Travel Apps, Maps, and More Bang for Your Travel Bucks

Nothing is ever called Welcome back without a Journey. If you desire to get results, you work it out, rather than hoping and wishing. Hope you understand this my friend.

Travel has always been our passion. Now that we are temporarily homeless due to unforeseen circumstances in Nicaragua, we are planning a six month journey to tropical countries. Although, we have been to Panama, Colombia, and Mexico, we are returning to visit places we haven’t seen before and do a short week of house sitting for friends in Colombia. The Dominican Republic will be a new country for us on this trip.

While waiting for Ron to have surgery ( nothing is ever quick in the U.S.) I planned our trip. Now, that his surgery is over and has been very successful, we are off on another adventure for November-May. Since I am obsessive about staying within our budget, I want to share some travel apps, tips, maps, and other services that have saved me money and time in planning and traveling.

I. Google Flights

I booked six flights using Google Flights. I really appreciate that I can find the cheapest dates to fly using the price calendar and the price graphs. I can track the price of the flights and book when the price is lowest. Also, there are certain airlines I won’t fly and I can check the airlines that I use often. I know you are wondering which airlines I won’t fly, right? American Airlines for their poor customer service and Spirit Airlines are the top two I avoid. Southwest Airlines and AeroMexico, which we fly often, are not listed in Google Flights, so I have to go to their airline websites to find comparable prices. And I have been so pleased with Delta, that I often send them a tweet saying how much I appreciate their service!
Since we are flying internationally, most of our flights are one-way, from one country to another. Most airlines now require proof of exiting the country on a one-way ticket, so I had to book every flight and keep the confirmations in a separate folder in my email so that I can prove we are leaving Panama, or Colombia, or the Dominican Republic. Our Southwest tickets are round trip, to Mexico from the states, so I don’t need proof of returning to the U.S. for that ticket.

II. Reward Credit Cards

We have a Capital One credit card. For every dollar we charge, we are supposed to get $.01 for flights, hotels, and other travel services. It is very easy to redeem our miles accumulated. I go to my statement online, and click on ‘redeem miles’. There I see a list of purchases I can use for my miles. However…if you look at the chart below, do you see that I can get more bang for my travel miles if I use Southwest Airlines instead of JetBlue?  Why is that?

With Delta vouchers and two tickets bought with rewards, I paid $1,722.24 for all six of our flights.

  III. Hotels and Airbnbs

I have the Airbnb app on my iPad. Five years ago we tried Airbnb for the first time in Ecuador and now we are hooked. The app records all of our trips and messages from the hosts.

We usually book an Airbnb for at least three weeks and take day trips from our central location. There are filters on the app where you can select the perfect place that meets your needs. For example, we always choose Superhosts, a washing machine, a kitchen, wi-fi, and TV. And we try to select places with flexible cancellation policies. I read every review and sometimes if a comment is made about the wi-fi not working, or a kitchen that isn’t clean, or the need for a car to go to the grocery store, we look for another place.

The best thing about Airbnbs are the hosts! We have made lifelong friends with some Airbnb hosts when we stay for at least a month. They are so helpful and kind with many suggestions for off-the-tourist-path locations for us to visit. When we booked a month in Javier’s place in Mexico, I received this message from him. I know from his response that we are going to be good friends!

For hotels, I use the app. I have booked enough hotels to get a good discount and am now considered a “genius” status. Lol

Yet, the other day, I asked a friend what hotel to book that is near the Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama. She recommended a hotel listed on I had never heard of this site, but they have the best deals for hotels in 57,000 locations at the best prices. I compared the price of the hotel on to and it was $30 cheaper on Try it. You are sure to find some great prices when booking hotels.

IV. How to get from one place to another

Rome2Rio app is the ultimate travel app for finding buses, taxis, flights, trains, Ubers, and ferries. Put in your location and  destination and it will tell you the mileage and list the types of transportation to your destination. We’ve booked buses, ferries, and taxis from this app from all over the world.

