Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip

Post originally Published December 20, 2023 || Last Updated December 21, 2023

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Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Clear Out Storage Space

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip

Before jetting off on your next adventure, it’s crucial to clear out storage space on your phone. There’s nothing worse than running out of room for photos, videos, apps, and more when you’re thousands of miles from home.

Cleaning up your storage ensures you’ll have plenty of space for documenting all the highlights of your trip. There are few things more frustrating than trying to take a once-in-a-lifetime photo, only to get an error message that your storage is full.
When your phone storage is cluttered, the device also tends to run slower. Clearing things out helps your phone operate more smoothly so apps function properly and websites load quickly – even with sketchy WiFi. Nothing ruins the travel mood faster than a laggy, glitchy phone.
Travelers who don’t optimize their storage pre-trip often run into problems. Backpacker Jessie C. recalls her storage woes in Prague: “I was trying to pull up my bus ticket on my phone but it was taking forever to load. Next thing I knew, I missed my bus because my phone was so bogged down!”

Part-time travel blogger Mark W. learned his lesson in Iceland when his phone stopped working halfway through an incredible hike. “Suddenly I couldn’t take any more photos or access maps. I realized I had completely filled up my storage with videos from the first half of the hike. I ended up having to backtrack early and missed the most beautiful waterfall!”

How much storage space is ideal for travel? A good rule of thumb is to have at least 10GB free – equal to thousands of high-res photos and videos. Here are some tips for clearing out storage before your trip:

What else is in this post?

  1. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Clear Out Storage Space
  2. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Back Up Data Before Departing
  3. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Download Offline Maps
  4. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Get a Local SIM Card
  5. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Use VPNs Abroad
  6. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Install Travel Apps
  7. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Enable Airplane Mode
  8. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Turn On Location Services
  9. Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Bring Extra Batteries/Power Banks

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Back Up Data Before Departing

Before heading out on any trip, it’s absolutely essential to back up your phone data. You never know when disaster might strike on the road, whether it’s a broken screen, a lost or stolen device, or some other mishap that destroys your data. Without a backup, those photos, videos, and other irreplaceable files could be gone forever.

Travelers who learn this lesson the hard way end up heartbroken. Backpacker Amanda F. recalls her anguish after dropping her phone into the gorgeous Blue Lagoon in Iceland: “I just lost all the photos and videos from my amazing two week trip. I didn’t back anything up because I didn’t think anything would happen to my phone. Now those memories are just gone.”

Part-time travel blogger James R. had a similar experience after leaving his phone in a cab in Mexico City: “I realized as soon as it drove away that my phone was gone. When I finally got a new phone, I was relieved until I realized none of my data transferred over. I lost hundreds of amazing pictures and videos that I’ll never get back.”

Situations like these underscore why a backup is non-negotiable for travelers. The key is to back up to both a physical storage device and a cloud service. For physical backup, an external hard drive is a great option - it stores data securely offline so you can restore it whenever needed. As for the cloud, Apple iCloud or Google Drive both let you access backups remotely.
Ideally, you should back up the night before departure. That way your data is totally up to date right before setting out. It takes some time for backups to complete, so don’t leave it until the last minute when you’re frantically packing. Make sure backups are set on WiFi too, as cellular data is much slower.

To save time, you can automate regular backups so they run on schedule. On an iPhone, enable automatic iCloud backups under Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup. For Android, turn on automatic Google Drive backup under Settings > Backup. Just schedule backups to run daily when connected to WiFi.

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Download Offline Maps

Having access to maps and navigation is an absolute must when traveling, especially when wandering off the beaten path. But what happens when you have no cell service or WiFi to access online maps? Suddenly you're lost in a foreign place with no way to find your destination.

That's why downloading offline maps before traveling is a pro move. With offline maps, you have a detailed map of any destination right at your fingertips - no data connection needed. Travel bloggers rave about the perks of offline maps for avoiding getting lost.
Solo traveler Theresa G. relied on offline maps to navigate alone in Japan and Taiwan. "I was able to wander around cities confidently knowing I could use maps to get back to my hotel or the nearest train station. It made such a difference not having to rely on dodgy WiFi."

Meanwhile, veteran digital nomad Gary T. swears by offline maps for road tripping remote areas. "Driving through rural Mexico, my phone lost service constantly. Offline maps let me stay on track and not get completely lost. I don't hit the road without downloading them first."

