Use Your Smartphone Wisely When You Travel

July 05, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I recently attended a jazz concert sponsored by the city in my neighborhood’s park and decided to take pictures of the crowd enjoying the show for use on the community website. When I downloaded the photos, I was disappointed to find that most of them showed people who were more involved with their phones than they were with the neighbors or the music, hardly an advertisement for my exciting urban lifestyle.
 
While cell phones drive me insane when their owners use them to communicate with everyone but the people right next to them, I’m addicted to some of my iPhone apps, especially when I’m on the road, and I don’t have access to a computer.
 
photo of Sahara
A smartphone is handy, even when you don't have service.
If you travel overseas, you probably know that the first thing you need to do is turn off the data and roaming to avoid a huge bill. If you can find a café or hotel with Internet access, you can still take advantage of Wi-Fi to use your apps. McDonald’s offers free Wi-Fi, and the coffee wins awards in several countries, so it’s a good option in a pinch.
 
There’a an app for that. There are lots of apps, many of them free, that can simplify travel. Following are some of favorites: 
  • Most airlines offer apps that enable you to check in and get updated flight information. Some allow you to download a boarding pass for certain airports. I would still recommend a paper ticket after witnessing a TSA agent at JFK tell a passenger who had waited an hour in line for a plane that was due to take off in 15 minutes that the smartphone reader wasn’t working, so she had to go back and get a paper ticket.   
  • TripIt (available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7) enables users to forward their confirmation emails for plane and hotel reservations to the app, so all of the vital information is available in one place. If the information is a small hotel or other vendor not supported by the TripIt system, the user can manually enter the information.
  • If you will be in a city that has a metro system, MetrO is a necessity. Plug in the starting and ending stop or landmark and the time that you want to travel to find out which metro, tram or bus to take and where to transfer. Best of all it’s a downloadable database, so you don’t need WI-FI or a data plan. Just beware that some city names are presented in their native language, e.g., Prague is Praha, and Vienna is Wien.  Check the website http://metro.nanika.net/index.php?p=Z for the list of smartphones supported, as the company continues to add more.
  • A foreign dictionary always comes in handy if you are going to a country where English is not the native language. There are free versions for many languages, but like most apps, the paid versions offer more. Before buying, be sure to find out whether Internet access is required if you won’t be using your data plan.
  • A currency converter is abig help when you are shopping and trying to figure out how much you are spending on a souvenir, or when you're at the ATM trying to figure out how much money you need. I use GlobeConverter Free because I can open it before I leave or when I have Wi-Fi access to download current exchange rates, and it will use the last rate downloaded to make the calculations.  
  • To stay in touch with the folks back home without spending an arm and a leg, download Pinger's free texting program. If you have Wi-Fi, you can text anyone in the U.S. for free. Pinger also offers free incoming calls from any U.S. phone and free outgoing calls to any mobile phone in the U.S. that also has this app.
  • Walking tours can offer advice on what to see and how to get there. Again, find out whether Internet access is required if you won’t be using your data plan. Rely on user reviews to choose the best guide. Some of the popular travel guides, such as Frommer’s and Rick Steves, are available for a fee, but they are cheaper than the printed books and certainly less weighty. Remember that most hotels and tourist spots overseas can provide a free map as well as advice on the best places to visit, so don’t rule out the locals as some of the most useful resources.
  • Foursquare, available for most smartphones, is helpful if you can use your data plan and you want to know what’s worth seeing in the vicinity. Although I don’t really care to be the mayor of any of the places I visit, I was happy to let it lead me through the Garden District of New Orleans to the homes of some celebrities and the resting place of Lestat, the main character in several Anne Rice books.
  • Living Social offers bargains in your town and throughout the world. PayPal also offers an app called Where that provides information on local offers based on your GPS location.

Know where to go. While a map app can be a great travel tool, it’s still a good idea to print out a map that shows the location of your hotel before you leave. While I’m on this topic, research the best way to go from the airport to wherever you’re staying by doing a search for “transportation from whatever airport to whatever town.” You can compare prices between shuttles, taxis and whatever modes of transportation available and learn how and where to buy tickets. You will probably be tired and disoriented when you arrive, so it won’t be a good time to start figuring out where you are and where you need to be, especially if you won’t be in an English-speaking country.
 
A photo of your luggage doesn't have to be a work of art. 
Take a picture. You’ve probably heard that you should keep a copy of your passport in a separate bag. But what of you lose your bag? What if you lose your passport and you just can’t get to your bag? As a simple safeguard, take a picture of your passport and email it to yourself. You can also take a picture with your cell phone. If the phone or the camera uses a flash, make sure your photo, the passport number and expiration date are still visible. As I mentioned in my last entry, use your phone to take a picture of your suitcase just before you leave for your trip. That way, if the airline loses it, you can show someone exactly what it looks like. 
 
I hope you get a lot of use out of your phone while you’re away, but I also hope that you don’t become so involved with it that you miss out on all of the exciting activities and scenery around you. And if you come across a must-have app, please let me know. 
 

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