As any savvy traveler knows, saving up for a trip and hunting down travel deals on vacation is only half the battle.
Recording your spending and keeping costs low while you’re traveling — whether on a weekend getaway, family road trip, or month-long overseas vacation — is just as important for staying on your budget while you’re on the road.
Here are the top smartphone apps for tracking and saving money that you should download before you leave for your next trip.
Securing & Protecting Money
You’ll probably make more transactions than usual when you’re traveling, and you may also be more distracted than you are in your everyday life. This can make you vulnerable to a number of scams.
While you’re having fun on vacation, the last thing you want to worry about is dealing with fraudulent transactions or getting a bank balance refunded in the wake of a stolen ATM card. Not only is this a huge hassle, but it also costs you time away from your vacation.
Further complicating matters, if you’re connecting to the Internet over public Wi-Fi networks, you can leave yourself exposed to credit and debit card number theft.
Skilled cybercriminals using that same Wi-Fi network can see what you’re doing online and even nab sensitive information such as your email, bank login credentials, or credit card information for any transactions you make over the shared network.
That’s where some helpful technology comes into play — there are several free apps that shield your private information from prying eyes. A VPN, or virtual private network, creates a secure, encrypted connection to the Internet, no matter what kind of network you’re using.
A VPN is essential for anyone who has to conduct a sensitive transaction on a public Wi-Fi network, whether that’s at a cafe, the airport, or even your hotel’s shared network.
Here are a few of the best VPN apps for your travels.
Arguably the best free VPN service, ProtonVPN is popular among users because it doesn’t have a data limit on its free tier.
If higher speeds are a must for you, you’ll want to pay for a higher tier. But if all you need is a VPN to connect one device at a time, book a train ticket, and occasionally check your bank balance on the go, you can stick to the free tier.
Among paid apps, NordVPN gets rave reviews for its high number of specialized servers, ability to connect six devices simultaneously, and robust customer privacy protocol. Depending on the level of VPN service you need, it can cost anywhere from $4 to $12 per month.
Another popular choice, TunnelBear has both free and paid versions. It has servers spread across 22 countries and offers a “GhostBear” feature that scrambles your traffic signature, making it easier to get around some countries’ censorship or blocking of content.
The free version is limited to 500MB per month, and neither the free nor the paid versions seem to be compatible with Netflix. But if you all you need is a VPN service to check your credit card transactions and send email on the road, it might be just the ticket.
Tracking Your Spending
Even if you’re meticulous about budgeting and tracking your spending in your day-to-day life, it can be harder to do when you’re traveling.
For one thing, you may find yourself making many transactions each day, from attraction entrance fees to eating out to simply making more fuel and pit stops. If you’re dealing with a foreign currency, it can be even more difficult to track your spending and ensure you’re staying on budget.
Here are some apps that enable you to easily record your transactions and help keep you from running out of money halfway through your trip:
Tripcoin is well-liked for its ease of use. It tracks your daily expenses and averages them across multiple categories, such as food, lodging, and activities. It supports more than 150 currencies, even obscure ones like the Lao Kip, and it doesn’t require an Internet connection to use.
The free version offers great features, including graphs and charts, and once you’re done with your trip, you can export all your spending into an Excel sheet. One downside is that it’s currently only available on iOS.
5. Trail Wallet
Trail Wallet is a travel budgeting app liked for its ability to track multiple trips at once and its readable “current trip” page. It has an easy-to-use interface and is integrated with Dropbox for backing up budgeting data or getting a jump on work travel reimbursements.
This app is free for the first 25 items you enter. After that, you can unlock it for a one-time fee of $4.95. Additional in-app features are also available for purchase. Trail Wallet is currently available only on iOS.
6. Trabee Pocket
Travel expense tracker Trabee Pocket gets good reviews for its spare interface. You can add trip details like a budget, currency, and photos, and it works on both iOS and Android.
If you want to view a trip summary and enter expenses in more than one currency, you’ll have to upgrade to the Pro version for $1.99.
One of the more robust apps on this list, Spendee has developed from a simple expense tracker into an app that can import all your transactions from connected bank accounts. If you’re a long-term traveler or a digital nomad, it can help you manage your cash flow from month to month.
There are three price tiers, and the basic plan is free to use. Spendee is available on both iOS and Android.
Tipping is not the norm everywhere in the world. Tipping guide app Piper can help you know when to tip and when not to.
This app includes tipping information for 84 countries to help you determine what tips, if any, are normally expected where you’re traveling. It also helps you figure out tip amounts.
It costs $1 for the information for one country or a one-time $5 charge for guidance for all 84 countries. Piper is available for iOS.
Settling Up Money
If you’re traveling with friends or on a group vacation, you’re probably going to need to transfer money among yourselves while on the trip or once you’re home.
There are a number of good mobile payment apps available to help you transfer money with ease, with more joining the ranks as banks and credit card companies continue to develop their own platforms.
Here are a few expense tracking and person-to-person payment apps that are good for the purpose of settling up among friends and relatives who are sharing costs during a trip:
Through the Splitwise app, you can create a group and add transactions and expenses. You can even adjust transactions with percentages — say, if one person at dinner chooses a much more expensive entree or has several more drinks with their meal than everyone else.
Until the balance is settled, the app keeps track of the amount each person owes. You can pay friends and family through Venmo and Paypal you link your accounts to the app. You can also record if you’ve received cash or a check from group members.
One of the best features of the bill-splitting app Splid is that you can add more than one payee to a transaction. For example, if a restaurant has a two-card maximum but five people need to pay for brunch, Splid makes that easy to record.
It allows you to choose from 150 currencies, and you also download an Excel file for the entire trip from the app.
Tricount works offline, which is helpful if you’re in a foreign country and not connected to Wi-Fi. When you’re ready to settle up, the app shows you who has paid and who still owes money, and it notifies you if anyone adds, deletes, or edits transactions in the app.
Currency Converter & Exchange Rate Apps
Gone are the days when traveling abroad and dealing with foreign currency or transactions meant pulling out a pocket calculator every time you wanted to make a purchase.
Now there are a number of easy-to-use smartphone apps for quickly converting currency and keeping up-to-date on exchange rates around the world. Top ones include:
12. XE Currency Converter
The XE Currency Converter app downloads live currency exchange rates from across the globe when you’re connected to the Internet over Wi-Fi or via cellular data. You can create a rate alert for yourself so you can monitor currencies and time your exchange to get the best rate possible.
The app also works offline and lets you view multiple currencies at the same time. XE Currency Converter is free and available for both iOS and Android.
Another free app that works on both iOS and Android is CalConvert. This app is ideal for users who can appreciate a calculator with scientific and mathematical functions beyond simple arithmetic.
It converts both currencies and units of measure, which can be handy when looking at gas prices listed in euros per liter. It also tracks your history, so you can look up previous calculations you’ve done.
14. My Currency Converter
If you use cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, there’s an app for converting that currency too. My Currency Converter, which is available for iOS, supports cryptocurrency rates in addition to government-issued currency from around the world.
It automatically updates exchange rates when connected to the Internet and instantly converts any numerical input without having to hit a “calculate” button every time.
Technology can make planning a vacation and traveling easier than ever. It can also help you tackle some common money problems that can cause headaches when you’re away from home.
The apps mentioned here will help you conduct your banking securely, stay mindful of your budget, track exchange rates, and effortlessly split expenses with your traveling partners. Whether you’re headed out on a weekend road trip or a long international vacation, having these apps at your fingertips will let you rest easy while you’re on the road.