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Best Ways to Use Your Smartphone When Traveling

by Gina Corsiglia

Sep 4, 2014

© Mario Ondris | Dreamstime

Tips / Travel

Many people rely on their smartphone as a map, dictionary, guidebook, travel agent, laptop and entertainment provider. These handy mobile devices can be lifesavers when used domestically. However, when used overseas, these powerful tools can become money-wasting headaches if travelers are not properly prepared.


Push notifications, location-based services, auto-downloading and SMS reminders all use huge amounts of data to function. And when a megabyte can cost upwards of $20 without an international plan, it’s easy to see how even experienced travelers return home to a shockingly high phone bill.


However, if used wisely, smartphones can still be just as useful abroad as at home without breaking the bank.


Please note many mobile carriers do offer international roaming packages for customers. For travelers who wish to have more uninhibited usage of their phone and data while overseas, this may be the best route.


Maximize your smartphone’s functionality:


Set your phone to “Airplane Mode” and keep it there for the duration of the trip. This ensures your phone will not continuously scan for a data connection when out of WiFi range, which drains the battery, and it will also prevent any unwanted phone calls, text messages or other notifications from using expensive data.


Pay local rates with a new SIM card. Travelers who plan on staying in a particular country for an extended period can pick up a prepaid SIM card from a local carrier. Incoming calls are often free, and you’ll pay local rates, instead of the highly expensive roaming rates from your mobile carrier at home. Check with your provider before leaving to check the possibility of using a local SIM card.


Make free calls to the U.S. with a VoIP number. Voice over IP apps like Skype and Google Voice are services that allow users to make phone calls using the Internet. Get a VoIP number in advance and forward all calls and messages to that number when traveling. Calls to international numbers will still incur a small fee (30-40 cents per minute), but calls to U.S. numbers are free.


Plan in advance to make the most use of free WiFi. Although WiFi is increasingly becoming widely available throughout many cities in the United States and Europe, travelers should not count on unfettered WiFi access wherever they go. Take advantage of WiFi when it is freely available by saving web pages in advance for offline use later. This can be done through a browser’s caching function, or by using apps like Pocket and Evernote. Important information like addresses or walking routes can also be saved to your phone’s photo gallery as screenshots.


Great travel apps with offline functions:

Travelers can save information like maps, city guides and currency conversion freely over a WiFi connection for later usage offline by using these apps.


Tourist guide apps: TripAdvisor City Guides and Spotted by Locals are a great resource for tourists that provide recommendations and reviews for restaurants, activities and accommodation. TripAdvisor City Guides even offers a number of self-guided walking tours. Also make sure to search the app store by city name for even more offline city-specific apps.


Maps: OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative project that is creating a free editable map of the world. Their app provides free access to the crowd-sourced map and all map data can be stored on your device’s memory card for offline use. Google Maps also has a caching function available in some cities, but is not currently available worldwide.


History: Although the file will be huge, travelers can also download the entirety of Wikipedia as a PDF onto their phones for offline use. Now tourists can look up the significance of a monument or work of art on the fly.


Other useful apps: Google Translate offers an offline function. And XE Currency app stores the most up-to-date rate information, so it works offline.



Remember that a smartphone is an expensive item and can make travelers a target of theft. To keep your smartphone safe when in a foreign city, never leave it out or unattended, don’t flaunt it and even store it in a worn-out, beat-up protective case.


A trip overseas does not have to mean an exorbitantly high phone bill. Plan ahead, and take full advantage of free WiFi and there should be no sticker shock when you return home.




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