Tips on how to use your Smartphone as a travel survival kit

As I have written in a previous post, ones Smartphone is much more than just a phone. I view my Smartphone as a pocket PC. Recently I’ve been travelling in unfamiliar foreign lands, namely SE Asia and Russia. I was also doing a lot of moving about from place-to-place and in areas whereby people only spoke in their mother tongue, or languages that I did not understand. I was in remote places so needed to figure out how to get from A to B and the best form of Transport to get me there. I was not alone and travelling with other people that I wanted to stay in contact with, besides contacting friends back home. Finally, like most people, I wanted to travel on a sensible budget and still not have to forego those small luxuries. Following is a summary of how I used my Smartphone to help me achieve my goals.

My Smartphone is an Android phone, but I’ll try and keep this post as generic as possible as it doesn’t really matter what flavour of Operating System (Android, IOS etc.) as long as you have a Smartphone.

I tried for a while to live with just using WiFi for data connectivity, but discovered it was worthwhile to purchase a local Sim card. In Russia I purchased a Sim card that gave me more than enough cellular data, 15GB, for a month, and this for a small price (approx $10). I used a second Smartphone for my foreign Sim card, but I could’ve also replaced my current Sim card  or used the 2nd Sim slot on my dual-Sim phone. Study first to ensure you get the type of service you want from a local Sim card. Maybe your Service Provider provides a good package for when you leave your homeland and buying a foreign Sim is not necessary. Obviously, if you replace your home Sim card, you have the disadvantage of not being able to receive SMS’s or phone calls on your usual number. I disabled my home Sim card as the charges for incoming calls were far too high. I made use of one of the many Apps to make/receive calls (WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, Facebook etc.), or connected to my VOIP landline number from my Smartphone to make/receive calls (see Landline/Festnetz Telephony (VOIP) for more information on this).

Another consideration, if you are travelling as a group, is just for one of you to buy a good data package like I did in Russia. One can set up the phone that has the data package installed as a Hotspot (on my Android phone “Settings/Network & Internet/Hotspot & Tethering). This will enable your companion(s) to connect to the phone via WiFi and then surf the Internet. Obviously your companion(s) have to be in WiFi range.

Now you have an idea of how you can make and receive calls at little to no cost, and on how to get on to the Internet without being charged a fortune let’s move on to the type of Apps I found really useful.

If you haven’t booked all your flights and accommodation before you left home, you’ll want an Apps like Skyscanner, Tripadvisor, etc to find you flights, and Apps like Agoda, AirBnB, Tripadvisor etc. to find your accommodation.

When trying to get from A to B it’s very advisable to use a “Maps” application. I use the default Maps application on my phone, Google Maps, but there are plenty of other good “Maps” Apps. Nowadays when travelling you don’t actually need to purchase a GPS for your car as your phone is equipped with GPS and will give you directions including verbal directions. I recommend you read my article Take full advantage of your Smartphone for minimum cost for more information and to ensure you don’t unnecessarily use Cellular data which could cause additional cost.

Another excellent App is “translate”. Once again I used what came with my phone, Google Translate. You can either type things in, or you can speak to your phone but it is recommended that you prepare things while online with WiFi and download the appropriate language dictionary for offline use.

There are usually Apps for local transport so try and find out what they are and install them on your phone. I did quite a bit of travelling by Taxi and used Taxi hailing Apps similar to Uber. The App called Yandex worked well for me in Russia, and an App called Grab was also good in SE Asia. You can at least use the Apps to  get a good idea what the cost of a journey is if you want to try and catch a cab on the Street.

One final tip, make sure you fully understand the difference between cellular data and WiFi data. Cellular data can cost a lot, whereas WiFi is usually free nowadays. If you only have a limitted Cellular data package then I recommend you only switch Cellular/Mobile data on when you need it (on my phone I go to “Settings/Network & Interet/Mobile network” and switch off “Mobile data” and “Roaming”, and only switch it on when required).

Happy Holidays! 🙂