PRE-TRAVEL SMART PHONE TIPS
Given the amount of dribble and dross many of us contend with whilst wading through social media in an attempt to find those few gems that seemingly make it worth it, it may come as a surprise to some people that your smartphone can be helpful for more than just telling your friends how great your life is.
There are a few things you may want to think about first. Among them are shitty cell service, expensive roaming charges, Wi-Fi so slow you’d rather it wasn’t working at all, and access to power. What good is a piece of revolutionary technology with more processing power than the first space craft, if you can’t connect to the internet or charge the battery.
I’m not going to go into what to do to get your phone working overseas here. However this is a list of a few things I do on my phone before I leave home so I don’t caught out when any of the above hit me. You might find some of them handy the next time you travel. Tell me if you have any more and I’ll add them.
Yeah yeah, I know. Fairly stupid to suggest using your smartphone as an actual phone. “What kind of shitty list is this?” you’re asking, but rest assured I’m just covering my bases in case you’re an idiot. I’m starting with the obvious.
- Consulate Office, or someone you can call in the event you get arrested for public nudity after the 12th shot of tequila.
- Your bank’s international number, specifically for lost or stolen cards. Not only helpful if you lose your bank card, but also if you get overseas and find your card doesn’t work. Trust me, it happens. I’d recommend taking some emergency cash as well.
- Home. Not only to check in and say hello, but just in case you’re in Vegas and gamble your ticket home on an inside straight only to lose it on the river. You bloody idiot.
- Hotels and airline numbers. It is easier to spend three minutes putting these in your phone at home than an hour trying to find a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can look online.
- Insurance company international number. Because sometimes you end up in Hong Kong and your bag ends up in Istanbul. No one knows how or why this happens, least of all the airline. At least you have your carry on!
Because I’m a bit of a worse-case-scenario thinker, I have them written down somewhere and tucked into my pack too. I’ve never needed them, but it’s nice to know they’re there.
USEFUL TRAVEL APPS
Here is a list of apps I have on my phone for when I travel:
- Google Translate – I seriously love this app. If you haven’t checked it out already, then you need to, especially the camera function. You can use this to translate text from a menu or a sign in real time. REAL TIME. It is unbelievably cool.
- CityMapper – Google Maps does a pretty good job of providing public transport options, but CityMapper does a few things different. Between the two, they’re a powerful combination.
- Skyscanner – If you don’t know about Skyscanner, then you should. I use them a lot for booking cheap flights. There are a number of other similar apps and services as well.
- TrabeePocket – This is a travel budget app that lets you keep track of your spending while you’re on the road in whatever currency you prefer. I like it because the interface is extremely simple to use.
- Booking.com, HostelWorld, AirBnb. There are a thousand travel accommodation apps. I use these three the most though.
- Google Trips – I have recently started using this and I have found it just ok, but there are a few things I do like about it. Mainly I needed something to organise my email confirmations into one place. Is it perfect? No. Not by a long shot, but it seems to do most of what I need it to.
- PIA VPN – I have written more about this below. I would recommend a VPN even when you’re on a WiFi you think you can trust.
If you use your phone as your camera, make sure you have enough space. You don’t want to run low while travelling and be forced to find a way of emptying it on the move. Maybe limit yourself to one picture of your cat while you’re away. OK two, but no more! Personally, I have way too many photos of Nicholas Cage. I send them to people when they ask me questions I don’t want to answer. They’re an interesting conversation starter if anyone is ever going through your phone too.
DOWNLOAD OFFLINE MAPS
Ever been lost? It is the end goal for a lot of travellers. You can wander the streets, getting a real feel for the city, and meet local people going about their normal day. It is the best way to find great food. Of course it helps knowing where you are when it is finally time to head back to wherever you’re sleeping.
I download offline Google maps to my phone before I go. The maps stay on your phone for 30 days, which is usually enough time.
- Go through and favourite all the places you think you’ll need. Hotels, tourist centres, pharmacies, Starbucks.
- Make the map available offline and let it download. They can get a bit large, so do it over Wi-Fi before you leave.
- Test it. Switch your phone to flight mode. Check you can open the maps and zoom in.
You wont be able to look up real time traffic information, or use walking directions, but you’ll have a good guide. Your GPS should still work too.
TURN OFF AUTO-UPDATES AND CLOUD SYNCING
I can be away from the internet for days or weeks. When I finally connect again the last thing I want is for my phone to start updating apps or uploading photos to the cloud while I’m trying to count how many new followers I have on Instagram. Before leaving, I change all updating and syncing on my phone to manual.
