Traveling with a smartphone
Camera, personal assistant, music player, movie theater, eBook reader, phone,… Our smartphones are an essential part of the modern age and we can build our whole life around them. This is no different for our travels. But even though they can help our trip run more smoothly, they are a more delicate travel partner and do demand some specific preparations and care on the road. Read our tips on how to make full use of your phone during your travels as well how to best protect it from the usual threats.
General tips for traveling with your smartphone – Is your phone ready for travel?
Buy a local SIM card
Especially when staying somewhere for a longer time, this is the first thing you should do. You can benefit from local rates as well as the data usage so you won’t have to rely on Wi-Fi all the time. Make sure to inquire after the cheapest as well as the better providers to suit your needs. I, for instance, benefit best from a provider that offers good connection in more remote areas so this is one of my priorities. If you will remain in densely populated areas, this is less important for you and you can focus on other matters, for instance, the price per MB. I have a detailed post on buying a sim card and where to get the best deals here.
Your planner and research partner
With the data usage enabled by your local SIM, you can always use your phone to research places to go. But there are also loads of travel and planner apps out there. If you enjoy keeping an overview, you can use apps like Tripit, TripCase, and Roadtrippers. I can’t go into detail here since I have never used them myself but I have heard from fellow travelers that these have helped them a lot.
As for me, I tend to just wing it on my travels and the only apps I use are Hostelworld and Booking.com. I would use them when visiting cities (since they offer good deals and I am really bad at price negotiation!) and in more remote places I would just wait until I get there and try to get the cheaper or more interesting option by looking for homestays or hostels that don’t have Wi-Fi. You will find that when a very remote place offers Wi-Fi, it will reflect greatly in the price!
I am sure we have all had a mini freak-out over some sensitive content on our phones when we lost or briefly misplaced it. A simple suggestion would be to enable the lock screen at least to save yourself some time. The pattern locks are generally the easiest to break so perhaps it is better to avoid using this one. But there are more effective ways to find or protect a lost phone.
For Android, you can use the Android Device Manager to either locate or call your phone or even to lock and erase all content remotely. The latter is the better option when your phone gets stolen while traveling. For IOS you can use iCloud and for Windows, you can go to windowsphone.com to explore your options further.
This is a no-brainer! Research the plug and socket type for the country you are visiting. If you travel a lot and to many different places, consider purchasing a set. I recommend this travel adapter.
If traveling within your own country, buying a USB wall charger is a good tip for convenience in use and travel. If you do, also consider purchasing shorter wires than the ones provided with your phone. This way you avoid a tangled mess and also take up less room in your bags. You can also use a travel organizer bag for your wires.
Always be alert
You will read this and think “well yes, obviously” but it is very easy to get careless especially when you reach a level of comfort in a specific place. It is important not to leave your phone unattended, not even right next to you on the table. It only takes one second of not paying attention for someone to grab it and run.
During my travels, I spoke with a girl who had had her phone stolen twice by the time I met her and one time here phone was simply snatched out of her hands while she was texting. A lot of tips in this article relate to your phone being a planner or navigator and you will sometimes need to use it while walking. But here too it is important to choose where you check your phone and to keep it close otherwise. When using it as a navigator, enable the vibrate mode so that you feel the notification when you need to make a turn and know when to check it (no need for the earphones, they only draw more attention and make you less attentive to everything around you), consult the map now and then when you feel it is safe to do so, but otherwise keep it close and outside of view or easy access from others. Read more tips on theft and keeping your valuables safe here.
Local emergency numbers
These days we tend to forget our phone can also function as a phone. Make sure that when you travel internationally, you put the local emergency numbers on speed dial. They can, of course, be Googled, but in emergencies, swift action is always desired.
Heading out of town
These tips apply to general use as well but are of particular use when traveling outside of cities and into more remote and natural areas.
However far we may try to hide our phone in our bag, a big storm can still create some problems. Always keep a waterproof bag handy for these situations. It is a small investment but could potentially prevent a lot of issues.
Shockproof phone case
If I still had the before and after pictures of my previous smartphone after I returned from my travels, you would laugh. Or maybe cry. I had to make certain choices regarding what I invested in and what not and as expenses added up, I decided not to get a phone case for extra protection. In retrospect, this was a mistake. I should have known since I can be very clumsy and by the end of my travels I had dropped my phone so many times, usually in places where dropping it could be fatal, that big parts of my screen were missing. In the end, it is a lot more expensive to invest in a new phone! This is a great shockproof and waterproof case for iPhone users.
Maps.me – offline maps
I swear by this app as ‘the’ navigator to use. I first installed maps.me in Bolivia when wanting to walk to the canyons outside of Tupiza without a guide and have used it ever since. As it includes an offline function, you can consult these maps in more remote areas as well. All you need to do is download the map for whatever country/area you are visiting. In my experience, this app is more user-friendly than others out there and offer more routes into remote areas.
Google translate app – offline mode
The times of phrase books and dictionaries are over. Especially now that you can get the Google Translate app in offline mode for convenient use in remote places. Don’t let this stop you from trying to get by in the local language, though. Learning a new language is good for your mental agility as well as gaining a richer, cultural experience. Google translate should be a last resort, even after using your most expressive body language and making a complete fool of yourself, and not your constant go-to. There is nothing more annoying and unnatural than trying to have a conversation with someone who keeps typing and staring at their phone.
Portable power bank
The portable power bank is your smartphone’s best friend when wandering away from sockets and electricity, especially when you also use your phone as a camera or even as a flashlight. When heading off the grid for a longer period of time, consider a power bank equipped with a solar panel.
Other than a good way to keep charged when on the road, the power bank can also be used to prevent your phone from being stolen. When you have to leave your phone unattended when on the charger (don’t, though) and you feel unsafe doing so, charge your power bank instead so you can then use that to charge your phone and keep it on you. Perhaps it is possible for the power bank to get stolen, but these are easier to replace than a phone. This is my recommended power bank. It’s not the cheapest one on the market but it’s worth the few extra dollars for the quality and features it has.
Here is a great video showing some other smartphone travel tips. It’s a bit outdated now but still a great video!
Even though important in our lives, a smartphone can be frustratingly fragile and this reaches new levels while we travel. But in following these simple tips and practicing some caution otherwise, you can make full use of your phone and still get it back in one piece. So don’t stress and remember your phone can make your travels easier, not harder!
If you enjoyed our tips and guides for traveling with a smartphone, have a look at all our travel gear guides here:
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