These translation apps can be a personal travel interpreter for your travels

By Tobey Grumet
January 2, 2020
Two People Talking Using A Translator App
© Maskot / Getty
These top translation apps can turn your smartphone into a personal interpreter.

Technology has fundamentally changed the way we travel. Whether following directions, snapping pictures and taking videos, or just communicating, mobile phones have made everything simpler for the modern road trip. Thankfully, the newest digital features also include a slew of translation apps and services to help you better navigate foreign countries and cultures.

And though they won’t automatically upgrade your core skills or teach you to perfectly speak another language, they will allow you to easily converse and connect while abroad. Here’s what you need to know before setting off on your next international adventure.

Google Assistant Interpreter Mode

The Google Translate app has already proved to be a huge help in translating over 100 different languages using voice, image and handwriting. But the just-launched Interpreter Mode for smartphones is a real-time translation feature which can be accessed using any Google Assistant-enabled phone, either Android or iOS. Just use the greeting, “Hey, Google” to begin, then ask your Assistant to translate or help you speak across any of the includes 44 languages – almost instantly. You’ll then be able to see the translated conversation on your phone. Don’t want to speak your instructions out loud? You can choose to type or manually select the language. In addition, Google has added a similar feature in Google Maps to help you navigate, allowing your phone to translate names and addresses in the local language. Google Assistant comes installed on Android but Apple users can download it from the Apple Store.

Microsoft Translator

A great option for business, this mobile app can help you translate over 60 languages using either text or voice and can even translate more than one person at a time. Within the app, you can choose the type of translation you need, be it spoken, typed or image, or just tap on the People icon, which allows you to start or join a conversation by sharing a digital code via smartphone or even enter a group chat. Offline language packs also let you access basic translations when you’re not connected or find yourself off the beaten track. Available for iOS, Android and Windows 10.


This simple and popular app helps you converse in over 100 different languages. Speak into your phone and it will automatically translate your words into text of whichever language you choose. Need to translate a sign, menu or map? It’s as easy as snapping a photo. The app also instantly translates websites into over 40 languages, includes a dictionary with verb conjugations and even offers an extension for using your Apple Watch. Available for iOS, Android and as a Web App.


This well-rounded, not to mention fun, app not only includes a voice translator for conversations, but also comes with a built-in phrasebook to help you sound more like a local and less like a clueless tourist – incorporating over 2000 phrases representing four levels of slang, formal and more casual options. You’ll also have access to a suite of learning tools, like audio lessons, interactive flashcards and a quiz mode to get you in fighting (or conversing) shape. Travel tools are also helpful and include a direct line to emergency services, a tip calculator and an etiquette guide for improving your cultural manners. For an added charge, you can also instantly access live translators on standby. Available for iOS and Android.

Speak & Translate

This app comes with a price – you can purchase it by month or by year – but puts a premium on less common languages, like Icelandic and Zulu, using a sleek, seamless experience for translating conversations. Real-time voice recognition includes 117 languages for text translations and 54 languages for voice translations. Translation history can be synchronized and accessed across Apple platforms, and voice settings let you choose how fast or slow you want your translations read out loud, as well as a choice of male and female voices. Available on iOS.


Simplicity is this apps raison d’etre, giving you access to a super simple, split-screen interface which allows you to speak or type the words and/or sentences you need translated in 90 languages. It also allows for regional dialects in certain languages and lets you share your translated conversations using text, email Facebook or Twitter. Voice settings let you adjust the speed of your translations in either male or female voices. Available on iOS and Android.

