Smartphone Essentials for International Travel

Planning a trip abroad? With smartphones and technology constantly changing, it can be hard to figure out your calling, texting and data options for foreign travel. Check “figure out phone stuff” off your to-do list with these cell phone tips for your next international trip.

Service Options

While some travelers will choose to turn on their data plan and rely solely on Wi-Fi while abroad to avoid additional costs, it’s generally a good idea to have some kind of service. There are two ways to get service abroad on your current smartphone. The first, and usually the most convenient, is to go through your domestic wireless carrier. Each cell network has at least one option for international roaming, which will allow you to use your phone for calls, data and messages. Some carriers offer free international roaming at a slower speed, others offer a rate per call or text and some offer a flat-rate plan for unlimited usage. The second option is to unlock your phone and then purchase a prepaid SIM card for each country you visit. Depending on how many countries you plan to visit and how long you plan to travel, this may be the more affordable option. However, note that with a foreign SIM card, you will have a foreign phone number, so cannot be reached via text or voice call with your U.S. number.

In-flight Texting

On those long international flights, you’ll be grateful for an in-flight messaging option. One way to stay in touch while you are in the air is to download a messaging app like Viber or WhatsApp and then purchase the in-flight Wi-Fi, although message recipients will also need to have those apps. Alternately, if you have T-Mobile, you get free unlimited messaging during flights with Gogo wireless, including in-flight texting, picture messaging and access to T-Mobile Visual Voicemail (you also get an hour of free in-flight Wi-Fi).

Useful Apps

Beyond basic communication, the right apps can turn your smartphone into everything from a tour guide to a translator. Download these useful apps before your trip.

  1. Google Maps– This one is probably already on your phone, but if not, get it now. It is the most reliable map app across the board and can help you navigate walking, driving and mass transit travel in any foreign country.
  2. Google Translate– While you’re downloading Google products, give Google Translate a try. This app can translate between lots of languages in some pretty awesome ways. It allows you take a picture of a street sign and will translate it, which is pretty helpful, especially when you’re working with a different alphabet. You can also say a phrase you want to communicate into the phone in English and the app will speak the translation.
  3. Amount– This app not onlyhelps you convert currency, which will be so helpful when you’re wondering if that perfect souvenir is actually $2 or $200, but it also converts units like clothing sizes, speed limits and cooking measurements.

4. Like a Local – Like a Local is great for getting away from usual tourist spots. The app gets actual long-time locals to suggest and review their favorite spots. The app has a real-time smart stream that will show you what is open near you and offline map options, too.

Andy Higgs
Andy Higgs

I know what it's like to go from being a crazy backpacker without a care in the world, via being a vaguely sensible parent to being an adventurer once more. In other words, evolving into a Grown-up Traveller.

Like everyone else, I love to travel, have visited a lot of countries and all that but my big thing is Africa.

I also own and run The Grown-up Travel Company as a travel designer creating personalised African itineraries for experienced adventurers

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