Traveling with your smartphone can be expensive. The story of a friend coming home from vacation to find they have racked up nearly $1,000 in cell phone fees is far too familiar. You can mitigate those international calling fees with just a few simple steps before you leave the country.
It is not difficult to operate on airplane mode while abroad if you prepare accordingly. If you must turn on your cell phone when in another country, make sure your mail is not polling automatically and sign up for a small international plan for data, texting, or calling through your provider.
Take advantage of these apps to stay connected and avoid a massive phone bill:
Skype is the most inexpensive way to communicate with your loved ones back home. Rather than using your comparatively expensive international cell phone plan, you can talk to anyone (even non-Skype users) by adding credits in your Skype account. As long as you have access to Wi-Fi, you can call any phone. I have used this travel app to field business calls from an internet cafe in Thailand and to call friends from my hotel in Cancun. The rates are reasonable and I have rarely needed more than $10 to carry me through a vacation.
City Maps 2Go
Since Google Maps and your built-in map app rely on a data connection and GPS to function, you will need something that will allow you to navigate a city untethered from your cell phone provider while abroad. Download the map from City Maps 2Go when you have access to Wi-Fi, then take it with you even if you’re offline. This is the digital equivalent to paper maps (remember those?) and allows you to navigate your chosen city without a data connection.
It will not be able to pinpoint your location when you’re offline or give you traffic information, but the digital cartography will afford you a full map of your downloaded locale that you can zoom into and search by address, which is a vast improvement to the paper variety. You can even look up restaurants, gas stations, cultural attractions, and do many of the things that you have been accustomed to as a digital map user. A note to the Garmin generation: you will need to know how to read a map.
YouMail is your voicemail on steroids. It has a number of useful functions including custom outgoing messages, the ability to save your voicemails indefinitely, or even email your voicemails to colleagues. However, YouMail’s most useful function when traveling abroad is the fact that it will send you an email when you have a voicemail in your inbox or alert you on your smartphone app. Typically when your data plan is turned off or you are on airplane mode, you can’t retrieve your voicemail because it’s tied to your phone plan. This travel app circumvents that so you will always know when someone calls. Unfortunately, this does not apply to text messaging. You will not be able to receive your text messages until you reconnect to your service provider. The only exception is iPhone to iPhone messaging, which can function over Wi-Fi in lieu of SMS.
TripIt is especially useful for organizing all your travel documentation such as plane ticket confirmations, hotel check-ins, rental cars, and train passes. This travel app is especially helpful if you’ll be hopping from city to city on your trip. It will give you gate information, the duration of your flight, phone numbers to airlines and rental companies, connecting flight information, maps of your destination, and more. TripIt synchronizes with a number of other travel apps, and a pro account will track your points, find you alternate flights, and alert you to changes in your plans due to cancellations, delays, or gate changes. It is also very handy when planning group trips, whether the trip is with work colleagues, friends, or family. Trip It makes it easy to share your itinerary and pertinent travel information with people you know, so you can all be on the same page.
I love Postagram for sending postcards when I’m abroad. I love correspondence and getting postcards in the mail, but finding postage and trying to find a way to physically mail a postcard while I’m in another country can be slightly tedious. With this travel app, I can send a picture of myself in front of the Taj Mahal to my best friend or my grandma. The digital age makes it possible to send a postcard with a picture from your travels instead of the picture that everyone else is sending because it just happened to be the only good postcard at the gift shop.
I hope this helps you in all your travels near and far.
If you have any apps that you think we should know about, be sure to share in the comments below!
Ask Levo Mentor Dorothy McGivney, Founder and Publisher of the travel site Jauntsetter, more about her ideas for travel-friendly apps!