I’m old enough to remember when staying in touch while traveling demanded fervent prayer for a working pay phone at some filling station or greasy-spoon restaurant between here and there. Now I can carry enough communications and computer processing power to run a space shuttle (if we still had one of those) from the palm of my hand.
I’ve collected what I think is a pretty decent set of useful apps over a few years of trial and error and a whole lot of time on the road. They don’t offer raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but these smartphone and tablet apps help me manage my travel, reading, and devotions, provide some extra security when I’m away from my home network, and sprinkle in a little fun along the way—things I’ve added beyond the standard browsers, e-mail, and social-networking. I’m always looking for another gem in the Google Play sluice-box (yes, I’m an Android guy), so if you’ve got one that floats your boat, I’d love to hear about it.
These are a few of my favorite apps:
Currency Converter: User-friendly app that tracks exchange rates and allows me to easily compute how far my dollars will go in Europe, Korea, Japan, or anywhere else my company sends me.
Fly Delta: My company uses Delta for most of our air travel. The app helps me monitor my reservations and flight status (including weather delays, gate changes, and schedule updates), tracks my baggage, and prompts me for online check-ins.
Google Maps: Mobile-tailored interface for my favorite navigation and mapping service.
Google Hangouts: International phone charges are totally insane, and I’m not. To stay in touch with my family, I’ve used both Skype and Hangouts when traveling overseas, but Hangouts seems to provide the most reliable and stable connection, with minimal lag. Running Hotspot Shield VPN (see below) also helps circumvent most stability or connection issues that occur on foreign servers. Video, voice, or messaging, one conversation or a conference call, all free. You just need a WiFi connection.
Open Signal: Need a WiFi connection, you say? Open Signal finds nearby hotspots and navigates you there. It also links to a database of previously-identified hotspots, so you can plan ahead.
Hotspot Shield VPN: Routes your internet traffic through a secure server via an encrypted data channel, a good idea when you connect to an unsecured public network, like airport, hotel, or Starbuck’s WiFi. Also bypasses geographic media play restrictions when using services like Netflix or YouTube, because they see only the location of my secure server. I might be in Korea, but Netflix thinks I’m in Los Angeles, so I’m still able to watch all my subscribed content. There’s a nominal fee for the ad-free version, but it’s worth it.
Google Authenticator: Provides two-factor authentication for my blog and e-mail accounts. To log in from any device I haven’t designated requires a randomly-generated, time-limited numerical code from my Google Authenticator cell phone app. It’s an extra layer of security that isn’t cumbersome or intrusive.
AVG Antivirus: Everybody should have one, and this app works unobtrusively and efficiently for me. Scans software and memory automatically and on-demand, looks for other vulnerabilities in your device settings.
Olive Tree: The most user-friendly, resource-rich, and easily-tailorable Bible study app I’ve found.
Ancient Faith Radio: Streaming music and podcasts from the Orthodox Christian community. Good stuff.
Pocket Common Prayer: Daily Scripture readings, devotions, and prayers following the liturgical calendar from the Book of Common Prayer. Provides scheduled reminders for prayer time.
Chess.com: Nice interface for online chess that accesses a huge community of players and lots of chess news, events, and instruction. Friendly to the casual player, but Grandmasters hang out here too.
Quell: Moderately-addictive maze puzzle game with pretty graphics and soft music. I think it actually lowers my blood pressure when I play it.
Elder Sign – Omens: Guide an intrepid team of paranormal adventurers into combat against Lovecraftian abominations that threaten to destroy the world! An electronic version of the tabletop dice/card game, and a great solo game. Beware Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, or you might Become That Which You Fear Most…
Words With Friends: My brother-in-law and I have had six simultaneous games going on this Scrabble-clone app for about a year now. Enough said.
Ingress: Pursue exotic matter, decode hidden messages, locate portals to another dimension, and link everything together in a quest to determine the future of humanity. Google has poured tons of money and manpower into this detailed meta-game that turns your neighborhood into an invisible battlefield for enigmatic alien forces, a shadowy human resistance, and a host of agents and multinational corporations vying for control of Earth. There’s an extensive backstory, live events in cities around the world, and the haunting sense that this might all be something more than a game. Along the way, you get a lot of exercise and find all sorts of cool landmarks you never knew existed.
Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Crackle: I’m never lacking for movies or TV shows to watch during layovers with these three apps. Netflix provides a wide-ranging assortment of movies and shows, Crunchyroll focuses on anime and Asian TV, and Crackle is my go-to when I’m hankering for an oddball movie that’s not popular enough to make it onto Netflix. Netflix is a subscription service, but if you already have a home subscription, there’s no extra charge for using the app, and it lets you interact with your home account. Crunchyroll is free with the option to subscribe for faster access to new shows, and Crackle is free.
Pandora: There are plenty of good music apps out there, but I like this one, which is reliable, easy to navigate, and does a decent job of monitoring my favorites and tailoring the stream so I get the sort of music I enjoy.
Bluefire Reader: This app provides a nice platform for reading e-books in a variety of formats, links seamlessly to my county’s and state’s electronic libraries, and negotiates Adobe file protection protocols, which seem to be the currently preferred method for library management of e-book borrowing. It works especially well handling graphic novels on my Samsung tablet.