Ironically, there are many articles online telling travelers to turn off their phone, particularly the data portion of your phone, when traveling overseas. Even some of the carriers will tell you to turn it off as much as possible and try to rely on wifi. True, you will save money if you don’t use your phone. In fact, if you really want to save money, just stay home! Recommendations like this are as useful as telling someone who is going to a 3 Michelin Star restaurant to have only bread, butter and water. Isn’t it specifically when you are traveling that you would need to use your phone as a travel tool?
Nowadays, there are so many amazing things that you can do with your smartphone. It’s not just about calling home or checking your emails anymore. With a smartphone, you can truly enjoy your trip even further. Here are just a few ideas.
Many people are familiar with Google Maps. They help us find out where we are and help us to get to where we need to go. In fact, many people use Google Maps on an everyday basis. Imagine traveling to a city that you have never been before. Try getting from the Vatican to the Spanish Steps by foot without using either a map or GPS on your phone. A 30 minute walk could literally take hours if you had to rely on asking people directions every 5 minutes.
Language Translation Apps
This is one type of app that just now is beginning to gain traction with the travel community. This goes a big step beyond just typing something into your phone and using Google Translate. With a language translation app you can literally speak into your phone and have it translate into one of many languages. The app will translate what you said and speak it out in another language. While not perfect, I have had good luck with the Voice Translator App from Google.
What I really like about Trip Advisor is that you get to see pictures and read reviews from real travelers and not from marketing professional (although I am sure that a few posts slip through the cracks). If you are not familiar with Trip Advisor, it’s a site that lets users comment on and post pictures of hotels, bed and breakfasts’, restaurants (and more). You can also check pricing and book hotels.
Yelp and Zagat
A similar site is Yelp. Yelp’s focus is mainly on restaurants and business. Zagat is another great site for determining how an restaurant may be. They have been around for years and a probably the most discerning and the most reputable of the three in terms of reliability.
How many times have you just “Googled” something to get more information on it? Chances are, when you travel abroad, you will come across a church or a building or something that you have no idea about its history and want to know more. Being able to have information at your fingertips is extremely useful while traveling.
Tourist tend to do a lot of walking with the occasional bus ride or taxi ride. I hardly every take a bus because I am just not fond of them and I either walk or take a taxi. However, if you have ever tried to hail a cab in New York City on a Friday night in the rain, you know that it’s not always easy. Uber is a site that connects you with a towncar driver. The great thing about it is that you can see if a driver is available in your area and he can use the tracking function on your device to see where you are. This works great in the US and is usually about the same price as a cab far. I have used on several occasions and they have really come to the rescue. Many larger cities in Europe offer Uber but, from what I have seen, the rates are more expensive than back home. Still, it’s always good to have a back up solution.
As you can see, there are many ways that a smartphone can come in handy when you are traveling internationally. The problem is that when you need free wifi, it is usually not available and if you roam with your US or Canadian carriers network, they will charge you an arm and a leg. The best solution is to use another provider, like Cellular Abroad. In many cases, you can literally spend 1/10 or even less of what it costs to roam with your usual provider. If you need to retain your usual number, this too can be done (although many travelers want to relax and don’t want to use this option. Usually, we will give our customers a local SIM card with two phone numbers, a local number and a US number. If you need data, and more and more people do, you can add an affordable data bundle and not only check your emails but communicate with the locals, see where you are going and where you should eat and shop.