Perhaps the most crucial item you could take on your travels is your smartphone. Now there may be a temptation to use your phone to stay connected with everyone on Facebook, Twitter, or the latest news. This isn’t ideal when you’re supposed to be a pilgrim in a new land.
Be sure to protect it from water using a reliable sealed plastic bag. The same thing goes for your passport.
You have probably seen the pictures of refugees coming and travelling across terrible terrain with very little in their possession. But they all have their phones. Why? Not because they’re expensive, as nowadays many phones can be pretty cheap, but because they hold all the relevant information and memories of these people fleeing their homeland.
So let’s discuss what’s so important about having a smartphone.
GPS. Unless you’re in a place like Marrakesh, where you will need to rely on a compass to get around, you will need a GPS application on your phone. The GPS can help you orient yourself. Over the years, I found it particularly useful coming out of subways and metro where I’m unsure which direction I’m facing.
Honestly, I have no idea how I managed to travel around Europe without GPS; of course, I wasn’t driving either in those days. I remember getting our very first TomTom back in 2006 in Europe. At the time, it cost almost $1000, and I swear I would have killed my partner if we hadn’t got it.
GPS is standard on your phone, but various other maps and applications can be helpful. Yes, you can download some maps to view offline, but if you want to operate in real-time, you need a data plan.
Most of us have smartphones, so I will assume that is not an issue. However, determining how to get data to use your phone as you travel is another matter. If your smartphone is an older model, you will have to obtain a hard SIM chip unless you’re willing to pay exorbitant roaming fees with your current plan.
Purchasing the Right Data Pack for your Smartphone
The future is eSims cards, and all the newer models of Smartphones will have access to this, but for the time being, if you have an older phone that doesn’t access eSim then you will need to purchase a Sim chip card.
If you are travelling in the US, I recommend prepaid T-Mobile sim cards.
Don’t be tempted to try a get a US phone card. I realize it looks pretty cheap, and it is, but unless you have a US address to use AND are going to be staying (in my view) over a month – stick with the prepaid data cards.
Just be sure to order it in time for it to be delivered before you start your trip. In addition, activate your phone package a day earlier than needed. It is tempting to wait until the last minute, but it can take up to 24 hours to kick in.
Setting up eSim Packages
Personally, I use various data packs eSim cards from Airalo.
You can get them for various lengths, locations and amounts of data. They can always be “topped up,” so DO NOT remove/delete the eSim from your phone.
The instructions are very straightforward and easy to use.
The next challenge is what to turn on and off. Go to Settings and click on Cellular to set it up.
To the right is a screenshot of my iPhone.
You will see I have four different Sims. The first is my personal one from Canada. I have this turned off while outside Canada. Otherwise, I keep getting SMSs telling me to purchase a roaming package.
The second and third are eSims from Airalo. I purchased a 30-day package when we went to the US last October and then used a worldwide package for the rest of our trip. I bought a 20 GB for 180 days which was good in 84 countries.
The USA one has expired, but I keep it there for future top-ups should it be needed. The “Travel” one is still good for another 30 days, and I used it when we were in Iceland last week.
Costs vary, so it is worthwhile to determine your needs. Also, it will become prohibitive if you plan on streaming content. Use your hotel WiFi for that.
Now the fourth Sim is the one I am using because we are here in NYC for the next three months. I got a small package in case I need to make calls or use the internet while I am not home. It is my default voice line, but when I was travelling, I used my Personal sim for voice even though it wasn’t working.
Final note, you can toggle between data Sims if both are operative.
Applications on Your Smartphone
The only other thing you might be wondering is, “What about my applications like Facetime or WhatsApp that are tied to my phone number?”.
Don’t worry. They aren’t affected.
I’m fortunate because most of my family and friends use iPhone products. That means I can send an iMessage similar to an SMS, without worrying about having a phone plan.
Even so, FaceTime and the ever-popular WhatsApp application are always an option. I strongly recommend opening and setting yourself up a WhatsApp account. As I’ve mentioned in another blog post, WhatsApp is mainly used in Asia to connect with service providers.
I don’t know how you feel about Uber, but it’s a convenient app to set up. You never know when you might need to get a ride.
It’s also worthwhile to look in the various applications for free items related to the places you will visit. Some apps you might want to consider include city maps, transit routes, local taxis, local events, and tourist guides. You can also get apps that track your flights, hotel bookings, car rentals, etc.
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