An Ode to Our iPhones and All the Apps We Love
If you're going on a long distance or long-term trip, read this post! I bet there's something in here that you didn't know about. :)
We put our cell phone plans on hold before we left. We have iPhones, which essentially work the same as a tablet without a data plan. Most of our family and friends have iPhones so we are able to use WiFi to send iMessages and FaceTime when needed. If we get to a country where we need to be able to make calls using the local cell towers, we can get a local SIM card for pretty cheap, usually $10-15.
The Blue Dot and Google Maps
iPhones are great for the features above, but perhaps our favorite feature is the blue dot and Google Maps. We discovered right away that the blue dot still works, even without a data plan! Once we get to a new country, we get on WiFi and mess with Google Maps until the blue dot finds where we are. Once you zoom in on a city and scroll around, Google Maps saves the streets and you're able to reference it wherever you are. No annoying paper maps needed! We can blend in with the locals. We assume it's using satellites to track us when we're not connected to WiFi.
We see tourists and backpackers with maps and guide books wandering around, looking at street signs all the time. How does everyone not know about the blue dot?! We've told a few people but they thought it was too creepy and big brother-ish for their phone to know where they are all the time. Blake and I think it's great! We can plan walking routes, train routes, and pinpoint places of interest before we leave our hotel. Then the blue dot shows us where we are and follows us while we're walking so we know if we're going the right way.
If you look closely, you will also see a little arrow attached to the blue dot. This signifies which direction you're facing. This is especially helpful when you get off a train, for instance, and need to figure out which way to walk. Instead of just starting to walk to see which way the blue dot moves on your screen, you can just reference the arrow. Turn your phone and the arrow moves to show which direction your phone is facing now. It's genius and we don't look like obvious tourists walking around. This has been essential in some of the more aggressive countries that rely on tourists to make money. We blend in a little better and don't look so vulnerable.
What if we don't plan out a route for the day and just want to wander? Google maps will show us where to go! Have you ever noticed the tan/orange areas on the map? These are 'areas of interest' that are heavily concentrated with restaurants, hotels, attractions, etc. We will purposely walk to or through those areas to see something interesting. We also pay attention to the symbols on the map. You can see popular places marked with symbols for eating, shopping, train stations, cinemas, theatres, monuments, etc.
Its great for the video chat function, but it's also great for making calls to landlines. You do have to pay for this feature but it's super cheap. We put $10 worth of credit on Skype at the beginning of our trip and we still have $4 left. We've had instances where we've needed to call an airline or get in touch with our bank back home. Instead of trying to find a phone, we just use Skype.
We keep the app on our phone for urgent situations when we're out and about and don't have our computer, We can pop into a cafe and get on WiFi to use the Skype app for a call. You just talk into the phone like normal.
If you don't use an iPhone or need to talk to someone that doesn't have an iPhone, you can communicate on WhatsApp for free! It's just like texting and it also makes calls to the other person. This is also crucial to have if you're doing any long term travel. It's a very popular international app and comes in handy. We've used it to communicate with our Airbnb hosts, tour guides, etc.
Possibly our lifesaver for this trip. After all, when you're backpacking you can't afford to add extra weight and bulk to your pack. And can you imagine me trying to lug around 15 guide books for all the countries we've been to? Or buying those guide books full price for $25 each? Plus we wanted to be able to read in our downtime. Blake signed up for a 30 day trial so we could try it out. It's been amazing!
Here's What We Like About It
1. You can have up to 10 books at a time. (Why would we need 10 books? One book each for reading, one in the queue, one or two for the country we're visiting and however many needed for the countries we're visiting next.)
2. One kindle account works on two devices. Blake signed up and my phone counts as "Blakes second iPhone" so we both have access to all our books.
3. It's only $10 a month for access to 10 books at a time within the Unlimited Library.
4. We've been able to find a Lonely Planet book for every country/city we've visited. Often times it's the older version (usually 2014/2015) that's part of Unlimited but it hasn't been a problem for us.
5. The Kindle Unlimited App is super easy to use and you can access all of your books without WiFi, once you've downloaded them on your phone.
6. I've been happy with the book selection so far! I've read 15 novels since we left, including all 7 of the Harry Potter books. :)
Great for keeping a to do list or anything you want, really! I don't have to worry about carrying around a pen and paper if I need to write something down or reference something later. In fact, I'm writing this blog post in the Notes app on my phone right now, while we're on the train back to our Airbnb!
Besides the obvious.... consider taking pictures or screenshots of things that you may need to reference later. We will look up restaurants online and then take screen shots so we remember what makes them good. When we get to a new country and are figuring out the public transit, we can just take a picture of the map instead of having to mess with a paper copy. Blake is good about looking up common phrases in the local language and then taking a screenshot. He then uses the photo on his 'lock screen' so he can quickly reference the language as needed.
I wasn't thinking when I bought a travel alarm clock for our trip. Of course, my phone knows where I'm at and will adjust to the time. Or if it isn't adjusting properly, I can choose which city I want in the settings and it will adjust the time accordingly. We can easily use our phone alarm clocks instead of the one I bought.
When we have WiFi, we can get on the app and let all the news articles load by scrolling through. Then when we are away from WiFi, the articles are still loaded and we can go back and read them. I'm sure there are other news apps that do the same thing.
Favorite Travel Booking Apps
These apps are just as easy to use on a phone as they are on their regular website.
1. Hotels.com (and they often give discounts for booking with the app!)