Here are a list of my favorite apps for travel and on-the road productivity. There are many lists like this but this one is mine. These aren’t paid promotions or anything, just my honest opinions.
The only travel advice I have that I feel is really solid and incontrovertible is this:
Before you start any trip, download the Google map of where you’re going to spend most of your time.
Whenever I tell people to do this, their eyes glaze over and I can see them filing it away as too complicated. You have to remember to do it and then you have to press the right buttons in Google Maps for a few minutes. But once you have it, it’s great. The GPS tracker in your phone works for free without any internet connection. If you’ve downloaded the offline version of your local Google map, then you can use Google Maps in the ordinary way for directions to your hotel, the nearest pizza restaurant, whatever. You don’t have to worry about bad internet connections or data roaming charges or anything. A lot of travel unhappiness can be avoided by doing this one thing.
Google Docs, Sheets and Drive
I adopted these one by one per the past few years as I was working on different projects. With each of these apps, it was annoying at first and then I got used to it. You have to learn to love the limitations: not being able to paste values only, not being able to switch documents easily. At this point, I can work pretty efficiently phone-only and I’ll only bring my laptop for day-job work.
All these Google apps work pretty cleverly together. They’re also free, although I assume that horrendous things are happening to my personal data that I should probably worry about much more.
The big advantage of using my phone only is that I can work in five or ten minute bursts and, on the whole, I feel much more engaged with my projects. It used to be a big deal to do a little bit of work on my projects – I’d have to clear some space on my schedule, tell everyone I was unavailable, plug in my laptop, etc. Now I can do things in little snatches of time. I used to just read nonsense on the internet during those snatches and it’s nice to use that time for the hinge I genuinely want to do.
PDF Pro 4
My current project is to create a bunch of pdfs. I’ve always used the paid versions of Adobe on my laptop. They cost a fortune – I think hundreds of dollars a year – for a handful of features that I really love, like adding and deleting pages. I wasn’t optimistic about finding anything cheaper but I tried PDF Pro on a free trial and it was excellent for what I wanted. And it only cost twelve euros or so for a year. Highly recommended.
Feedly is an RSS feed – it delivers every post from the blog or websites you select. For a while, I was following a handful of similar blogs very devotedly and Feedly was a good way to do that. You can just scroll through all the headlines for the past week. It’s a much more efficient, targeted way to get your news than Google searches or actually openings a bunch of different websites.
The WordPress App is a little bit clunky and there are a couple things I do need my laptop for, like updating the menu. Still, the WordPress app is not bad. I tried writing posts in Google Docs and then cutting and pasting to the WordPress App. That turned out to be mostly a waste of time and sometimes the formatting got messed up too, so now I just write directly in the WordPress app.
Finally, I’d always liked the idea of having old-school pen pals: an actual person in a foreign country for pleasant, non-political discussions like culture and raising kids and how they live their lives – but without the huge hassle of writing a physical letter and buying a stamp. I thought there must be a service like that and so I googled it and sure enough Slowly came up. It’s called Slowly because your message delivers in real time – a few hours later for nearby countries but a couple days for Australia.
It’s been fun so far. I’ve exchanged letters with people from all over: Russia, Italy, Japan, Namibia, etc. Usually it runs for a few weeks and then one or the other of you let it drop. But I’ve had one regular correspondent for more than six months. It’s fun.