My 3 Must-Have Apps for Traveling Abroad (Sans Cell Service)

Our phones are our lifelines. Calling seems to be what we use them for the least. Most often now they’re used for texting, Instagramming, navigating, searching… the list goes on.

If you live in North America, you’re probably on a North American- or USA-specific cell phone plan, which means cell service abroad usually comes at a premium ($$). I’m here to tell you you don’t need to swallow the cost — these three apps make traveling internationally without cell service a breeze.

But first, do you really need cell service abroad?

When I travel internationally, I opt NOT to purchase the international package. One, I feel the price is inflated (I have AT&T, and it’s $10 a day. It adds up!). Two, I think I can get by with free Wi-Fi, given it is so prevalent nowadays. Three, I firmly believe it shouldn’t be a big deal to disconnect for a few hours a day, amiright?!

If I only could choose three travel apps, these would be it, and before I leave for any foreign country, I make sure to do these three things first!

1. Download an offline map of my destination city/cities.

The Google Maps app allows you the option to download any city to your device and store it offline for 30 days. Simply search the city you’re going to and tap “download” (universally, the little arrow pointing down) to save to your device. You can also tap on relevant sights and “save,” marking them on your map with icons. Since GPS works without cell service, when you move through the city (above ground) you’ll be able to see where you are in relation to your saved places.

Yes, you read that right. GPS works without cell service. The blue bubble that is your phone will MOVE without wifi and cell service.


Caveat: Step-by-step navigation DOESN’T work. You’ll have to rely on reading the map. (You know, like they did in the olden days, when maps were printed on paper.)

2. Download the language.

If you don’t speak the language, never fear. You can download hundreds of languages (depending on how much storage you have, of course) with the Google Translate app. Get the app, choose a language to translate to, and tap the “download” icon. Voilà, now you’re able to translate without a data connection! Enter the text you want to translate either by typing OR by scanning with your phone camera (cool, huh?). For me, this came in handy when I was unable to understand a sign posted on the door of a church — after translating, I knew it had closed for the afternoon and would re-open in a few hours.

3. Download the city to Google Trips.

The Google Trips app is a relatively new all-in-one app that stores reservation details (it automatically loads reservations booked with a corresponding Google or Gmail account), top-rated places including sightseeing and restaurants, A to Z city information,  recommended day plans and walking routes based on your preferences, and more. You really have to check this one out! Again, you’ll have to search and download a specific city in advance so that all the information is available to you at your (offline) fingertips.

Update in October 2019: The Google Trips app has been deprecated. SAD FACE! Fortunately, many of the features have NOW been embedded in the Google Maps app. Two apps for the (free) price of one!!

Google’s pretty awesome, right?!? Anyway, I use a lot more apps, as I’m sure you guys do too when you travel — but having these three (and storing the important bits offline) will make your experience a hell of a lot easier. (Check out my blog on apps to meet people.)

Plus… you’ll look a lot less like an oblivious tourist and a lot more street smart.

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