The bags are packed, the itinerary planned and your reservations made. You're prepared for a trip abroad, but is your phone? Here’s how you can get your smartphone ready for international travel and how to make it work best for you
Make Your Smartphone The Best Traveler With These Tips
Use apps to enhance your travel experience
Smartphone apps can help you do everything from booking your trip to speaking the local language. Here are our top picks for apps to download before you board your flight.
- Communication — Some apps have higher quality connections and are easier to use when trotting the globe: WhatsApp is great for texting and sending voice messages internationally, Skype and Facebook Messenger are great for phone calls, and Skype also works well for video calls. But we’re excited about the new app from Google called Google Duo, with easy and instant face-to-face video calling.
- Directions — One of our best pieces of advice is to enable Google maps for offline usage so you can download maps of entire regions and cities, and use them when you’re not connected.
- Transport — For getting around, we’ve found Uber to be incredibly helpful for the ease-of-use and safety it provides. Uber has aggressively gone global in a real way—just check to make sure it operates in your intended destinations.
- Language — The Google Translate App, while imperfect, can often be a great help with text translation. (Tip: try out the camera mode, where you can hold up the camera and get translations for what you’re seeing.)
- Dining — Yelp is still, in our opinion, the best app for finding a good local place to eat and is available in dozens of countries. Another notable app worth mentioning — EatWith — allows you to book a meal in a local person’s home: Nothing beats that if you’re looking for that authentic experience.
- Lodging — There are a number of apps for finding and booking hotels, like Tripping.com, which allows you to find great deals on vacation rentals, apartments, and hotels.
- Sightseeing and socializing — Try Detour for GPS audio tours for cities around the world. And Travelstoke helps you meet people while on the road.
Capture those special memories
The cameras on smartphones are getting better and better each year, to the point where you can take publishable photos with an iPhone or Android device. This is great news, because it frees you up from having to carry around a separate camera, knowing you’ll have great quality photos on your phone.
A number of apps can help you store, edit and share your photos both during and after your trip. Instagram is a popular one for travel, along with VSCO and Snapchat. Google Photos is another great solution, which allows you to upload and store high-quality versions of all your photos from your smartphone to the cloud. Not only that, it has great features for timeline, GPS location, editing and sharing albums with friends.
Finally, consider using the voice recorder app on your phone, as it’s great for taking memos, recording conversations, and storing audio stories of your trip, along with the unique sounds that come along with travel.
Manage your itinerary and related documents
It may sound like we’re continually promoting Google, but the truth is, they’ve done a great job at making apps that are both useful and well connected to other apps on your phone. The new Google Trips is one of them, which recognizes whenever you’re booked a trip (via email confirmations in Gmail) and automatically provides information for exploring your destination and saving your reservations codes. You can also enable it for offline browsing.
Google Trips provide you with the booking references you need for checking in at the airport, which is generally much easier to use than the apps created by the airlines themselves. (Tip: Don’t forget to turn on the Google Maps Timeline feature, which records your device’s location history as you travel. It’s a great way to keep a timeline record of your trip!)
Finally, in case you lose any of your vital travel documents (passport scans, flight and hotel itineraries, health insurance card) while traveling, it’s a good idea to have a backup. Google Drive and Dropbox are the best for easily uploading and storing your documents in the cloud for ready access. You can also take photos with your phone of all your important documents to have in your photos library for reference.
Avoid expensive roaming fees
It’s certainly clear that using your smartphone during international travel can have many benefits and can enhance the experience. However, if it’s not done correctly, it can also be prohibitively expensive. The best way to avoid expensive roaming fees during travel is to unlock your phone so you can buy a local SIM card and take advantage of local prices. This needs to be done a few days in advance.
Also, check to see if your mobile carrier has a good international plan (like T-mobile at $50/month), which allows for free international data/text and cheap calls.
This article was written by Alex Buri, co-founder at kimkim — an online travel platform that connects travelers to local travel experts around the world. Special thanks for recommendations from a few other long-time travelers: Anthony Marnell (@AnthonyMarnell), Chris McCarty (@cmccarty), Greg Buri (@gregburi) and Benoit Zeler.