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Travel Tips

Travel Tips: Avoid these 7 etiquette mistakes while traveling abroad

Exploring new places and cultures is part of the thrill of travel, but it’s important to keep in mind that, just like when you’re a guest in someone else’s home, when you’re overseas, you’re a guest in someone else’s homeland. The same rules may not apply. We’ve put together this handy guide to help you navigate foreign etiquette. If you can be sure to avoid these faux pas, then you’ll certainly be welcomed back. 1. India: Your right hand is the right hand Sorry, lefties, but if you’re heading to India, you’ve got some preparing to do before you leave. In India, custom dictates that the left hand is used for cleaning your feet and other parts of your body typically covered with clothes. When it comes to eating, shaking hands, and all other social events, the right hand is, well, the right hand. Also bear in mind that the left hand is used for removing your shoes, which is a must when you enter someone’s home, a mosque or temple, and even some stores. 2. Greece: Beware the toilet paper trap in Greece Arguably the biggest attractions in Greece are the Parthenon, the Ancient Theatre of the Asklepieion, and all the other ancient architectural marvels. The ancient Greeks were as advance in their plumbing capabilities as they were with their building savvy, what with a Minoan king of Crete inventing the first flushable toilet about 2,800 years ago. But the technical know-how in that department has not kept pace. Toilets throughout the country today are equipped with pipes that are about two inches in diameter, about half that of pipes in the U.S. Toilet paper easily clogs them, so bins are supplied in every loo for paper waste. 3. Germany: Mind your hands Germans may not be known for speaking with their hands the way Italians are, but you still have to mind them when you’re around others. Don’t talk to someone with your hands in your pocket. It’s considered quite rude. It’s also customary to keep your hands on the table when you’re eating. And Germans are big on shaking hands, too. Whenever you arrive to meet or depart from a group of people, shake hands with each and every individual or consider yourself and outcast. 4. France: Don’t split the bill Here’s a term you should know before you head to Paris: La note separee (say-pa-RAY). That’s how to ask for separate checks when you’re dining out in the City of Light. In France it’s considered vulgar to talk about money, so to get into a whole who-owes-what deliberation when you’re out with friends would be the ultimate indiscretion. Play it safe and ask for individual checks. If you’re out to ingratiate yourself to someone, just say “Ce soir, c’est moi qui vous invitons.” (Tonight, it’s on me.) 5. Japan: Keep it clean Walk through any U.S. city and you’ll spot countless pedestrians hurrying down the street with a coffee cup in one hand and their phone in the other. That’s precisely what not to do in Japan. In Japan, cleanliness is truly next to godliness. Even the subway’s public bathrooms are as immaculate as a five-star hotel’s. Keeping cities spotless is instinctive to every citizen, which is why nobody drinks coffee, eats, or even smokes when they walk. It lowers the risk of making a mess – of your surroundings and yourself. And smokers, beware: lighting up in some public spaces is illegal, so make sure to check for signs first. 6. Chile: For best results, use a fork and knife Got Chile on your bucket list? Here’s what you need to know before you get there: finger food does not exist here. Yes, of course restaurants serve appetizers and fries and such, but it’s considered extremely uncouth to touch your food. It’s said that Chileans get this from a strong cultural link with Europe, so pick up your knife and fork before digging into those fries. And here’s a bonus tip: Mexico has the opposite etiquette. You’ll be deemed unworthy of your taco if you eat it with a knife and fork. 7. Thailand: Keep your hands to yourself If you accidentally touch someone’s head in Thailand, be sure to apologize. According to Thai Buddhist spiritual beliefs, the head is considered a very sacred part of the body so making contact with someone’s head is disrespectful. Of course, this doesn’t count in privacy when you’re with a loved one, but it does hold for children, so be sure not to pinch the cheeks of any cute kids you encounter.

Travel Tips

How to Travel Internationally for $1000 A Week (Or Less)

