How Smartphones should Change the Way you Travel

I´m a big believer in integrating new technology into my travel experiences so the spread of the ubiquitous smartphone has been revolutionary for me. As I still remember the (bad old) days of traveling with a paper guidebook, it should be imperative that you maximise the potential of your phone when traveling. In this article I’m going to give you some tips on how you can better utilize your smartphone on a trip.
This is a no-brainer for me. I am flummoxed when I bump into foreign tourists who have turned off the internet on their smartphones because of ‘roaming charges’. If you are in a country for more than one day, buy a local SIM! (I’ve lowered this from ‘a few days’ with the increase in a smartphone’s usefulness over the last 5 years)
Not only will it give access to a myriad of vital apps and maps, it will also save you money – a lot more money for me than the investment in the SIM on all my trips.
While you can still use the wifi available at your accommodation or in cafes and restaurants, without access to the internet when you are strolling through the streets, on transport or at a secluded beach, it will end up costing you more money and a lot more time than the price of the SIM.
SIM cards
My SIM card collection – one for each country that I’ve spent more than 3 days in
With a smartphone you can research all travel information directly in the palm of your hand – transport timetables, the local history, the local nightlife and most importantly maps all in real time.
Map Latin America
Google Maps – indispensable for traveling!
You don’t need a cumbersome paper guidebook which I have considered obsolete for several years now (you should read a separate article here on how I now feel about them).
If you still want to read a more traditional guidebook like the Lonely Planet, you can still do so on your phone so jettison the bulky paperback and embrace digital!
Need to search for a launderette? A restaurant? A bureau de change? Map apps (like GoogleMaps) or specific travel apps (like TripAdvisor) make this so much simpler. You can find what you are looking for in real time.
Need to checkin for your flight? Pay for transport? Your entrance to a concert? Most of this can be done on your smartphone so the convenience is obvious to a traveler. Airbnb and will allow you to find accommodation at the right price as you are traveling to a new destination so you don’t have to go searching for accommodation wandering the streets.
Smartphones also allow you access to multiple sources of entertainment while traveling, like music, film, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, books, the news etc so a 10-hour bus or train ride can be an opportunity to chill with your phone.
Mangueira Selfie Rio de Janeiro carnival
A selfie from my iPhone from the Mangueira samba school at the carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I often use these trips to catch up on world events, work on my travel itinerary, write and post my articles, and improve my language skills (with audio courses and videos). Nowadays you don’t have to sacrifice productivity and leisure time as most of this is now possible on mobile devices.
One of my pet hates with traveling is encountering dishonest taxi drivers or the ‘taxi mafia’ as I like to refer to them. Uber allows you to circumvent the costly cartel practices that I’ve encountered in many countries but even if a service like Uber does not exit, taxi apps in general allow you to order a taxi without worrying about being ripped off, plus many apps also you to pay electronically and receive a receipt in your inbox.
Security is paramount when traveling and a smartphone allows you to increase your personal safety in many ways. First of all, you can research any specific security risks in the region you are visiting. Secondly, with quicker access to apps for transport and maps, you can exit a dangerous situation faster and more securely plus you will spend less time wandering around at night trying to find where you’re going.
For example, I came across a lost drunk European tourist in the Pelourinho of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil during the carnival. He could not find his hotel even though he had a smartphone (no local SIM so the internet was disabled). I got some local friends to drop him at his hotel before he was inevitably going to get robbed in such a dangerous part of the city. By simply having properly access to his maps, you would have avoided placing himself in such peril.
here is also increased traceability (the app will link back to a real identity). This helps a lot in countries where there is a risk of being robbed by taxi drivers, for example. A smartphone is also more discreet than carrying a large camera with you (such cameras are also a regular target of thieves and harder to conceal from view than a phone). You should of course always be careful of where you take out your smartphone as they can also attract the thieves that you are trying to avoid.
A snap from the carnival in Olinda, Brazil – made possible by my iPhone
I strongly recommend that you bring your smartphone (with a local SIM) to save money and time as well as enhancing the enjoyment you get from your trips. I could not imagine returning to the pre-smartphone age of travel – the benefits have been transformative!

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