As much as we all might enjoy complaining about the absurdities of the modern phone (why does it need to be that big? What if I knock myself out when I answer a call?) they can be a very useful tool. Several useful tools, in fact. While I would never recommend that anyone rely solely on their phone for traveling, there are a number of ways in which they can make your journey easier.
Electronic reservations, tickets and boarding passes are becoming more and more common. Each of these tickets, once purchased, will appear on your phone. There are all sorts of advantages to this. You might be able to skip a line to an event or popular restaurant, or get an online discount. You also don’t have to worry about where you left each ticket, as you know where they all are.
Now, I would still recommend printing out paper copies when possible, just in case. However, not having to rifle through your bag every five minutes muttering “I know it’s in here somewhere” can make a journey that much more relaxing.
There are a multitude of phone apps available to help you translate the language of the country you are in. While they might not work for a full conversation, they can help you get around with much more confidence and ease. Some will read the word out loud for you, others will write it – some can even recognize a word if you take a photo of it.
You can also take pictures of words you will need to refer back to, like street signs or the word for “restroom”. This is particularly helpful if the local alphabet is also different to yours.
Your phone probably already has its own map application. This can be a great help for your first few days of exploring, especially if you can download an offline version of the map you use, to save on data. Using the satellite function, however, can also help if you find yourself a bit lost, as it will show you exactly where you are.
You can also take photographs of a specific route as you walk it, to help you find your way back later. You might even be able to plot out a route while you are still at home and follow it on Google Street View, which will show you exactly what the route will look like. Try taking screen shots of the route and saving them to your phone for a follow-along map.
If you’re anything like me, you like to know exactly what you will be taking on your trip – as well as each individual item’s dimensions, weight, and chemical composition. Preferably three to four weeks in advance. Ahem.
If you’re going to be keeping lists of what you pack, your phone is a great place to do it. If you are apt to forget things, you might even be able to use a checklist app. You can whip it out any time you move onto a new location.
Another option is to lay out all of your items and take a photograph of them. Then, each time you pack, lay out the items again and see if there is anything missing.
This is something that many people use, even in the places that they live in permanently. Transport apps will give you the best route between two points. Find one that you can use for the city you will be visiting; you can delete it once you get home. I remember using one of these daily when I lived in London. I’d think that I knew the best route, then my phone would find one that took half as many changes and a third of the time. (I would then remind myself that even if my phone is smarter than me, it still needs me to charge it. So there.)
I recommend this very lightly. I am not a fan of the inexplicable practice of arriving in a beautiful, exotic locale and immediately barricading yourself in your room to play angry birds or watch cat videos. You can do that at home. However, I admit that there are certain times when you might need a little distraction. Your favorite music, for example, might be nice if you are sunbathing or exercising. To be honest, most of the entertainment you need will be for the airplane, or airport if you have a long layover. In this case, movies and games will be a great idea. Just make sure not to get carried away!
Before you travel, if you do not have one already, set up an online “cloud” storage account. This means that you can upload pictures and documents to the account without having to keep them on your phone. For those who have gotten into the habit of taking hundreds of pictures a day, you can upload your photos every night and delete them off your phone to make space for tomorrow. Always double check that the upload has gone through before you press delete, by the way…
You could upload spare copies of important documents to your account. For example, a scan of your passport and copies of your tickets and reservations. Be sure to review the storage service before you set up you account, to make sure that it is secure. You should be able to access it from your phone, but always by using a password, never automatically. You should also know all of your sign-in details to access it from a different phone or computer.
This is simply a safety measure, though one I recommend from painful experience. It is always important to think ahead, and not just for the sake of your photographs.