Aside from the inconvenience, if you’re paying roaming data charges, you do not want to be updating and syncing over mobile data, and coming home to a lovely large phone bill. We’ve all heard the horror stories. You could be the next person we read about and say “Twenty grand? How the shit do you burn through twenty grand of data?”
Remember to turn this back on later!
TURN OFF EMAIL SYNCING AND PUSH NOTIFICATIONS
Like the above, this will help save you time and data. I have four email accounts on my phone, including one for my work. I turn all of these to manually sync, meaning I have to open the app and the refresh it before emails will appear. It gives me more control and stops all of this happening as soon as I connect to Wi-Fi.
Push notifications are the same. This is mainly to stop everything from happening the moment I reconnect.
SAVE TRAVEL DOCUMENTS AND A PHOTO OF YOUR PASSPORT
Save all your travel documents to your phone. I make a single page hard copy as well, but it helps to have them stored on your phone. Make sure you can reference it easily and you’ll save yourself a bunch of stress while trying to remember if you should be somewhere at 5AM or 5PM.
Make sure your passport photo is clear, you can read the passport number and the expiry date. Also make sure someone can tell it is actually you in the photo. If you lose it or have it stolen, the details will be helpful in getting your old passport cancelled and a new one issued.
TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATIONS CODES
If you have two factor authentication on any of your accounts, then you should consider if you will need to access these accounts while you are away. For example, on a new computer, when logging into Gmail with two-factor authentication, you will be sent a code via SMS. All well and good, if your phone is working. If it isn’t, you’re shit out of luck.
You can however, generate backup codes prior to leaving. These will work in the event you do not have access to your phone. I always do this for my email account. I can do without getting onto social media, but I need to get onto my email account for tickets, reservations etc.
PUT EVERYTHING IN YOUR CALENDAR
I add everything into my calendar before I leave as well. Actually I’m pretty sure my phone does most of it for me. But I check the information is there. Just some basics: Company, Reservation Number, Time and Date. I add reminders too, in case I am so deliriously happy being where I am, I totally forget I have a bus to catch the following morning at 5am.
I carry a couple of apps or shows to watch when everything else has failed me. Some airlines do not have entertainment systems, and having a few classic movies may save you from collapsing under the weight of oppressing boredom. Some airlines, like Virgin Australia, have entertainment apps that you can download and connect to their in-flight wireless. It pays to do that before you leave as well.
CAMERA WIRELESS APP
My camera, like a lot of cameras, has a wireless backup app that allows me to download all my camera photos to my phone. Losing my photos would cause me some pain, so I tend to keep up with that most evenings. Make sure this is downloaded and working before you leave.
CONSIDER GETTING A VPN
If you don’t know what a VPN is, let me explain it to you briefly, then you can go and research it some more. You could start here for example.
Most Wi-Fi connections are insecure in some way, especially if you’re in the habit of logging onto WiFi access points with names like ‘Honest-Free-NoVirus-Internet’. It is relatively simple to capture the information you send over a WiFi connection, or fool you into connecting to the wrong access point.
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, creates an encrypted path between your device, such as your phone or your laptop, and your VPN provider. Your VPN provider then talks to the internet for your, and encrypts the replies before sending them back to your device. It means that anyone who tries to capture what you are sending over WiFi will only get garbage they can’t understand.
Here’s what I did:
- I paid for a subscription to Private Internet Access (PIA). From them I received a username and password.
- I downloaded their app onto my phone and my laptop, then enter my username and password details.
- When I connect to a WiFi access point, I let the PIA VPN app connect.
- I continue to surf the internet like normal.
As I mentioned, I pay for one called Private Internet Access (PIA). It works on my Windows laptop and my Android phone. If you’re an IOS/Apple user, then I have very smart friends who recommend Get Cloak for all your devices. I recommend doing your own research as well.
As with many things like this, there are some drawbacks.
- Speed is probably the main one. Because you are sending all your traffic to your VPN provider, your internet speed may suffer. This is acceptable considering the alternative.
- VPNs are illegal in some countries, such as China, Turkey, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Oman and Russia. This is because those governments are unable to snoop on what you are doing, so they’ve banned them.
- Private Internet Access is an American company, so there is the risk of the American government watching everything. If you’re OK with that, then you should be fine.
Remember to pack your phone charger and a travel adaptor. I take a power strip as well. I also have a power bank. It is basically a backup battery for my phone and camera. If you carry a bit of tech gear, then look into them. I have a Xiaomi 20000mah power bank. There are apparently a lot of knock off versions, so try to buy a legit one. It should charge my phone and camera about 4 times each before needing to be recharged.
I’m sure there are a lot of other things, so feel free to let me know in the comments.