwinPlace: Using this website, you can host travelers when your house is empty and earn points towards booking a house whenever you want to travel. Even better, if you’re an entrepreneur, MyTwinPlace’s entrepreneur portal allows you to both host and stay for free at the homes of global entrepreneurs. It’s a a great way to grow your network.
- Hostelworld: If you are traveling the world on a minimalist’s budget and need a cheap spot to crash for a few nights, nothing beats a hostel. See reviews, ratings and amenities offered in your city and quickly make a booking. When it comes to staying in hostels, you really want to read the reviews, as things can get nasty pretty quickly. I’ve made the mistake of making a booking without reading the reviews online, and let me tell you, there are some things you can’t unsee and some scents you just can’t un-smell.
- Airbnb: Hotels and hostels can get tiring after a while. For longer stays in a city or when you just want to unpack your suitcase and feel at home for a while, Airbnb is the best. It’s also a great option if you are traveling with a few people. When I was in Milan for several weeks organizing an event, my team rented out a big flat in the center of town to use as a basecamp.
- Nomad Forum: Check out this forum’s housing category, where you can get advice, ask about availability or look for inspiration for a place to stay.
Planning your trip
When you have the freedom to literally go almost anywhere in the world, deciding where to go next and what to see when you get there can be a bit overwhelming. These apps help you make better decisions about where to go and what to see and do once you get there.
- Nomad List: If you need some help picking your next spot, this site is a must. Nomad List has created the definitive guide to the best cities to live and work remotely for Digital Nomads, based on cost of living, internet speed, weather and other metrics. They also have an easily searchable filter system that helps you find, for example a place to go in January that is moderately expensive, warm and has great nightlife.
- The Basetrip: If you are researching your next travel destination and want some in depth insight on your next point of arrival, check out The Basetrip. This website summarizes and structures all of the fragmented information out there and puts it in one place. It includes information about time zones, weather, electricity sockets, currencies, exchange rates, costs of living, internet speeds, mobile data prices, health, vaccinations, road rules, embassies, visa information etc. together with travel tips from the community.
- Google Trips: This is a great, relatively new app from Google. The app turns your travel booking emails into an organized portfolio of your past and upcoming trips. I usually take a look through the information compiled for a new city before I arrive so I feel well prepared when I land. It’s also a great way to remember where the hell you were two weeks ago. It not only organizes your reservations and saved places, but provides you with suggestions for day plans, things to do, food and drink ideas, recommendations on how to get around and essential information- like who to call in emergency, currency, and internet. You can download the trip so you can access all the information offline.
The best made plans will unravel- we are inevitably vulnerable to faulty train schedules, bad directions, blown tires and miscommunication. In spite of many best attempts to arrive smoothly at my destinations, I’ve found myself doing things like hitching a ride on the back of a donkey cart after a car breakdown in the desert, getting a lift from a lettuce farmer (who was, of course, driving a white van) after getting terribly lost along the Adriatic coast and dragging a suitcase down a highway in Shanghai when the taxi driver got fed up trying to locate my hotel. That said, you can mitigate the frequency of these mishaps with a few apps that will simplify your navigation of the planet.
- Blabla Car: I’ve yet to have a dull ride using this service, which they call “trusted carpooling” but is basically hitchhiking for the digital age. Find a driver with a good review heading to your destination, arrange a pickup location, cross your fingers, and hope your driver isn’t crazy. Sometimes you get an awesome driver, like the supplier for a high end wine shop who sang opera for us in the car and insisted on giving us a wine tasting when we arrived in Budapest. Other times, you get the guy who obviously signed up to be a driver so he could have a captive audience to yell his eccentric political views at for the duration of a five hour journey to Bratislava. Either way, you’ll save some money and come away with an interesting story to tell.
- Uber: The convenience booking a ride through the app isn’t the only reason to love Uber- you’ll be glad you have it when you’re in a city where taxi drivers only accept cash and you aren’t carrying any. With this app, you’ll never need to worry about being stranded if you don’t have cash in your wallet.
- Google Translate: This app is a life saver. While engaging with the locals and trying to figure out the language in a foreign city is a valuable and beautiful experience, sometimes you just need to know what the hell people are actually saying to you. Have you tried using the subway system in Moscow? As a friend who lived there told me- it’s like it was designed to be as confusing as possible for foreigners in case invaders ever attempted a takeover of the city. Thankfully, I was able to get directions from several friendly non-English speaking Muscovites through the app. Otherwise, I’d likely still be down there, wandering the train platforms and trying to learn Cyrillic. I’d like to point out that the photograph function on the app is useful for deciphering the meaning of the settings on a German washing machine (I am definitely going take the risk and try out the “Senile” setting).