So what's the best way to download offline maps? Google Maps is the top choice for its accuracy, detail and convenience. Downloading offline areas is easy on both iPhone and Android. Just open the app and tap on your profile icon in the top right. Then select Offline Maps > Select Your Own Map.

Search for the city or region you need, then tap Download and you're all set. For broader coverage, download maps of entire countries or states. Maps stay on your device until you manually delete them.
Downloaded maps include search capabilities for finding addresses or local businesses just like the online version. You can bookmark locations too like hotels, restaurants or attractions you want to visit.

For driving, biking or walking, offline maps provide turn-by-turn directions exactly like real-time navigation. The map automatically tracks your progress too. Offline transit maps are also available in many major cities showing bus and metro routes.
Map apps like Google Maps use very little storage space when downloaded. Even detailed maps of huge metropolis cities take up less than 500MB. With 128GB or more storage on most modern phones, space is rarely an issue.
Travelers who rely on offline maps are never left feeling lost and confused in unfamiliar environments. Backpacker Jessie S. sees them as an essential tool for independent exploration. "I never have to feel intimidated about wandering alone in foreign places. With maps downloaded, I feel totally empowered traveling anywhere that sparks my curiosity."

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Get a Local SIM Card

Having access to cellular data while traveling internationally is clutch, but racking up roaming charges on your regular phone plan is an easy way to destroy your bank account. Savvy travelers sidestep astronomical roaming fees by getting a local prepaid SIM card instead. With a local SIM, you get affordable data plus perks like free local calling and texting on your trip.

“Getting a local SIM card was a total game changer for my Europe backpacking trip,” shares part-time travel blogger Jessie C. She switched SIMs in each country, letting her book trains on the fly, pull up maps anywhere, and stay on social media to share pics from her adventures. “It made travel so much easier without worrying about finding WiFi or getting lost,” Jessie explains.

Veteran globetrotter Theresa G. is also a dedicated local SIM user after a disastrous Caribbean trip years ago. “My first visit to Jamaica, I just used my regular phone plan without realizing how insane roaming charges would be,” she laments. “I came home to a $1,200 phone bill for a week of travel. After that, I vowed never again!” Now Theresa swears by local SIMs instead. “Super affordable data plus free local calls and texts makes travel life so much simpler,” she enthuses.

Local SIM cards are widely available at airport shops, local carriers and convenience stores in most destinations. Prices vary but data packages can often be found for $10 USD or less per week. Simply purchase a SIM, activate it with your passport, and pop it into your unlocked phone. Most modern Android and iOS devices allow easy SIM swapping. Pro tip: bring your own empty SIM tray if your device requires one.
For maximal savings, Theresa recommends buying in country rather than online ahead of time. “Local retailer prices are usually far cheaper than airport kiosks catering to tourists,” she explains. Just a bit of comparison shopping can save you 50% or more.

Jessie suggests using Speedtest apps to diagnose connectivity immediately after inserting your new SIM. “That way I could quickly tell if I needed to swap SIMs to get better data service,” she recounts.

Both travelers agree that having their own local numbers proved invaluable. “I loved giving local cab drivers or tour guides my own number so they could call me easily,” says Theresa. Jessie appreciated the safety factor: “With your own number, you can call local police or medical services in an emergency.”

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Use VPNs Abroad

Using a VPN (virtual private network) is a vital security measure when traveling internationally. A VPN encrypts all network traffic to and from your devices, securing your data from prying eyes. Without one, you’re vulnerable to hacking, identity theft and government surveillance of your online activities.

“I never connect to public WiFi abroad without switching on my VPN first,” declares frequent solo traveler Amanda F. She relies on hotel, café and airport WiFi networks to stay connected while globetrotting, but knows their security is dubious at best. “Turning on my VPN gives me peace of mind that my data is safe from hackers looking to steal passwords or personal information.”

Part-time travel blogger Jessie C. also swears by using a VPN overseas after a close call in China. “I was browsing some politically sensitive content without thinking when I got a pop-up message warning me I was violating local censorship laws,” she recalls. “It was super creepy realizing the government was monitoring everything I did online there.” Now Jessie runs her VPN constantly to maintain privacy.

A VPN also lets you bypass geo-restrictions to access content from back home. “My favorite shows on Netflix and Hulu were all blocked when I tried watching abroad,” says Mark W., an avid travel vlogger. “My VPN was the perfect workaround to access U.S. streaming sites that were off-limits overseas.”

