Sometimes, I think we all take it for granted that we hold mini-computers in our pockets every day that would have been unimaginable just twenty years ago. Today, we rely on them, and for good reason. But what do you need on your phone? We are breaking down ten apps that are must have, especially living in Chicago. Just to be clear, we are not going to be talking about apps that are likely built-in to your phone, like Messaging and Email, or the ultra-common apps based on websites, like YouTube or Facebook.
- Citymapper (or other city-specific navigation): Whether you are a Chicago native, from across the nation, or across the globe, you have to know where you are going. While built-in navigation apps or Google Maps are great in a lot of situations, they fall a little behind when it comes to trying to get around a city like Chicago. What I love about Citymapper is that it has a really in-depth, live account of all parts of the CTA. It will give you multiple routes to get from point A-to-B, time estimations for bike rides, Uber price estimates, arrival times for buses and trains (not just the next one, but up to five of the next ones), and more. Like with any GPS app, sometimes it is imperfect, especially with all of the obstacles downtown, but this is my go-to.
- Ventra: It is worth mentioning that Ventra has its own app that can also track all elements of the CTA and Metra transportation lines. So why mention it separately? The Ventra app also lets you add money to your card from wherever you want. Now, that may sound unnecessary since your Columbia ID gives you unlimited rides, but that is only active if you are taking classes. Summer and Winter breaks are not covered, and you don’t want to be stranded right after celebrating passing all your finals.
- Uber/Lyft: Speaking of navigation, having one of these taxi service apps is a certainly a necessity. While the CTA covers most of the city, sometimes, you need to go far, fast, and direct. Generally cheaper and faster than flagging down a traditional cab, both of these companies have plenty of cars, rarely making you wait for more than five minutes before someone picks you up. If you are from a small town, this might be a bit odd, but what better way is there to meet the colorful characters of Chicago? Pro-tip: Use both apps and compare prices, because both have different rates depending on the day and time. Sometimes it can save you quite a bit.
- Mint: Look at you adulting, making it all on your own in one of the biggest cities in the United States. But between late-night bar-hopping and pre-class Starbucks runs, you need to watch what you spend and make sure there is enough cash left to keep a roof over your head (preferably with electricity and heat, too). That’s where Mint comes in. This app can help you track and pay your bills, budget your income, and even give you updates on your credit score and financial security. Above all, it is easy. No more crouching over piles of bills and checkbooks like your parents.
- Venmo: While we are on the topic of money, be prepared to spend some in Chicago. Not only are prices a little higher than you might be used to, but lots of restaurants and bars are notorious for not splitting checks. Or maybe the place only takes cash, and only one person brought paper instead of plastic. Venmo is another money app, run by PayPal, which makes it super simple to send your friends money from a bank account, debit card, or credit card (credit cards do carry a small fee, but the others are free). Next time you are at a nice brunch and forgot your wallet, be glad you brought your phone and avoid the awkward moment when the bill comes.
- SafeTrek: This app costs money, but it could save your life. You can never be too cautious when it comes to your personal safety in the city. The app is simple-open the app and hold your thumb to the screen. Once you are safe in your apartment, car, or wherever else, let go and type in your PIN. If you are in danger, just let go. In a few second, the police will be automatically contacted and be notified of your exact position. There is even an option to talk to the 911 operator if you want. Now, there are a few payment options, from $3 per month to $30 for a whole year. If you are concerned about your personal safety, this is a pretty affordable and smart option.
- Target Cartwheel: There are a ton of places to pick up week-to-week necessities, but anyone in Chicago can tell you the biggest shopping chain in the city is Target. And, though Target is a bit more expensive than other superstores like Wal-Mart, they do have some pretty decent deals. Before you go though, check out Cartwheel, which has a constantly updating list of sales exclusively through the app. The app even tells you how much time the sale is available for, so you can plan accordingly. This is a very simple way to shave dollars off of every shopping trip.
- Grubhub: You live in Chicago, you have to take advantage of that. One of the ways to get the most bang for your buck is to download Grubhub, which means your favorite food delivered wherever you live. But it isn’t just big name chains that use Grubhub. Many small, local favorites work with Grubhub, usually advertising that they deliver right on their front door. If you are craving your favorite meal but stuck in a late night study session, this is a lifesaver.
- Spotify/Pandora/Other Music App: Whatever app you pick is up to you, but it is undeniable that you need music on demand. Chicago is a loud city, and you are going need something to drown out the sounds of construction, traffic, or fellow Chicagoans. Even if you don’t want to pay for a premium service, it would be worth it to download an album or two directly onto your phone. Don’t forget your headphones, though, because playing music on speakers in public really pisses everyone off.
- A Game App: This is another one that I’ll leave up to you, but I can’t tell you how paramount it is to have at least on game on your phone as a way to kill time. You are going to be doing some waiting, whether it is for your train, in line for food, or for class to start. Having a simple game on your phone that is gentle on battery life will be indispensible for those in-between moments where you can’t do anything else. Word of advice, make sure the game doesn’t require a constant internet connection unless you don’t mind your data flying out the window.
There you go, ten apps that will help you get by during your time at Columbia College Chicago and your time in the city itself. Don’t forget to download Columbia’s own app to keep up to date with campus events and student discounts, available for both iOS and Android.