31 Ways to Use Your Smartphone While Travelling

May 31, 2018

One of the best gadgets for travellers may already be in your pocket -- and it's good for a lot more than taking photos and texting friends. From first researching a trip to remembering where you went once you get back, here are 31 ways to use your smartphone when you travel.

1. As a travel agent: If you know your destination but not your dates, use custom fare calendars to search for the cheapest dates to fly specific routes.

2. As a personal assistant: Keep your flight bookings, theatre tickets and restaurant reservations organized in one place with apps like TripCase and TripIt, which can also alert you to flight delays and better seat openings on your flight.

3. As a group planner: Download the Google Docs app or Evernote and share with your travel companions so that everyone can add their itineraries and recommendations in one easily accessible place. Glympse and Find My Friends can be used to temporarily share each other’s locations so you can track arrival times and coordinate meeting spots.

4. As a last-minute packing assistant: Apps like Packing Pro generate suggested packing lists based on your destination and purpose, or create your own in Notes to check off before heading out the door.

5. As a map: As long as location services are enabled, you can see where you are on Google Maps even without a Wi-Fi connection or data (though you can't get directions to where you want to go). For a more detailed map, download the offline version ahead of time from Google Maps, or use other apps like Maps.me (which has a search function) and Spyglass (specializing in outdoor navigation). Make use of old-fashioned screenshots when you know you can’t count on a continuous Wi-Fi connection (great for showing to cab drivers when there’s a language barrier).

6. As a transit navigator: Most public transportation systems have an app to help you plan your route, even when you’re offline. Examples include Transit for major cities in Canada, the U.S., France, the U.K., Australia, Kenya and more. Some city-specific apps like MVV Companion for Munich even allow you to use your phone to purchase tickets.

7. As a Wi-Fi finder: Download a free Wi-Fi Finder app that can help you find free Wi-Fi wherever you are, even when you’re offline

8. As a hot spot: In a pinch, you can use your smartphone’s data connection to create a Wi-Fi hot spot for other devices. However, this option burns through a lot of data, so use it wisely.

9. As a long-layover lifesaver: GateGuru is good for helping you navigate airports, and shows what restaurants and shops are in your terminal so you can avoid aimless wandering. If you get stuck due to a delay, plenty of mobile games can help you pass time (Threes is a good one).

10. As a compass: Don’t waste time wandering; use your phone’s compass to get pointed in the right direction (built into iPhones or available as an app elsewhere).

11. As a flashlight: The flashlight function is another built-in feature that may come in handy in more remote corners of the globe, or even just for navigating to the bathroom in the middle of the night when you can’t remember where the light switches are.

12. As a translator: Study a language before your trip with the free Duolingo app, and supplement your knowledge with translation apps like Google Translate, which lets you type in words or hold the app over printed text to see an instant translation.

13. As a money saver: Use the Travelzoo app to search for deals at top-rated restaurants, shows and hotels around the world.

14. As a phone: Hold the presses—yes, your phone can be used as a phone. However, it’s important to know your options before racking up long-distance charges. For shorter trips, keep your cellular data turned off and use a Wi-Fi connection to make free long-distance calls through services like What's App, Skype and FaceTime. For longer trips where you need to stay in touch regularly, investigate other options, like purchasing a local SIM card.

15. As a currency converter: XE Currency App is terrific for its simplicity and ability to work offline (at the most recently downloaded exchange rate).

16. As a security system: Connect with Global Affairs Canada’s Travel Smart app to get travel alerts and warnings, entry and exit requirements, border crossing wait times and emergency contact information for destinations around the world. It can also be used offline. The !Emergency! app supplies emergency-services phone numbers for wherever you are and will automatically dial them for you.

17. As a first-aid guide: Hopefully you’ll never need it, but the Red Cross First Aid app lets you quickly access information to handle common first aid emergencies.

18. As a medical ID: You can add emergency info to your phone’s lock screen, such as medications, blood type and emergency contacts.

19. As a scanner and filing cabinet: Business travellers can avoid overflowing briefcases with apps like Docs To Go, which lets you view and edit Microsoft Office documents on your phone. The free CamScanner app lets you use your smartphone camera as a rudimentary scanner, then email the document in whatever file format you want.

20. As a tour guide: Find free apps for walking toursmuseum guides and more.

21. As a concierge: Find recommendations for restaurants and activities with apps like TripAdvisor and Trip.com, which lets you save itineraries and search for nearby attractions.

22. As a jet lag alleviator: Plug in your old and new time zones and the Entrain app calculates the best lighting schedule to help you adjust to your new time zone as quickly as possible.

23. As a camera: Your smartphone has likely already replaced your digital camera for everyday use, but a number of photography apps can take your smartphone photos to the next level with digital zooming, composition guides and editing tools.

24. As a luggage tracker: Devices like LugLoc or Tile can help you locate your luggage with the tap of a smartphone, though they require an initial investment.

25. As a cheque-splitter: If you’ve ever dined out with a group, you know how difficult it is to split the cheque at the end of the meal. Apps like Tab make it easy to split a bill by allowing you to take a picture of the bill and then tap your items to claim them. The app even helps you divvy up tax and tip!

26. As a social coordinator: Smartphone travel apps like Tripr let you connect with locals as well as fellow travellers either ahead of time or once you’re at your destination. Ship Mate is a social app specifically designed for cruise passengers.

27. As sleep insurance: For light sleepers, the SimplyNoise app is a snooze-saver. Pick between three frequencies of white noise to drown out sounds from paper-thin hotel walls or snoring travel companions. The Sleep Cycle power-nap app helps you time naps with your REM cycle so you can take the edge off jet lag without waking up groggy.

28. As a weather forecaster: Most smartphones can pull up a basic weather forecast with a single swipe. For more detailed information, weather apps can tell you whether the pollen count warrants packing allergy meds, when to time your beachside dinner reservation to catch the sunset, or when to have the best chance of spotting the northern lights.

29. As a personal driver: Skip the money exchange window—most car-service apps let you hail a car and pay with your phone. Mytaxi is one of the biggest players in Europe, Didi Dache leads the China market and, of course, Uber is currently in more than 70 countries. (The Didi link goes to a Chinese-language page; an English-language version of the app is reportedly coming soon.)

30. As a memory preserver: If you’ve ever come home from vacation and found that all your photos of historic cathedrals are blurring together, SpeakingPhoto lets you narrate your photos as you go. Besides the classics like Instagram and Facebook, here are 15 other ways to digitally preserve your travels.

31. As a border-crossing aid: Reduce your Primary Inspection Kiosk processing time by up to 50% upon arrival by downloading CanBorder. The suite of apps operates entirely in airplane mode (once downloaded) and allows you to create a declaration for up to five travellers with the same place of residence. Driving between the U.S. and Canada? Get border wait-time comparisons, mapping services and more with CanBorder's Border Wait Time app.

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