Transferring money abroad
Sending and receiving money can be quite the challenge when you are in Spain, your bank account is in the US, your clients are in Germany and your contractors are in Bulgaria. These are two apps that give you the ability to make quick and easy money transfers.
- TransferWise: TransferWise is a great startup from Estonia (I happen to be a big fan of the country’s startup and banking environment) that takes the hassle and cost out of cross-border money transfers. For digital nomads transferring money around the world, both to your own accounts and to other people, TransferWise is an appealing solution. TransferWise charges a flat 0.5% fee on top of the mid-market rate (and no fees with the sending or receiving banks). If you are making small to medium-sized transfers, TransferWise is a quick and inexpensive way to send money.
- Revolut: Another alternative for sending money internationally is Revolut, a mobile app connected to a Mastercard which allows you to both send money (in 20+ currencies) and spend it (in 90+ currencies) using the card provided. You can top up the Revolut wallet in USD, EUR and GBP and send money at zero charge and the best available exchange rate, either instantly to another Revolut user’s wallet or to a non-Revolut user via text Whatsapp or email. To compare, Transferwise also uses the best available rate but makes transfers bank account to bank account.
Keeping your finances organized
If you have multiple bank accounts and spend and earn in multiple currencies, it can be a challenge to keep track of your finances. These are a few options that allow you to keep track of your money.
- Trail Wallet: This is a well designed and easy to use app for tracking your expenses across multiple currencies and countries. The app allows you to organize your spending by country or month, set daily budgets and add each dollar you’ve spent while on the road. At the end of the month, you can see whether you have gone over or under budget and how you spent your money.
- Mint: For a free service, Mint is fairly robust. It is the go-to tool for tech-savvy users who want a convenient place to manage their money on the go. However, Mint does have a number of drawbacks, such as data synchronization lags, clunky transaction categorization and poor reporting abilities.
- YNAB: YNAB (You Need a Budget) is pricier alternative to Mint. A one-time purchase of the app for $60 gives you access across all of your mobile devices and computers. In contrast to Mint, YNAB focuses on teaching users to be better and more proactive managers of their money through planning and manual transaction input.
Staying Focused and Organized
Skipping through timezones, discovering new cities, finding new spots to work from- it’s great but can also be super disruptive to your sleep schedule and work habits. I like to use a few tools to keep me in the flow of my work. These apps will help you find an island of calm, focus and productivity, even in the most chaotic of places.
- Rescue Time: Good time management can be a struggle for digital workers and the self-employed. This app tracks your time usage online and sends you a report of your online activity. This gives you a clear picture of time you spent doing things like watching Youtube and stalking your ex on Instagram versus more productive activities. It also enables you to give clients more accurate hourly invoices, as you can see how much time you spent on a certain task by eliminating time spent on other random activities.
- F.lux: For the late-night laptop user, this app is a blessing for your sleep patterns. Computer screens emit a bluish light that, according to research, can delay your sleep if used before bedtime. This app automatically adjusts your screen’s color-temperature depending on the time of day and your location. When the sun begins to set wherever you are, the light on your computer screen shifts from its usual blue light to a reddish-orange hue (just like a little sunset on your screen).
- Evernote Premium: You’re probably already familiar with the free version of Evernote, however the Premium version has some features worth checking out. It will help you keep your life uncluttered and lean enough to fit into your suitcase. The premium features allow you to do things like search in Office docs & PDFs, annotate attached PDFs, scan and digitize business cards.
- WorkSnug: When you grow tired of hunting for coffee shops that won’t kick you out for spending hours alone in the corner hunched over your laptop sipping an ever colder Americano and leaching off weak WiFi, take a look on WorkSnug. This site has compiled 21,684 coworking spaces around the world where you can enjoy free drinks, comfy chairs, fast internet and a great community of people to share the daily grind with.
Is there a favorite app or website you just can’t live without during your travels? I keep this post updated, so if there’s something you think I should add to the list, let me know in the comments below!
Soheila is the founder of Thinkstr.co and the Principal of Oppfinn Consulting. As a project manager and consultant, her interests lie at the intersection of innovation and societal impact. On Thinkstr.co, she writes about business, technology, travel and smart cities.