MONTREAL, Canada – Smartphones have changed the way we live our lives, and that includes travelling. Here’s why my phone is my travel companion. I’m also including with a few tips and tricks that might be useful on your next trip.
1. Smartphone for Travel: Calls and Data
Is your phone sim-unlocked?
“Sim-unlocked” means a phone that is not locked to a single carrier. When you buy your phone from a phone carrier (Rogers, Bell, Telus, etc), it is locked to the carrier you bought it from. This means that you couldn’t put a Rogers simcard in a Telus phone.
The CRTC’s new rules include a provision that says that phone carriers have to help you unlock your phone if you’ve been their customer for at least six months. This means that, by simply calling the technical support line of your carrier, in exchange for a small fee, you’ll be free to put the simcard of your choice in your phone.
When you’ve sim-unlocked your phone, you can go to the office of the carrier of your choice at your destination and buy a prepaid simcard with call and data options. 95% of carriers on the planet offer prepaid solutions that are cheaper than the ones in Canada, let alone the roaming options of the Canadian carriers.
That means that you’ll have data on-the-go and you’ll be able to call with your phone. Your GPS will work at its full capacity and you’ll be able to use all the features your phone provides.
Tip: download a stats app (Android: DroidStats, iPhone: DataWiz). These apps count your minutes and data, so you know how much you’ve spent and how much is left. That way, you won’t be caught trying to find where to buy refills without the help of your phone!
Tip: If you’re not sure if your phone model is compatible with the carriers abroad, go to gsmarena.com and search for the model number of your phone. Then print this page and show it to the salesperson of the carrier at your destination.
Tip: Many carriers have booths at the airport. Also, in some countries, it’s possible to buy simcards in vending machines.
Tip: Hippie in Heels has a specific guide about India: Buy a Local SIM Card in India
2. Smartphone for Travel: Music
You probably know already that you can listen to music with your smartphone for travel. Load up before you go, and the long waiting times at the airport or in the bus won’t seem so long anymore!
Tip: Buy yourself a good set of earphones. They’re worth it! I personally prefer in-ear buds with good noise-cancelling features.
3. Smartphone for Travel: Videos
Google Play and Apple Store both have a large selection of the latest movies and your favourite TV shows that you can download straight on your phone to watch later. They’re ideal when you want a long flight to go by smoothly!
Tip: many websites allow you to download movies and TV series and might be better options if you know how to upload them on your device.
4. Smartphone for Travel: Maps and GPS
The days of the paper map are long gone.
(The following might seem like a long Google Maps ad, but I’m not getting a penny from them. This is how I actually feel about this app.)
Google Maps is available on both iPhone and Android and is, to my personal liking, the most powerful app ever produced. Need to know how to get from point A to point B while on foot? Ask Google Maps and use the walking directions. Rented a car and want to know the best way to get to the golf course? Ask Google Maps and use the navigation option. Finished your 18-holes and need to fill up your tank? Type “petrol stations” in Google Maps and let it show you the way. Lost in the jungle and want to know where to go? There’s a compass in the phone and Google Maps will point you towards the right direction. You’re in London – or Tokyo, or New York or even Quebec City – and want to go to the museum with public transit? Enter the name of the museum, select directions, then use the public transit option, and you’ll get to our destination without any fuss – prices, schedules, directions from stop to stop, everything is included. Visiting a country where there are no addresses? Push and hold the place you want to go, Google Maps will identify it as a “dropped pin” and give you directions to get there. Hungry? Type in “restaurants” and see all the surrounding restaurants with descriptions, opening hours and reviews from other Google+ users. Can’t find the exact location you’re looking for? Type it in Google Maps and use Google StreetView to navigate your way towards your destination!
Tip: Want to save on data? Use the hotel’s WiFi to download maps. Open Google Maps, zoom out to include the city you want to use, and type in “ok maps” in the search bar. Google Maps will download the map so you can use it offline.
Tip: Some countries, like Cuba and Myanmar, don’t even have a cellular data infrastructure. But don’t worry. Use the last tip to download the map of your location and turn on the GPS on your phone. GPS location doesn’t need data to work (though it makes it much faster), you simply need to turn it on and Google will find you on the map you’ve downloaded. It’ll then use the compass that’s in the phone to point you in the right direction.
