My 5 top travel apps: VPN review, money transfer and other apps
Keeping your life and business on track when you're half way across the world can be tricky sometimes. I spend a lot of my year travelling. I work in China making my secure travel backpacks - RiutBag - and when I'm not at the factory, I'm testing new designs and prototypes on my travels globally. I carry my business in my RiutBag with me: a pencil, sketchbook, laptop, external hard drive and my phone.
Here are the apps I use to make sure everything stays on track:
Whether you're on holiday, moving to a new country or working internationally, there are still bills to pay and rent to transfer. If you're sending money abroad, sending it from your bank account feels old fashioned and is expensive in comparison to this alternative. I use Transferwise whenever I transfer money to a foreign account.
It has dramatically lower charges per transaction than going through your bank. You just use your debit card to make the payment, you don't have to log into your online banking to do it. It tells you when the payment will arrive and will alert you and the payee by email if you want to.
It's only for paying someone in another currency. This app won't work if you're trying to pay someone in pounds from a pounds bank account.
Living, travelling or working abroad means understanding the limitations of the internet there. Wherever I am, I need to be able to run my company. Whilst the RiutBags are very real, everything else around them is digital. So when I'm in China at the factory, getting online and using all the services I need - Facebook (www.facebook.com/riut), Google search, Google Sheets, Dropbox and more - I need a VPN to help me keep using them.
What is a VPN?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It secures your online activity making it private and, in practice, it can provide you with internet access as though you were siting in another country, e.g. United Kingdom or Sweden, if you want.
What's the best VPN for working in China or abroad?
I've spent the last 3 years making my way through all the free and low cost VPNs. They are hit and miss, they work in Germany but not China or they simply don't work at all. I've finally gone for one that actually works in China: ExpressVPN. I can do all my work from my hotel room as though I were sitting in my office at home. It works exactly as I hoped. On occasion, when I don't know why something isn't working - it is my internet connection or the VNP that's down? - their chat service provides immediate updates on service.
You'll know this app if book flights regularly. I book all my flights through it for business and holiday travel. It's not just good for booking cheap flights. Recently, my flight was delayed flying from Xiamen, China to Amsterdam, Netherlands. I had a connecting flight to Berlin which was cancelled too, all due to sudden thick fog that had descended over Amsterdam Schipol, the airport. Amsterdam Schipol was in chaos. Queues were over 4 hours long to try to get a rebooking. Information was very limited.
Rather than waiting for 4 hours to speak to someone, only to hear than my new flight would be another 8 hours from that point, I just checked Skyscanner. If it was still selling flights from Amsterdam to Berlin, then I knew which flights had seats free. I was already in the airport because I was transferring. I went to the gate where the next flight to Berlin was leaving. I asked if they could rebook me there and then. They asked me to wait until all the passengers were on the plane. I did.
They not only got me on the plane, they also transferred my luggage from the first plane to this new one and I was back in Berlin within the time it would have taken me to queue up. Thanks to Skyscanner, KLM and the staff at Amsterdam Schipol.
I look at Skyscanner or a daily basis for flights and flights costs anyway. But it's a great alternate source of info when chaos descends on an airport and you're stuck in it.
Getting ripped off because you don't have enough local know how or language is one of the downsides of travelling to exciting places. Unfortunately, they see us coming from a mile off.
Whether you're travelling for work or holidays, I can recommend this. For the first day, keep checking how much stuff costs with the XE.com app. Add the currency of the country you're going to before you arrive. Then, even when you're not online, it will store the latest exchange rate and give you a good guide to how much you're paying. It may just give you a picture of how much you're paying for lunch, hotel or tourist attractions. It could even do more for you: if you're feeling under pressure to buy something in a medina in Marrakesh (I may have experienced this myself), slow the situation down, ask the shop keeper how much it costs, put the amount into your app and make sure you're happy paying that amount. This should save you being ripped off through the speed of a sale of things that suddenly got a lot more expensive than agreed.
I'm not a fan of the name, but this app delights me whenever I use it. It's great to plan journeys across places you've never been to. It's easy to think that flying is the easiest option. But Rome2Rio shows you all the options, journey times and approximate cost: train, car, flight, combinations or ferry if it's available. It's great when you're going to be exploring a new country that you don't know.
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I forget about these apps when I only visit the browser version. I've found having them in app form on my phone has helped me 100 times more whilst travelling. I hope they help you too.
I'm Sarah, the RiutBag designer and one-person startup behind Riut. See my range of secure backwards backpacks for peace of mind in international travel >> www.riut.co.uk