I choose to travel economically in order to travel more. Fortunately, there are many ways to enjoy a budget trip without sacrificing comfort and enjoyment, even if you travel solo. The tips and tricks below assume that you’re traveling independently, and not with a tour group. Prices are in US dollars.Finding cheap flights When it comes to finding cheap flights, flexibility is key. Typically, tickets are cheaper mid-week (Tuesday to Thursday) and possibly Saturday. Holiday periods are very expensive, but if you fly on the holiday itself (Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter) you will find much cheaper prices. Start with a flight aggregator like Skyscanner, Kayak, or Momondo. Select ±3 days in the calendar for both departure and return dates to see results that span a week. Skyscanner allows you to see the lowest fares over an entire month. If you must select a specific date, choose a Tuesday or Wednesday to see how low prices get. Often, you will find the best prices on flights that depart very early or late, have a long layover, or multiple connections. Decide what you are willing to put up with. I personally don’t mind red-eye flights. I may even select a flight with a long layover and turn it into a stopover. And of course, I always fly economy. The pricier the flight, the longer your trip should be in order to amortize the cost over several weeks. Since far-away destinations are usually more costly to reach, this also gives you more time to recover from jetlag! For example, from Canada I may consider flying to Mexico for a week, but usually allocate at least two weeks for Europe, three weeks for South America, and four weeks or more for Asia, Australia or Africa. This way, I manage to keep my weekly flight cost to $350 or less. Booking accommodation My accommodation strategy these days consists of renting a room or apartment through AirBnB, which often comes out cheaper than a hotel room. Using the filters to see only listings from “superhosts” ensures a good experience. Start searching two to three months in advance for the best selection. Another site I use is Once registered, you get savings of 10% off various properties (called “genius deals”). In most cases, you can cancel for free up until a few days before your stay. And you don’t have to make payments in advance as with AirBnB. I can usually find a good room or even an apartment for $45 a day or less, using the above websites. Two people traveling together can double this amount. Read more: – Hotel vs. Airbnb: Which Is Best For Your Next Vacation? Planning your meals Renting an apartment or a room in someone’s house, instead of a hotel room, allows you to self-cater, greatly reducing your food costs. At a minimum, it’s easy to buy a few items at a nearby grocery store and prepare your own breakfast. If spending time in a costly destination, eating either lunch or dinner at “home” will also help save money. Fortunately, expensive regions like Northern Europe and North America have grocery stores that provide decent prepared sandwiches, salads, and even meals that you can reheat in the microwave, if you’re not keen on cooking. Of course, sampling the local cuisine is part of the fun of visiting a new destination. Having at least one meal out every day should still fit within the $1000/week budget. Local markets and small eateries offering set meals (usually lunch) are cheap options. Stay away from overpriced tourist restaurants near heavily trafficked areas, and instead use your guidebook to find something off the beaten path. I try to limit my food expenses to $20-25 a day. This may not seem like much, but it’s easy to do in countries like Mexico, Thailand, or Serbia, even if you eat out for every meal. Iceland and Japan are more challenging of course. Also remember that tipping at restaurants is mostly a North American custom. In much of the world, 5 to 10%, or just rounding up the check, is sufficient. In Japan, tipping is considered an insult! Sightseeing economically In order to save money, focus on free attractions. It’s surprising the number of things you can do for free (or almost free) in a given city: walking tours, markets, exhibits, wine tastings, beaches, music performances, churches and other public buildings. Walking around parks and other green spaces is always free and a good way to relax. Most museums have a free day or evening, while some never charge admission. Check their website in advance. Take along a good guidebook (I always use Lonely Planet), and search the web for “free things to do in [destination]”. Drop by the Tourist Office to find out about free walking tours and upcoming cultural events. While there, also look for discount coupons on restaurants and activities. Choosing transportation at your destination Avoid taxis as much as possible and learn to use public transit. Besides being more expensive than other options, cars posing as official taxis are sometimes unsafe at worst, or a ripoff at best. If you must use a taxi, look for a taxi counter at the airport and only take licensed cabs. Many cities have good public transit, including trains or shuttle buses that go directly to the town center from the airport. Every country has buses or trains linking its main cities. In developing nations, even small towns and villages are served by buses as few people have cars. When safety is an issue with public transport, tourist shuttles usually exist. Traveling slowly helps save on transportation costs, so consider staying in each location three or more days. If traveling with a few others, renting a car may be an option worth considering. The budget Here is how I would allocate a budget of $1000 a week: $350 on flights ($50 a day) $315 on accommodation ($45 a day) per person $175 on food and drink ($25 a day) $70 on sightseeing ($10 a day) $70 on public transportation ($10 a day) $20 on miscellaneous (souvenirs, gifts, etc.) Marie-France Roy is a Canadian freelance writer based in Toronto, who has been exploring the world mostly solo over the last 27 years. She has traveled to 65 countries on every continent and is especially fond of sunny destinations with good coffee. Her blog focuses on affordable solo travel for the 40+ crowd.

Travel Tips

What Happens When Someone Dies on a Plane?