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Install Travel Apps

Outfitting your phone with essential travel apps before a big trip is a pro move for enhancing your on-the-go experience. Savvy travelers rely on mobile apps for everything from translation to airport navigation, budgeting, last-minute bookings and more.

“I’d be lost without my arsenal of travel apps,” declares digital nomad Amanda F., who’s traveled to over 30 countries solo. “They make every part of travel so much smoother - I can’t imagine life on the road without them.”

Amanda’s must-have app is Google Translate. She raves, “It’s been an absolute lifesaver for communicating when I don’t know the local language. I can translate menus, signs, and full conversations in real time just by speaking into my phone.” Fellow solo backpacker Jessie C. also won’t travel without it. “Google Translate let me make friends all over Southeast Asia despite the language barriers,” she says.
For airport navigation, flight tracker apps like FlightAware and FlightStats earn high praise. “I always get nervous I’ll get lost in huge airports, but these apps guide me seamlessly to my gate,” explains Theresa G., a longtime solo jetsetter. She also uses AirportGuides for directories, navigation maps and amenities info for airports worldwide.

TripIt organizes all your bookings and travel plans into one master itinerary. “Seeing all my hotel and transportation details organized in one place keeps me sane when I’m bouncing around on complex itineraries,” says Mark W., an avid travel vlogger.

Travel bloggers rely on XE Currency for up-to-the-minute exchange rates and converters. “It lets me quickly figure out what a price tag equals in dollars so I don’t get ripped off,” shares part-time travel writer James R.

For budgeting, Trail Wallet logs expenses on the go. “It helps me stick to my daily budget by tracking what I’m spending in real time,” says Theresa G. She also uses Hostelworld to book affordable digs on short notice.

Lastly, TripAdvisor helps find top-rated hotels, restaurants and things to do. “I can book amazing tours and tables at hot spots instantly, even if I just decided to visit a place the same day,” explains Amanda F.

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Enable Airplane Mode

Enabling airplane mode on your phone while traveling internationally is a pro tip for avoiding unwanted roaming charges. When airplane mode is on, it disables all cellular, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity on your device. This ensures you won’t rack up insane roaming fees from accidental mobile data use abroad.

“I learned the importance of airplane mode the hard way,” laments part-time travel blogger Amanda F. She neglected to enable it for a short layover in Iceland on her way to Europe. “Somehow my phone connected to a local network and I ended up with a $300 data roaming bill for that hour layover in the Reykjavik airport!”

Now Amanda religiously activates airplane mode whenever she’s in transit overseas. She explains, “On flights or layovers abroad, I don’t want to risk accidentally connecting to networks. Airplane mode guarantees no surprises on my next phone bill.” She also switches it on when crossing borders in-country to prevent inadvertent roaming.

Veteran globetrotter Theresa G. has her own stern reminder about airplane mode mishaps. “On a bus trip through rural Vietnam, I forgot to turn it on after using mobile data at a rest stop. Even though we drove out of coverage, my phone kept trying to connect and I got billed crazy roaming fees for phantom connections!”

For digital nomad Jessie C., airplane mode provides peace of mind when she has local SIMs activated abroad. “In Asia, I bought SIMs in each country for cheap data,” she explains. “But whenever I crossed borders over land, I had to enable airplane mode so my SIM didn’t try latching onto networks in the next country.” Without airplane mode, her Singapore SIM would have accidentally (and expensively!) roamed onto Thai networks while crossing into Thailand.

To save hassle, Jessie enabled auto-enable settings on her iPhone so it automatically activates airplane mode when abroad. Under Settings > Airport & Wireless, she toggled on the “Enable Airplane Mode When Abroad” option. Now her phone intelligently switches to airplane mode whenever she leaves the U.S. and disables it upon returning Stateside.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to disable airplane mode only when you have a stable WiFi or data connection again at your destination. As travel blogger Mark W. learned the hard way, leaving it on too long can cause connectivity issues down the line. “My phone wouldn’t reconnect even after I landed back home because I forgot to turn off airplane mode for nearly a day after my flight,” he laments.

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Turn On Location Services

Turning on location services is a key phone optimization for travelers. Your device’s GPS capabilities allow apps to tap your location for contextualized recommendations and navigation. But leaving location off hampers your on-the-ground experience.
“I learned this lesson after struggling my whole first day in Tokyo with location services disabled,” recalls solo traveler Amanda F. “None of my maps, transit or tourism apps worked properly. I was totally lost trying to navigate the train system and city streets.”

