5 Tips for Using Technology and Smartphones Overseas

For me, part of the beauty of an international trip is not having regular cell service. It’s wonderful to just connect with the person you’re traveling with and meet new people in actual real life. What a concept, right? I actually talked to a complete stranger standing at a market in Madrid because it’s not like I could check Twitter. And you know what? That stranger was incredibly interesting and fun (and got me to try a drink that has become one of my favorites even now that I’m back in the States). Swiping right on this delicious concoction… As you plan your summer trip abroad, keep these tech tips in mind to get the most out of actually being there.

sangria and sweet dry vermut to occupy my hands instead of a smartphone

sangria and sweet dry vermut to occupy my hands instead of a smartphone

And yet, while it’s all good and freeing to kick the incessant social-media-checking for a few days while abroad, my iPhone proved to be incredibly useful as I traversed 3 new countries.

  1. When you get on your flight, put your phone into Airplane Mode. And then leave it in Airplane mode until you land back in the States. I didn’t pay for international cell service for my two week trip, because wifi is glorious and freely available in most developed countries. I had iMessage to communicate with a few key people when needed, email access to let me parents know I was not “Taken” and, most useful of all, a little internet device when I needed to look up a place to eat or how to get somewhere. And, the beauty of Airplane Mode is it will never use your cell service. Your phone is basically an expensive paperweight (and camera) when you’re not in range of free wifi.
  2. Streamline your tech options. The beauty of the smartphone is that it functions as a phone, a camera, and a mini computer in the palm of your hand. If you’re traveling overseas, streamline what you bring. Depending on what you’re doing while you travel, your iPhone camera could suffice as your main photography option for most of the trip (in fact, even these skyline photos of Madrid are from an iPhone). Unless you need to work or study while abroad, I’d advise against bringing an iPad.
  3. Ditch the Kindle or e-Reader. I save up my print copies of The Economist before shorter domestic flights, and if I really think I’ll have time to read (like on an international flight) I head to my local Goodwill and pick up a 50-cent paperback I’d like to read. This way, I can leave it in the airport or hotel for another bored traveler once I’m done with it. It streamlines what I have to lug around and I don’t feel guilty ditching a thrifted book.
  4. Take advantage of free GPS. Did you know that your GPS-maps (like iPhone Maps or Google Maps) on your smartphone function even without wifi OR cell service? Completely for FREE? All you have to do is open and load up the app when you’re connected to wifi in that city, and even after you’ve headed off on an adventure and are out of wifi range, the blue dot will still track you and display the map. It’s a little creepy and a little magical. The turn-by-turn directions won’t work, but it’s a discreet way of checking whats around you and getting a lay of the land.
  5. Look for McDonald’s or Starbucks. I know, I know, you’ve just gone halfway across the world and I’m suggesting you go to a US chain restaurant? While McDonald’s in other countries can be their own interesting experiences (like lounge-style cafes in Spanish Micky-D’s that use an authentic espresso machine to make you a real latte) the two chains also provide free wifi at an astounding number of locations internationally. If you do get lost or need to contact someone, look out for one of these familiar logos, stop in (or just stand outside) and you’ll have access to iMessage and the internet.

Adventure is out there, and technology can help us find it. But sometimes we’re so connected online that it’s easy to forget the simple joys of turning off and just connecting with the world around us. You can always post that photo as a #latergram, anyways.

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