There’s An App For That – My Favorite Apps while Traveling

There are millions of smartphone apps, serving a multitude of purposes, (or none at all) at our disposal. Many of these apps are designed to make life easier. The travel life is no exception. Below (in no particular order) are some of the apps that have made my life easier while on the road.

Google Trips – Free – I didn’t know about this one until a few months ago. Once you sign in and allow the app to read your email, it will pull from any transportation/accommodation/etc messages to compile an outline of your trip. There is an option to map out your trip without the template, as well the option to edit any outlines. The outlines includes attractions, day plans, and food and drink suggestions.

Rome to Rio – Free – When moving about in unfamiliar lands, transportation could present a struggle. How do I get from this place to the next place? How much does it cost? What are my options? This app allows you to enter a beginning and ending location, and gives transport options along with estimated costs and websites with schedules (If available). It has made trip planning much better because of the wealth of information. The app doesn’t feature some of the more local options like khombis aground eSwatini or jeepneys around the Philippines. To incorporate those modes into your travel, it’s best to talk to locals.

Toshl Finance – Free (with premium paid options and features) – This is a budget/expense tracker app. One of the things I love about this is that you can enter expenses in just about any currency and it will convert to whatever you selected as your home currency. When the app is online, it updates exchange rates, so they’re pretty accurate. This is one of my favorites. It keeps me on budget. In the free version of the app, you are limited to how many budgets you can add (maximum of two). These limitations, along with others in the free version, did not affect my ability to keep accurate record of my expenses and budget.

Agoda – Free – Surprise, surprise. When searching for accommodation, different sites may list different prices. While it’s okay to just show up in many places, some places need a bit more planning. When I need to book accommodation in advance, Agoda ifs typically the cheapest. There’s also a very useful option to filter out beds that you can book without credit cards, so you can bypass deposits and spend money on actual accommodation.

Google Translate – Free – While this app is not a substitute for learning a few pleasantries in the local language, it is amazing for more complex things. Some languages are available to download for offline use. If a language is available for download in a place that I’m going, I get it. Communicating needs and wants in Vietnamese, Hindi, etc suddenly aren’t as difficult.

Google Maps – Free – You can download maps of a city (or of a custom area) for offline use. Then you can use that navigate without a data connection. This only works for driving directions, but if you can read a map, you’ll be good. One thing to note is that these maps do expire. So if you’ll be in a place for a longer time (more than a month), it would be worth it to find WiFi to re-download the map.

Whatsapp – Free – SMS can be expensive. This is true of domestic SMS in the land of places without unlimited text messaging. This is true of international SMS just about everywhere. Whatsapp is an internet/data based messaging service. Pictures, videos, and voice notes can be sent using Whatsapp, in addition to voice and video calling features. The app requires that the other user be on Whatsapp as well. for messaging/calling friends and family. While there are many similar services, this one has remained a favorite of the people I talk to most.

Viber – Free – This is an app similar to Whatsapp. Text based messages. Voice and video calls. All over a data connection. The difference here is something called Viber Out, which allows you to make VOIP calls to people who aren’t on Viber. After loading credits onto your account, the service does charge based on where you are calling (lowest rates are for calls to the United States). Viber is not only useful for keeping in touch with those lacking smartphones, but also handling business with a company’s 1-800 number.

Various ride sharing apps – Free – Many countries have some service that you can use to order a taxi/transport. Some of these services even allow you to order food from local eateries. I’ve found it to be not only cheaper, but also much more convenient. It definitely beats extended negotiations with drivers, unless you’re in the mood for that. I’ve found that even if I don’t use a ride service, it’s still helpful to get an idea of how much things should cost. It can also be cost effective to shop around between the services themselves. Of course, you will need some sort of data connection to book the ride. Some of the services available include: Uber (South Africa/India), Taxify (South Africa), Ola (India), Grab (Malaysia/Vietnam/Philippines/Singapore/Indonesia), Passapp (Cambodia), and GoJek (Indonesia).

Maps.Me – Free – For those choosing to eschew Google products, or for those who just want a really well made offline map app, this is it. The app allows you to download detailed maps for where you’re going. The user interface isn’t as attractive as Google Maps (to me), but it works extremely well. I’ve found that the app doesn’t always have everything (businesses, eateries, etc) on the map, but it usually has everything I need. Users can submit updates as well.

Kiwix – Free – If you know anything about me, you know that I’m a huge fan of Kiwix, the offline Wikipedia browser. There’s an Android app, so I keep WikiVoyage downloaded in the app so that I can research where I’m going/where I am when I don’t have internet. This is extremely useful when looking up where I might want to go next. There are a few phrasebooks as well to help you with local language when you’re on the ground.

Couchsurfing – Free – People all over the world offer up their couches, beds, or free space to travelers in the name of friendship and cultural exchange. Even if I don’t end up using Couchsurfing to stay with someone, I always try to check the app when I get to a new city. Almost always, there are people looking to hang out and explore the city. Couchsurfers also organize events to explore or showcase the city, or various aspects of it. You do need take some time to create a complete profile on Couchsurfing, but it’s extremely worth it.