All airlines have their own procedures for what happens if and when somebody dies on their aircraft, but unsurprisingly they’re generally pretty reluctant to talk about them. Death is a bit of a taboo, after all, and in some cases the procedures can seem a little inelegant, so they’re kept under wraps. Indeed, there are few government regulations for what airlines must do if someone dies on board: there’s no requirement to immediately divert, and airlines are given fairly wide scope to make sensible decisions. They’ll usually make them in conjunction with remote medical advice companies on the ground, any medical professionals on board, and the airline’s operations center, which will also assess the practicalities of the decision. On a shorthaul flight, say a couple of hours or so, the aircraft will generally land swiftly, although this won’t always result in an immediate emergency diversion to another airport. Sometimes, it can make more sense for the plane to continue to its intended destination if it is carrying a particularly heavy load, because the maximum landing weights planes are certified for are usually quite a bit less than their maximum takeoff weight, which is usually accounted for by the fuel that’s used in flight. On longhaul flights, however, things get a bit more complicated. There aren’t a huge number of places to divert to in the middle of the world’s oceans and it can be some time until a suitable diversion airport can be reached. In addition, if the person is indeed dead, there aren’t a huge number of things that diverting to another country unexpectedly can do to help the deceased and any family traveling with them. In practical terms, it may make more sense for the aircraft to continue to its intended destination — where the person who has died and their family will presumably hold visas and other necessary paperwork, where the airline will have staff, and where the family may well have friends and relations who can be of assistance — rather than to land in a third country in which the airline may not even operate. As a rule, airlines will do their very best to be supportive and compassionate to families during this kind of incident, and assist with the repatriation of their loved one’s remains. Very few people technically die on board Officially, the crew aren’t (usually) trained medical doctors and so generally can’t declare somebody dead on board the aircraft. If a doctor is present among the passengers on board they can do so, although most often this is usually done on the ground after landing. To the best of my knowledge, only one modern aircraft had a special locker in the event of a death onboard: that was the Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500, which used to fly the world’s longest flights between Singapore and Newark. Since its retirement (and recent replacement), though, I’m not aware that any other aircraft has them installed. Indeed, if someone dies, you may not even notice. In the event that a passenger dies peacefully in their sleep, the most dignified option may well be to simply cover them with a blanket and quietly reseat other passengers. If the usual onboard announcement for doctors or other medical professionals for a passenger having an emergency is made, however, and the outcome isn’t a positive one, the dead person may be moved to the galley area or to a business class seat, especially in the event that these are the flatbed type, covered with a blanket, and secured with a seat belt. If there’s no business class, the crew will often try to move them to an empty row, although as we’ve all seen when we fly there are fewer and fewer empty rows out there these days. Sometimes their destination will end up being the “crew rest” seats, which are the ones you may see on some aircraft with a little curtain around them to enable relief pilots and off-shift flight attendants to rest during the less busy cruise phase of the flight. The curtain provides some privacy for the deceased passenger, and with the row blocked off anyway it helps to provide a bit of dignity as well. The authorities may quarantine the plane on arrival Upon landing, the aircraft and its passengers may well be held in quarantine while the authorities do some initial medical checks to ensure that there are no public health issues that need to be addressed. This will usually include checking that the passenger had not recently traveled to an area of particular concern (Western Africa during outbreaks of Ebola virus disease, for example). This can often be concerning if ground medical personnel board the aircraft in hazmat suits, but it is largely out of an abundance of caution. Your onward travel or return home is unlikely to be delayed in these cases: the primary objective in this sort of effort is to ensure that other passengers are not showing symptoms of any illness, and to ensure that the authorities have detailed itineraries and contact information in the event of needing to follow up. Unfortunately, this sort of procedure is increasingly having to be used when unvaccinated people fall ill from previously eliminated infectious diseases like measles or whooping cough, whether that’s on the flight or shortly afterwards during an infectious period. Aviation journalist John Walton writes regularly on travel for Lonely Planet and a variety of aviation magazines. He welcomes questions and discussions from readers on Twitter (he’s @thatjohn) or via email to

Travel Tips

Hotel vs. Airbnb: Which Is Best For Your Next Vacation?

