I remember when I studied abroad in London back in 2007 it was a big deal to even have a cell phone that worked. I bought a cheap phone that only could call and text with (not even in color) and “topped” it up occasionally. I also used to carry around a spiral bound atlas almost an inch thick, that’s right, an entire book of all the streets in London so I always knew where to go. Today I’m not sure what I’d do without Google Maps.
I can’t even imagine traveling or going anywhere without my cellphone. But while cellphones have made life more convenient, traveling with one across countries is still quite a pain. Here’s how I travel with my smartphone (currently an iPhone 6).
SEE MORE: 5 Ways to Keep in Touch While You Travel
1 Unlocking? What’s This?
Back in the beginning of smartphone time in the States phones would be “locked” and tied to a certain carrier or country. Now it is less common for this happen. Check with your cell phone company but you should be able to pop in any SIM card into your phone and have it work.
2 Stay On Your Plan
If you are only traveling out of the country for a short period of time it might be worth it to pay your carrier for an international plan. Usually they charge by the day a fee to keep using your phone as you would at home. One note though, I’ve found that sometimes the service isn’t as stellar as using a local SIM card and that you tend to use much more data then you do at home.
3 Buy a Local SIM Card
If you are going to be in the country for at least a week or so, buying a local SIM card is the best way to go. You can go into pretty much any phone store, show them what kind of phone you have and tell them how long you’ll need a plan for. They’ll usually ask for your passport and you’ll pay a small fee for the SIM card. In most countries you can pay as you go adding money to your phone as you use it at local convenience stores and bodegas. They will have a sign outside saying that you can refill your phone at that location. If you plan on being somewhere longer some countries have a monthly rate or plan that you can sign up for in the phone store.
4 Just Use Wifi
Nowadays wifi is so common you barely even need cell service. And most of the time I just use the wifi while my phone is on airplane mode. Check that your hotel has wifi in the reviews online. Most local cafes, restaurants and bars also have wifi and lots of countries now have free wifi in public spaces (in NYC there is wifi in the parks).
The apps that I find are must haves are GoogleMaps and CityMaps2Go and I can use them even when I’m not connected to wifi. Although it seems a little redundant to have two map apps I like to have both of them for different reasons. GoogleMaps you can now pre download maps ahead of time and the little blue dot will update with your location automatically. I like to separately use CityMaps2Go (also a pre downloaded map) because it has a more tourist friendly directory of popular hotels, restaurants and attractions.
5 Go Phone Free!
And last but not least. Sometimes it’s the most fun to just go phone free. Use a real old fashioned paper map, ask locals for directions or just get lost on purpose. You might miss something while you’re looking down.
photo: via Unsplash