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! 🙂

Take full advantage of your Smartphone for minimum cost

If you are like me, I’m always looking at how to reduce my costs and still get everything I really want. In this article I’m going to cover how to cut your Smartphone costs close to zero.

If you have a Smartphone that you need for business, or are a person that needs, or likes, to make a lot of voice calls for a lot of hours at anytime you want, or can’t wait to surf the net, then this article is probably not for you although it might contain some information that you might find useful.

Seeing as you are still reading I assume you are interested in cutting your mobile costs. Ask yourself “what do I generally do with my Smartphone?”. If you are like me, I use my Smartphone as a Pocket Computer. I generally use my Smartphone to consume information, access social media, to text, and to make the occasional call. Now let’s move onto what most probably interests you about this article – “how do I cut my costs close to zero?”.

Start by going with a minimum contract, or better still prepay. Now you need to understand what your Smartphone has, and how it communicates with the outside world. You have a mobile network (generally referred to as G3, G4 networks), Wifi, Bluetooth, and GPS (used for maps and localising where you are). The part that is costing you the money is the use of the G3, G4 mobile networks, so start by switching of “Mobile data”, or setting it to zero megabytes. NOTE VERY WELL: You don’t need “Mobile data” to make a call, receive a call, or to send an SMS, but do for MMS (does anyone send MMS’s nowadays?)!!! Another way of looking at it is that your Smartphone now has all the functionality of those fine Nokia phones of Yesteryear plus Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS. Wifi and GPS is what I need to make my phone “smart”! Always have Wifi and GPS turned on. A small tip, if you’re buying a new phone, try and get one that supports the latest Wifi protocols. For the big cost saving Wifi is the key, so let’s now talk about Wifi.

Most people have Internet at home and one can connect to the Internet via Wifi. There are now more and more public Wifi hotspots to connect to, and many bars, shops, restaurants, airports etc. have Wifi hotspots to connect to for free for their customers. With a Wifi connection you can now use your favourite Apps to make a call or send a text or make a call for free (WhatsApp, Facebook, Facetime, Skype etc.), although there is the limitation that you’re friends need to be online within that App. In a separate article I have written how to use your “home phone” number on your Smartphone by using a VOIP provider – Landline/Festnetz Telephony (VOIP). Making landline calls are generally a lot cheaper than making mobile calls in most lands.

If you are traveling do look at what your provider charges you. I find it an absolute cheek that you often get charged a lot for incoming calls by many providers and the cost is often quite significant. I recently deactivated my Sim on a trip abroad as my provider was charging far too much for outgoing and incoming calls. In this instance I used Apps liked those mentioned above and my “home phone” number to make calls using a VOIP App – read the article Landline/Festnetz Telephony (VOIP). You might find it in your interest to buy a local pre-pay Sim card, or even buy a package from your service provider, when abroad. Personally, I would go with a local pre-pay Sim card.

Something I find very useful, especially when abroad in unfamiliar territory is the App “Maps”.  “Maps” needs GPS so you generally don’t need mobile data or Wifi. You will need Wifi to initially plan your route. I would suggest planning your route and then downloading it for offline use. I find offline maps extremely useful when abroad and trying to find my way “home”.  To download an offline map search for an area, for example London, and not a specific address. This short video shows how:

To repeat, offline maps are perfect when no Wifi is available and you don’t want to use data connectivity (especially if you’re abroad!). Following on from the example above we can know plan a route within London as shown here:

I generally use an offline map to go from “my location” to somewhere I want to go to and just follow the blue dot. The blue dot shows your current location. Also note that the beam on the blue dot shows the direction you are facing if you are holding your phone in the same direction.

To summarise for absolute minimum costs:

  1. Go prepay
  2. Understand the difference between “Mobile data” and Wifi
  3. Utilise Wifi whenever possible
  4. Control that urge to quickly use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp when no Wifi is available
  5. Switch off “Mobile data” or make sure it’s set to zero Megabytes
  6. Switch off “Roaming”

You can still keep your costs low even if you buy and use a mobile data plan. Just remember to maximise Wifi data connectivity and ensure that your Apps don’t unnecessarily use Cellular data connectivity. Good practice is to just switch on “Mobile data” (Cellular data connectivity) when you need it, then switch it off when not using the phone or have Wifi.

Hope you have enjoyed this article. Make a comment if you have a tip you’d like to pass on.