The battle between hotels and Airbnbs has been waging since the peer-to-peer vacation rental company launched in 2008 – spurring a great debate between these two types of accommodations. Deciding where to stay on your next trip, though, depends on what’s most important to you, since both lodging options have their share of pros and cons. Need help determining whether a hotel or Airbnb is right for your next vacation? Ask yourself these questions. How much space do I need? One factor to consider is how many people you’re traveling with. A family of six could conceivably share a hotel room, but it would be a tight squeeze – and cramped quarters can put a damper on your vacation. (Teenagers want their space!) A large home through Airbnb would give your group more room to spread out. Do I want to meet other travelers? If you’re looking to strike up conversation with fellow travelers, hotels offer a number of shared spaces, such as the hotel bar, restaurant, or gym, where guests can mingle and meet people. Some Airbnb properties provide guests opportunities to socialize with other people through shared rooms or common spaces, but many of them don’t. Do I want to live like a local? Some travelers relish being able to experience a city like a local, which makes them preferential to Airbnbs. Moreover, many Airbnb owners give guests insider tips, such as their favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, watering holes, and hidden gems throughout the city. Some hosts will even meet you when you arrive and give you a tour of their city. What services am I looking for? Airbnbs don’t provide the same hospitality services that traditional hotels do, such as valet parking, bellhop, housekeeping, security, free breakfast, room service, and 24/7 concierge. Therefore, you need to assess how important these services are to you; if you don’t mind making your own bed, for example, an Airbnb may meet your needs. Which is the cheaper option at my destination? Want a budget friendly accommodation? Many travelers presume that hotels are more expensive than Airbnbs, but lodging prices vary depending on the city, a recent analysis of Airbnb and hotel rates by found. For example, in Charleston, NC, the average hotel rate per night was $180, while the average Airbnb nightly rate was only $112. But in Augusta, GA, the average Airbnb rate of $350.25 was more than triple the average hotel rate of $107. Those findings echo a study of hotel and Airbnb rates in popular cities. The takeaway? It pays to research hotel and Airbnb prices at your destination before making a reservation. Another thing to consider: Airbnb hosts may be willing to negotiate their rate, depending on factors like demand and how many nights you’re staying. (A longer rental could help you nab a deal.) Do I need a washer/dryer? More than half (53%) of travelers surveyed by Clever Real Estate said they prefer Airbnbs because of household amenities. So, if you’re taking a long vacation where you’ll need to clean your clothes, staying at an Airbnb that has a washer and dryer offers convenience – and it can save you a ton of money, considering hotels charge top dollar for laundry services. Do I want to cook my own meals? Similarly, if you’re planning to cook while you’re on vacation, you’ll need a home with a kitchen where you can prepare meals. And though some hotels offer suites with kitchens, these hotel rooms are often pricey. Do I have privacy concerns? In the Clever Real Estate survey, 58% of travelers said they were concerned about hidden cameras when staying at an Airbnb – and 7% said they've stayed in an Airbnb where they discovered a hidden camera. (Eek!) Hotels, meanwhile, are held to security standards that prevent them from putting cameras in hotel rooms, giving guests peace of mind that they’re not being watched. Am I comfortable staying in someone else’s home? Many Airbnb hosts leave behind personal items, like family photos or religious keepsakes, that make some guests feel like they’re intruding. Meanwhile, hotel rooms are depersonalized and de-cluttered. Do I want a guaranteed reservation? In many cases, Airbnb hosts can cancel reservations with little or short notice to guests. If that happens, you could be left scrambling to find a place to stay. This is an area where hotels have a competitive advantage, since hotel reservations cannot be canceled unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as a natural disaster that renders the hotel uninhabitable. Do I like to stay at the same hotel chain? If you’re a frequent traveler, you may be able to earn nice perks, such as complimentary room upgrades or even free nights, through a hotel’s loyalty program. (Despite rumors of an alleged “Superguest” program, Airbnb has not rolled out a loyalty program for travelers.) The verdict Deciding between a hotel and an Airbnb is a big decision – one that hinges on a variety of factors. Some travelers prefer to be pampered by a luxury hotel, while other travelers could not care less about having 800-thread-count bed sheets or turndown service. By answering these questions honestly, you’ll be able to determine the best lodging option for your needs.