Must have apps, as recommended by a first-time traveller (yes, me).
I was macbookless for the first 2 weeks of my stay in Japan; my laptop refused to turn on just before I boarded my first overseas flight. Panicked and in the midst of repacking my bag for what must have been the 10th time, a friend gave me a hug and assured me it’d be fine. And it was; for the most part. Aside from a few verification issues, my phone and the apps below became essential to navigating daily life here. I’ve never really been a big app person (except for insta and vsco that is) but when your situation changes, so too does the makeup of your phone it seems. Some of these apps might be pretty obvious but after setting up a phone three times with limited data you take note of the essentials. That said, I use these apps almost everyday (or weekly, at least). They’re the basics that help with language, planning, creativity and life-balance.
Disclaimer: this list is slightly angled at Japan but I hope it’ll add value wherever you are.
Because let’s be honest, traveling is fucking amazing but it can be damn stressful too. Especially when you’ve just managed to not miss your train after having navigated a map full of foreign symbols and you’re sitting in your seat having just bitten into a riceball surprisingly filled with salmon (oops, wrong kanji), you’re wading through your wallet full of coins (is this a 5 or a 500?) and notes to see if you have enough money to buy a cellphone charger because alas, the plugs are different. It’s at this point that you might want to use 3% of your remaining 15% battery-life to listen to a 5 minute guided meditation by Headspace to ground yourself before you begin to enjoy your second riceball that’s an actual riceball this time. Needless to say, numerous bed changes and a bit of jet lag might also catch up with you, in which case I’d totally recommend turning on some light rain sounds after a meditation to send you to straight to sleep.
2. Happy Cow
If you’re not vegan/vegetarian you might not appreciate this app but for the rest of y’all leafy-green eating herbivores, this app is the business. It’ll show you right where to find restaurants which are vegan, vegetarian or offer vegetarian/vegan options. Sugoi! After 3 weeks of staring at menus which may or may not have pictures, and may or may not have english, opening this app felt like a breath of fresh air. In all honesty I really should have applied myself more and learned how to order vegetarian options in Japanese but if you’re a lazy gaijin like myself, happy cow will save your green ass!
After navigating 26 years of life with the rand, to suddenly be thrown into a different currency and foreign language bills that you might not be able to read but need to pay either way, a budgeting app will really make a difference. It’ll help in both being able to pay for said bills as well as unforseen costs/bills which you either didn’t know about or missed because getting ‘lost in translation’ is real. Managing money used to scare the bejesus out of me but moving countries quickly turned that fear into a necessity. I’ve been useless at adulting, go ahead roll your eyes at me. Anyway, adulting aside, I love this app because it allows you to input your general expenses and general saving goals to output a daily budget which adapts to your daily spending. It might seem like a hack to be given a daily allowance and have to input every transaction throughout each day but it’ll be beneficial in the long run when you’re able to just pay for that trip to Berlin, a years supply of matcha lattes, tax and other seemingly big priorities.
Yes, google can translate. Duh. It’s obvious but I’ve included it for review purposes more than anything. Can google translate, translate well? Debatable. This app isn’t quite going to get you through hand written excerpts, bills or notes but it should see you through a map, shop shelf tags and some printed mail. It’ll also help when you need to tell the person behind the counter that you do indeed need fast mail and that it’s really that fast might mean 3 weeks and not 3 days. It’s amazing how much you can convey with gestures and simple key words but when you’re absolutely at a loss; whip out your phone and ask the patient person in front of you to type their desired dialogue into your device. It might be a bit awkward at first but the apologetic, “sumimasen my japanese is SO bad” and subsequent smile of understanding will be beyond worth it.
No one’s expecting you to be fluent by the end of your adventure but you can certainly give it a bash for the sake of a heightened experience. I’m an absolute novice but learning a few key words here and there has really gone a long way so far. Dualingo is particularly cool for Japanese because it starts you out with Hiragana so you learn pronunciation and the basics straight off the bat. You’d be surprised at how far a limited vocabulary and pronunciation ability can get you when it comes to saying names and participating in basic conversation. Words like it’s hot, or it’s cold might seem lame to you but extending that ability to a native speaker is going to earn you a smile and acknowledgement no doubt.
6. Song Kick
I literally just discovered this little gem thanks to a friend of mine who’s been living here a year already. Basically, Song Kick logs your favorite artists as per your itunes or spotify account and matches said artists (on tour) with your current location in order to bless you with a beautiful lineup of artists who will be visiting the country you’re currently in. It notifies you as soon as tours are announced so there’s no chance of missing out on a ticket because we all know that f*cking sucks, right? I’ve bagged tickets for Alt-J this month and Bonobo in Feb – *dies*! Front Right, sign me up!
If you’re anything like me, music is a constant source of energy and safety. It’s a constant when everything around you is new and changing. Apple music is essential for both the occasional familiar retreat as well as being a great space to explore the freshest drops and curated playlists. Similarly, Shazam has become my clubbing bff because tbh I didn’t recognize a single track (unusual for me but excitingAF) last time I found myself in Tokyo’s AgeHa and Womb.
This one is a Japanese-style indulgence for anyone who enjoys a playful selfie or occasionally likes to hide behind a filter when giving a breakdown on instastory (let’s be honest everyone does it from time to time). Meitu has just the most kawaii filters that make instagram look like MS paint in comparison.
Instagram is about as much of an editing app as butter is a carb. Whether you’re looking to gain 843650436 followers or just share your adventures with your five closest friends, your mom and your 2 dogs; instagram is undoubtedly the best way to share your movements. Let’s be honest; snapchat died when instagram introduced filters, Facebook is basically filled with people you don’t know on a now weirdly curated feed and ain’t nobody got time to keep updating the whatsapp meme group with pics of me ft. Tokyo tower, me ft. blossom. Snap it, edit it (or #nofilter it), story it or post it. Simple. As far as editing goes, unless it’s a no filter pic, it’s been shot on film or it’s been professionally edited in lightroom etc. please do yourself and the 5, or 5 million people, who follow you a favor and put it through vscocam rather than the shitty instagram filters?! If it’s gonna get a filter at least make sure it’s an aesthetic one.
If you’re in an area where people run, cycle and swim a lot this is a great way to find out where to go. I can’t say I’ve found too many segments and routes in my area aside from well, the 100km ultra (not quite Sunday run material). But, I’m loving it for the simple fact that it provides me with a digital community and a sense of accountability. Unless you’re hyper self-motivated, solo travel could allow for a lot of room to neglect training. You’re constantly moving, your routine is limited, seasons are changing and there might not be someone around to bounce a bit of motivation around with. Enter, strava.
This app is undoubtedly the best to do list app around, if you’re into that sort of thing. It basically gamifies getting things done. Todoist allows you to make colour-coded lists which can be customised with due-dates and levels of priority. It’ll send you reminders when you’ve missed a deadline, updates of where you’re at and reward you with points when you complete tasks. I’ve used this app for a while since it’s a great motivator and means to developing the habit of getting things done. Recently, however, I’ve managed to graduate from Todoist with enough self-motivation (and perhaps a bit more spare time) to use oldschool notes for keeping track of what needs to be done in a day.
12. Tinder (read: dating app of your choice) – kidding (kinda)
But not really. Okay I’m not currently using it but just about every foreigner I’ve met who’s single has between 1 and 4 dating apps installed on their phone. I mean not everyone’s out to get laid, some people are just looking for a local buddy for the day or someone to speak english with for an evening. Maybe it’s your thing, maybe it’s not? But what it is, is a means to meet people whatever your intention might be.
If you have any recommendations please drop me a comment or a mail? I’m new to the game and would love the advice.