In the old days (meaning a little over a decade ago), vacations used to be about unplugging and getting away from it all. Now, it’s hard to imagine going on a trip without checking-in at the Sistine Chapel, following up on work email, uploading pictures of the sandy white beach you’re on or using a translator application to find the nearest bathroom.
These days, smartphones give us tons of options when roaming the world. While sometimes it is good to leave your device in your hotel room’s safe it can also be an invaluable travel companion that keeps you connected, gives guidance and helps you better enjoy your vacation.
Whether you’re taking a trip to a couple states over or heading to the Far East, here are some ways you can travel smarter through the powerful of your smartphone.
CONNECT FOR CHEAP
WiFi is a godsend when traveling, as it usually possesses no strict usage limits and is an instant portal to the online world. Most smartphones come with a WiFi locator preinstalled, but if you can’t find yours you can always download an app like WiFi Finder, which will alert you of any hotspots in the area. You can also visit wififreespot.com and click on the state where you are traveling. This site provides you with detailed information on many WiFi hot spots in the United States and a few other countries.
Going out of the country? No need to freak out over roaming charges. Services like National Geographic’s Cellular Abroad (cellularabroad.com) allow you to not only have a local cell phone number but also pay local rates when you rent or buy an inexpensive phone from them or purchase a “local” SIM card.
Another option for making free or cheap calls is using Skype over WiFi. Just like on your computer, Skype mobile allows you to talk to anyone anywhere in the world, for free, by calling his or her computer. You can also call phones for pennies per minute. Just be sure to connect over WiFi so you don’t risk using your data or incurring roaming charges.
SCOUT THE AREA
From a planned day of sun and surf to an unexpected downpour keeping you inside, weather can change your plans in a hurry. Make sure you keep ahead of Mother Nature by downloading apps such as AccuWeather or Weatherbug and syncing them to your destination’s zip code.
Unless you know the place you’re visiting like the back of your hand, you will definitely want to load your device with maps of the area and utilize the device’s GPS. If you are in a WiFi zone, connect to an app such as Google Maps or ForeverMap for faster service. Make sure you then zoom around the area you are going to mainly be in and the map will stay loaded on your phone. You’ll love not asking for directions.
Spontaneous vacations where you wing it can be an exhilarating experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be somewhat prepared. Apps such as goby (goby.com), Yelp (yelp.com) and AroundMe (aroundmeapp.com) connect you to what’s going on—Giving you limitless options of where to go and what to do. You can search for local events as well as venues such as banks, bars, gas stations, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and more.
GRAB YOUR GEAR
After spending the early years of your childhood figuring out how to count money you soon learn not everyone uses the same currency. Fortunately, that doesn’t matter when you download apps like XE Currency Converter or the Currency App, which help make sense out of denominations from around the world.
Using the wrong words to unintentionally call a large man “sweet cheeks” could possibly, maybe, probably ruin your trip. Good thing there are ways smartphones can let you easily, and correctly, converse with the locals. Apps such as Jibbigo, Babelfish and Google Translate let you speak directly into your phone and translates into the language needed, showing the statement as text or actually speaking it for you.
Southwest, Delta and several other airlines now give you more power than ever with their own mobile apps—No more waiting for long check-in lines or running wildly through the airport. Most of the airline apps allow you to book reservations and car rentals, check in for your flight, get an eBoarding pass, check your flight´s status, view or change your seat, track your checked bag like you track a package, find airport information and more.
Remembering every key travel detail for your trip can make your head spin. Fortunately, smartphones make it easy to recall all that crucial information. Apps like TripIt (tripit.com) and Travelport ViewTrip (travelportviewtripmobile.com) allow travelers to enter their itineraries — airline, hotel, car rental reservations, etc. — and stay abreast of developments, changes and delays. Some even offer multi-functionality with currency converters, weather viewers, maps, to do lists and more.
Smartphones are quickly becoming our go-to resource for almost everything these days, including making payments. And now, everything in your wall can be on your phone. When you turn your device into a mobile wallet it enables you to buy products and tickets, perform mobile banking, utilize coupons and more. Check out Google Wallet (google.com/wallet) and Isis (paywithisis.com) to get in on the future of commerce.