5. Smartphone for Travel: Books
If it’s true for music and movies it’s true for books: no need to bring the heavy paper version with you anymore. Download them on your phone!
Tip: While electronic books on smartphones are great when travelling, they can be tiring on the eyes. Try some of the many apps that are available for you to read the books you download. They have different display options and some might be more comfortable for your eye than others.
6. Smartphone for Travel: Translator and Dictionary
When I first travelled to Osaka, Japan, I wandered the streets by myself at night. I wanted to have a beer and chat with someone, but felt a bit shy. I sat down at the bar of a small izakaya, ordered a beer and a few barbecued skewers of meat and looked around. Next to me sat a woman with a few empty plates and a glass of beer in front of her; she was chatting with the cook on the other side of the bar. She looked at me and said hi, then proposed a toast. I don’t speak a word of Japanese; her English was very bad. I took out my phone, selected the voice recognition option in Google Translate, and asked it to translate to Japanese. Then I downloaded the text-to-speech extension. I would speak a phrase in English, then push the button, and it’d repeat it in Japanese. We spent the next few hours chatting using Google Translate. I made a friend for life.
Tip: You need data for Google Translate to work, however some offline dictionaries can be downloaded if you don’t have WiFi or data available.
Tip: Once again, Google Translate isn’t the only option. Try a few apps and see if they work for you!
7. Smartphone for Travel: Book Flights, Trains, Buses and Hotel Rooms
Today, 95% of things that need to be booked can be done so online. A lot of businesses have even shut down their call centres and refuse bookings anywhere but online. And finding an internet café can be a hassle. Even worse: business centres in hotels charge crazy rates. Booking everything from your smartphone for travel is the easiest way to go.
One of the most interesting websites out there to book flights and rental cars is TripSeats. Check them out!
Tip: Your favourite booking websites might have apps and widgets available. Look for them in your favourite app store!
Tip: In order to book more efficiently, look for content aggregators. Content aggregators look on many websites at once to find the best price possible.
8. Smartphone for Travel: Find Restaurants and Entertainment
As mentioned above, Google Maps is a great tool to find restaurants, entertainment and things to do but other apps can be useful as well. Case in point: the TripAdvisor apps. TripAdvisor has city guides that are 100% offline, meaning that if you don’t have 3G data on your phone, you can still use the app and all the features in it. Just look for TripAdvisor in Google Play or Apple Store and the names of the cities available will appear.
9. Smartphone for Travel: Keep Up (And Show Off)
Having a smartphone for travel – with calling and data! – is like having a computer in your pocket. With your phone, you can keep up with local and international news, you can see what your friends are up to back home, you can upload awesome pictures on your Instagram account, you can show off your adventurous prowess on Facebook, you can follow the local trends of your current location on Twitter and you can Skype with your relatives whenever you feel like it!
Tip: The best part about staying connected is that you can simply turn it off whenever you feel like going off the grid.
10. Smartphone for Travel: Accessories
There are many accessories that can help you use your cell phone on the road. Here are a few:
– Most phone chargers are equipped with a transformer which means that any power source will charge your phone. However you’ll need to carry an adapter for the power outlets for your destination(s). Buy yourself an international power adapter with a USB outlet (here’s an example). That way you’ll only have to carry the USB cable of your phone.
– Using your phone all day can kill your battery in a flash. Get yourself a phone that has a removable battery and buy back-up batteries. Then, buy yourself an external charger. That way you’ll be able to charge all of your batteries at once.
– If your phone’s battery cannot be removed, get yourself an external battery pack – or two!
– If your phone has an SDCard slot, buy yourself a 64GB or 128GB card, they’re relatively cheap. You’ll have all the space you need to store your music, videos and books. (Make sure it’s compatible with your phone first.)
Tip: You probably noticed, but I have a phone that has both an SDCard slot and a removable battery. I’m not saying that it’s the best way to go, but … it’s definitely the best way to go!