      V. Google Maps

      We didn’t use Google maps much until we drove through Canada   in July and August. It is an amazing app. Since I had unlimited data for Canada on my phone, it recognized my location, directed us to our destination, and listed hotels, restaurants, driving distances, and gas stations along the way. It warned us of traffic and road closures, and rerouted us when there was a detour. If we were in a place where we didn’t have a phone signal, it had already downloaded our directions and we could continue to follow the route planned. I like the satellite option that has all the trees! Ron hates the satellite option and says it interferes with the directions on the map, but I never had a problem. It even has a walking option and we can use it to tour around large cities.

We never used Goggle maps in Nicaragua or any of the other countries we visited. I am not sure how well it works in countries where there are no street addresses. Our AT&T auto-paid plan gives us unlimited data in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, so we will definitely try it in Mexico.

VI. Travel Insurance

When we lived in Nicaragua, we had an international health insurance. But, we didn’t renew our insurance because although we could use it in 182 countries, it was expensive. We needed a cheaper option that we could use for flight cancellations, delays, baggage, hotel and accommodation cancellations and medical evacuations and emergencies. Travelex to the rescue. It was one of the few travel insurance companies that would insure us for six months of travel. Their customer service is excellent. They answered all my questions and it is reassuring to know that we are covered for our six month journey.

To apply, I had to list our flight expenses and our accommodation prices, the initial day of travel and the last destination of our trip, and the name of our first airline. That was easy! The cost of our travel insurance for six months is $630 for both of us and it covers all of our needs. Much cheaper than our international health insurance!

As we age, our travel wants and needs change. We want comfort, a simple lifestyle that affords us an opportunity to be culturally immersed in a new culture for longer periods of time, and peace of mind knowing that if an emergency arises, we can handle it. These apps and tips have been a wonderful addition to our new nomadic lifestyle…and they have saved us money! We are below budget and looking forward to our new winter journey through the tropics.

If you desire to get results, you work it out, rather than wishing and hoping. It takes a lot of work to plan a journey, especially six months, but for me it is worth the effort.

                              What are your favorite travel apps, tips, and maps? 

15 thoughts on “Travel Apps, Maps, and More Bang for Your Travel Bucks

    • Do you have a U.S. address that you can use? We were always fortunate that we could use our address in the states when we got travel insurance. And since we kept our address, we could use our U.S. credit card everywhere, which really made it easier to book all kinds of things.

  1. Very helpful post – thank you!! We are huge fans of AirBnB and And we’ve found Google Maps works surprisingly well in a lot of Latin American countries. Here in Panama, of course, there are no street addresses, but you can search on a restaurant (for instance) or some other landmark and it will give you reliable directions. Let us know how it works in Mexico.

    And see you soon in Medellin 🙂

  2. I have had experiance with the one-way fligts and I learned the hard way once. I had to buy a one way ticket back or they would not let me board. So with another airline I bought a one way ticket first class ($750 for a normal $225 fare) and canceled it when I arrived and got a full refund although it took 3 months!
    So now I rent tickets! Yes and if you don;t know about this you should. go to
    and you can ‘rent’ a ticket for $12 It is a real ticket but only good for 48 hours so you can’t actually use it you just print it out and show the airline or immigration at your destination if they actually ask. Works like a charm! If they check the ticket will show up at the airlines website as an actual ticket! After 48 hours it is autoatically canceled. Go to the website and they explain it all. I have used it several times.

    • Dean, thanks for sharing the rent a ticket. In February, Ron and I flew out of Uruguay back to Costa Rica. It was the second part of our round trip ticket. When we got to the counter for COPA, they wouldn’t let us board because we didn’t have an exit out of Costa Rica. We showed them our Residency cards for Nicaragua and explained that we took a bus to the border to return to Nicaragua, but they didn’t accept it. So, we had to purchase TICA bus tickets to cross the border into Nicaragua to prove we were exiting Costa Rica! I canceled the tickets when we arrived in Costa Rica.
      I was furious that there was no mention of this on the COPA website when I purchased our tickets, so I wrote to COPA and asked them to put a warning on their website so passengers buying COPA tickets would know. When we purchased our COPA tickets from Panama to Colombia last week, at the top of the website, there is a bright yellow warning now telling passengers that they must have proof of exiting the destination country. So glad they took my advise.

  3. Thanks! very helpful. We planned to visit you and others on Ometepe but looks like most are gone. Looks like Mexico this year and we cancelled our flight/plans. Keep the faith and great posts!


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