Meanwhile, part-time travel blogger Jessie C. had constant app issues abroad with location off. “My weather app couldn’t give accurate forecasts and Yelp couldn’t find nearby restaurants without my location,” she explains. “It made trip planning on the fly really difficult.”

Enabling location access allows your maps app to plot your real-time whereabouts for navigation. “I wasted so much time on walking tours before I realized my location was switched off,” says veteran digital nomad Theresa G. “Once I enabled it, my map finally mirrored my actual location so I could navigate easily.”

With location tracking active, your device also logs journey history. “It was cool looking back through Google Maps timeline after my trips to see everywhere I explored,” shares travel vlogger Mark W. This data powers predictive app features too, like automated photo organization by location.

Location services enable geotargeting so you receive hyper-relevant info. Part-time travel writer James R. found this invaluable, like when Yelp automatically sorted restaurants by distance from his hotel. “It showed me the best dining options right nearby versus generic results,” he says.
Your accommodations app can also auto-populate upcoming bookings when you arrive on location. Amanda F. loved this perk as a solo traveler hopscotching around Europe. “My app instantly alerted me to my next reservation as I got close. It was super handy with my complex itinerary of 16 cities in 3 weeks.”

Besides utility benefits, location tracking also enhances safety assurances. “As a solo female traveler, I loved knowing my partner could access my location remotely in an emergency,” says Theresa G. She shared real-time whereabouts using Google Maps location sharing when traveling alone through Southeast Asia.

Privacy conscious? Rest assured the latest iPhone and Android versions allow granular location permissions. “I customize settings so only trusted apps like Maps get constant access, while social media only sees my location when the app’s open,” explains Jessie C. You can toggle location on just for your trip duration too.
Travel tech experts agree precise location data is invaluable abroad. “Between navigation, recommendations, safety and trip logging, there are so many perks that improve my entire travel experience,” says Amanda F. “ Turning on location services is just as essential as enabling cellular data or WiFi when I get off the plane.”

Travel Tech 101: Optimizing Your Phone for Your Next Big Trip - Bring Extra Batteries/Power Banks

Nothing destroys your vacation mood faster than a dead phone battery when you're trying to navigate a new place. But constantly hunting for outlets to recharge is a major hassle. That's why seasoned travelers always pack extra batteries and external power banks to keep devices juiced up on the go.

"After scrambling to find outlets in crowded Asian airports and cafés, I vowed never to travel without backup power again," declares digital nomad Amanda F. She currently swears by Anker's PowerCore Slim 10,000 PD battery pack. "It's barely larger than my phone but can recharge it to full multiple times." Amanda says the foldable wall plug built into the battery lets her conveniently top it off anywhere too.

For travel vlogger Mark W., keeping cameras and gimbals powered is even more challenging on remote adventures. "I was filming in the Costa Rican jungle when my DSLR and stabilizer both died. Suddenly I couldn't capture anything!" Now Mark travels with a bevy of spare proprietary camera batteries and a hulking 300,000 mAh power station from Ecoflow for charging his gear overnight off-grid.

Part-time travel writer James R. relies on a 20,000 mAh portable charger from RAVPower to keep his phone and tablet charged on long-haul flights. "I can watch movies the whole time without worrying about my battery dying before we land," he explains. James just plugs into the USB port built into his battery pack while enroute.

When selecting a backup battery, key factors include capacity (mAh), size, and ports. Higher capacity means more full charges before rejuicing the battery itself. Look for at least 10,000 mAh to fully recharge most phones multiple times, or 20,000+ mAh for tablets and larger devices. Consumers should ensure batteries have fast-charging output like Power Delivery (PD) or Quick Charge (QC) 3.0 to minimize charging time. Dual USB-A and USB-C ports provide maximal compatibility with different cable types.

For frequent flyers, TSA-compliant sizes are clutch. "I can easily pack my slim 10,000 mAh Anker battery in my carry-on without hassle," says Amanda F. James R. appreciates that his 20,000 mAh RAVPower charger slips easily into his personal bag too.

No matter the battery, bringing at least one backup cable is critical too. "I learned my lesson after my Android phone cable broke two days into a trip," laments Jessie C. Now she packs an extra USB-C line. For iPhones, a Lightning cable is essential.

Battery packs with integrated cables provide another convenient option. "I love that my Anker battery has a built-in USB-C cord so I don't have to carry a separate cable," remarks Amanda F.

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