I should note that I carry an Android device. While it’s likely that these apps are available on iOS, I didn’t bother to look so I don’t know. If you have any favorite, must-have apps while traveling, feel free to shout them out in the comments.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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​Everyone has a part of the story 

During our first three months in Swaziland, we had all kinds of training. There was technical training and language training. There was training about the history and culture of Swaziland. There was probably more training that I have since forgotten. 
One of the things that I haven’t forgotten is a session in which we watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about the danger of a single story

My story is, indeed, a single story. It is one of many. A single, personal view of a complex world. During this session, our training manager advised us not to perpetuate the single story of Africa being a singular, homogenous experience, culture, and people. After all, Swaziland is only a piece of Africa. And even in the kingdom of Swaziland, there are varied cultures and experiences among 1.2 million Swazis. In the spirit of promoting multiple varied stories and viewpoints, I would like to share some of my favorite blog posts from PCVs around the globe. 

This post was inspired by Nicole, also in Swaziland, who also wrote about the danger of a single story. I have been inspired by Alexa discussing the gifts from the garden in Uganda. Alison captured the magic and mystery of Swazi greetings and praise names. There is Abbie’s insightful look into things that are uniquely Moroccan. Ally listed common phrases that are heard throughout Swaziland, but would be unusual in America. I read about April’s language challenges in Kosovo, and was comforted by a shared struggle. Recently, Nate explored what the first day of school looks like in Swaziland. Nathalie shared the things that she’s learned in her first six months as a PCV in Swaziland. Faith, in Tanzania, compiled many memes about serving as a volunteer of color

Feel free to link to some of your favorite PCV blog posts in the comments.

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Community Shop

Grocery shopping is an all day task for me from my rural community. It involves taking public transportation to a town that’s approximately 25 kilometers away. Because it’s such a time intensive activity, I try to limit my trips to once or twice a month. I have also started using a grocery list to make sure I get everything that I need. 

Inevitably, there is something that I forgot while on my grocery shopping excursion. For anything that I did forget or didn’t put on my list, there’s the sitolo (pronounced see-toe-low), or shop. At a community shop, you can find essential items like bread, rice, cooking oil, and beans among other things. My community has at least four shops. The shops vary in size. They also vary in their offerings. At least one of the shops in my community sells various cuts of meat and margarine. 

The prices at the community shops are a tad more expensive than prices at larger grocers. Even in Swaziland, stores that are convenient have a price for that convenience. And it’s very convenient to spend a rand or two more for a few items instead of spending an entire day (plus transportation money) to get those same items. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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​My favorite things – the packing list

While preparing for Peace Corps service can be hectic among other more colorful adjectives, it’s an exercise in restraint. It was tempting to pack up my entire apartment in Washington, DC and bring all of that stuff with me to Swaziland. I’m very thankful that I didn’t. After searching other volunteer blogs and Reddit to decide what to bring, I narrowed my list down. This is my contribution to that pool of knowledge. There are some things that I’m very happy I packed (outside of the typical – clothes, phone, computer, etc), as they have proved most useful. 

  • Headlamp – I brought two. I have electricity on my homestead. I had electricity at my training site during my first three months in country. However, a headlamp is useful, especially on those 2AM runs to the latrine or when the power goes out while cooking dinner. 
  • Hydroflask – This could be considered a water bottle, but it’s so much more. To be able to have an ice cold (or steaming hot) beverage after working all day is pure magic. 
  • Duct tape – It’s multipurposed, and magical. 
  • Rechargeable batteries – These save me money and trips into town. I use them for my headlamps, camera, and other lights. 
  • Power bank – There are instances when the electricity goes out, due to heavy rains. There are also times when I’m not at home, and my phone, watch, or some other gadget is about to run out of battery. I can at least ensure that I have enough battery power to last until the next time I can plug in.  
  • Bluetooth headphones/speaker – I really enjoy music and podcasts. While walking. While running. While on a long bus ride. The speaker is especially great for music while cooking/washing doing laundry. The headphones are great for being able to hear the movie I’m watching over the pounding rain on my tin roof. 
  • Comfort items – This is going to mean something different to everyone. For me, it included pictures from my apartment in DC and various gadgets. I’ll throw snacks into this category, as well. Go overboard with your favorite snacks. Add in your second and third favorite snacks as well. If you have to choose between a few more clothing items and snacks, go for the snacks. 
  • External hard drive – We were told that there would be plenty of time to share media. This was correct. We were also warned that we would have a substantial amount of down time. This was also correct. Load up your favorite movies, music, tv shows, podcasts, porn, documentaries, etc. Having an external hard drive is also helpful when it comes to storing backups of your system. Your future self will thank you! 
  • Big, blue IKEA bags – I didn’t pack this. A friend was kind enough to send some to me. These things are an invaluable resource when navigating public transit after grocery shopping for two to three weeks. And it’s good for the Earth.
  • Pillow – This could go under comfort items, but it deserves its own bullet. While there can be too many pillows, that threshold is pretty high. I opted for a firm king size pillow. It’s delightful to fall asleep on it every night. 

Feel free to add your own favorite things in comments. Also, if any future volunteers have questions, feel free to ask them here. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward.