July 23, 2024


 The Smart Phone


Today’s Smart Phone is truly the The Traveler’s Best Friend. There is no way I can count the number of times per day that I use my smartphone while traveling. It’s really absolutely amazing.

My recent arrival in Chiang Mai, Thailand for a bit of an extended stay has reinforced for me the value and importance of my iPhone for my travels.  It’s a helper and a travel tool in oh so many ways.  In no particular order, I thought it might be interesting to simply share a list of 25 instances and ways I’ve used my iPhone to ease my travel experience over the past week. Some of these are, of course, obvious while others might be less so.  And the list is by no means complete. I just got tired of writing.  I’m sure many of you have other favorite ways to use you smartphone when you travel.  In fact, I’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to add your input in the comments section at the bottom.

Currently I use an iPhone 7+.  (I’m still a bit ambivalent on the “X” – time will tell.). The  specifics and details might vary from one brand of phone to another,  And the apps I mention in this article might vary a bit if you use a different brand of smart phone.  But in the vast majority of cases, each smart phone has capabilities the same as, or equivalent to, those of the iPhone.  So The Traveler’s Best Friend is the Smart Phone – regardless of the brand you carry.

For a bit of background, let me say that here in Thailand I use WiFi connections for my iPhone but I also have a local sim card which provides me with unlimited data (cost @ $26.00 per month.) This approach always seems to work out better for me in terms of cost and flexibility than roaming or purchasing my home service provider’s travel option. Be aware however that you do get a new local country (Thailand in my current case) phone number as part of the sim card deal, so if you plan to have friends back home call you  – you need to give them your new number.

25 Smart Phone Usess For The Traveler

1) Phone calls – Lets start with the most basic.  I use my iPhone for phone calls. Of course I don’t speak Thai so my voice calls are limited. But it’s nice to be able to call a local friend, or  hotels or restaurants for example.  In those cases my first phrase is – “Do you speak English?”  Also, if anyone needs to reach me – for emergencies for example –  they can of course give me a call.   This includes those friends back home – as long as I remembered to give them my Thai phone number.

2) Internet Searches For Information About Sites & Destinations – Use the internet to look up restaurants near my current location.  Read the reviews. Check the menu.  Are they currently open – what are their hours and when are they most busy. And of course you can explore by restaurant type – “breakfast restaurant” for example. Most searches will provide a map so you have a visual reference about locations. The same applies to other types of destinations as well – movie theaters, shopping malls, markets, temples, etc. I am constantly using the search abilities of my iPhone.

3) Money conversion.  I’m from the U.S. and operate on U.S. Dollars.  Thailand uses the Thai Baht. Now math is not my major strength.  I have an iPhone app that works like a charm for money conversions. GlobeConvert – Currency Unit Converter    

It works like a charm, quickly allowing me to convert Baht to Dollars or Dollars to Baht. Financial peace of mind for the traveler.




4) Finding Locations & Directions – Where are you now?   How do you get from where you are to where you want to go?  Again, an iPhone app quickly provides the answer.  My “go-to” app for this type of challenge is Google MapsIt quickly gives you a “live” indication of where you are on a local map.  Use it’s “search” function for a destination and it will then show the location  along with the time it will take to get there.  Then simply click on the “directions” icon and it quickly shows you the route to take to get there – You can even indicate if you plan to walk, go by car, or local public transport. Hit the “start” icon and it will give you audible turn by turn directions.

Google Maps does require an active internet connection. If you don’t have a data plan for your smartphone you can still get great mapping and location information with most of Google Maps features using the Maps.Me app. Prior to your travels download maps for the regions you will be visiting.  The maps will then work well “offline” once you arrive at your destination.

5) Song Thieu Rides – Here in Chiang Mai the Song Thieu is a great way to get around the city.  They are red trucks with two covered bench seats in the back providing shared rides to passengers. Hail a passing Song Thieu (they are everywhere), tell the driver where you are going, and if your route matches with where he’s going he tells you to hop in.  But what if you don’t speak Thai?  Again, using Google Maps you can load up your destination’s name and location before you hail the ride.  Then just show the driver your phone.  (If you don’t offer and he is not sure where you want to go he will frequently ask “gps?” which basically means – “show me the map.” Now he clearly knows where you want to go.)  During the ride you can continue to use Google Maps to monitor your progress – handy because when you arrive the driver will simply stop and expect you to know you have arrived at your destination and to quickly hop out – and pay him his standard fare of 30 Baht as well (@ $0.91). All of this also applies to other forms of transportation as well – taxi, tuk tuk, bus, etc.

6) Text Messages – Text messaging has become a part of daily life for most.  Using my iPhone’s “Messages” app I can text my friends locally here in Chiang Mai or also back home in the U.S. Quite honestly I’m not totally sure how this works – but it does work.  Of course the text shows up on the receiver’s phone showing your new Thai phone number.

7) Audio Internet Calls – There are a variety of apps which allow you to make audio internet calls to you friends and contacts around the world. This saves money compared to making standard voice calls. Some some are designed specifically for this purpose. Others include audio calling as one of several features.  Here in Chiang Mai I find that the audio call features included in Skype and FaceBook work well and meet my needs. Good quality audio and the calls are free – what more could you ask for?

8) Video Internet Calls – Kick it up notch and try video internet phone chats with friends and contacts around the world. Again there are multiple apps and services – people from various parts of the world seem to have their own favorites.  For me again I find that my go-to video chat apps are Skype and Facebook.

9) Photos – As a photographer I spend alot of time making photos of my travel journeys.  True, I do use a variety of cameras including my various Nikons, my Lumix, and even a GoPro.  But my smartphone is always with me and the iPhone 7+ camera is really outstanding.  It produces great images.  Often when I am shooting I will “back up” my larger format shots with shots using my iPhone.  And sometimes when I want to grab a quick image I use my iPhone – shots of family, friends, experiences, etc. – the type of shot I won’t be doing any serious work with such as enlarging to super sized prints or submitting to a magazine for publication. And on a side note – people are really used to seeing people take photos with a smartphone.  As a result they tend to be less concerned with having someone shoot images with an iPhone and are less intimidated if you take their photowith an iPhone as opposed to your shooting them with a larger, professional camera. And of course there is a boat load of different apps which you can use to “post process” your iPhone images in many ways.

 10) Videos – Recently I have been shooting more video on my travels.  It adds an interesting dimension to my various productions.  Here again – my iPhone does a very good job of shooting some nice quality video. And here again the smaller and more well known form factor is less intimidating to others.

11) Emails – What can I say?  Quick and easy communication via your smartphone.

12) Social Media Reading & Posting – Social media connections are a great way for travelers to keep up to date with others about what’s happening.  Read about your friends activities and post about your own experiences.  This is also enhanced greatly if you shoot images or videos using your smartphone. It’s so easy to simply add those files to your posts – no need to transfer images from one device to another.  Gosh, with Facebook you can actually post live video if you would like.

13) Listen To Music – Want to tune out someplace?Just kick back and relax?  Perhaps on an airplane? Pop in the earbuds and dial up your favorite playlist.

14) Watching Movies – True, the screen is small, but when no other options are available your smartphone offers the possibility to watch movies, TV shows or YouTube videos.  Stream videos directly via services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.  Or, download videos from each of these services in advance if you might not have active internet access at your destination.

 15) Read Books or Publications – Again, screen size is a limitation but when larger screens and / or print publications aren’t available or practical, then your smartphone is a workable option.  Read publications via the internet.  Download books from various services. I use Amazon Kindle Books and read books on their Kindle app.  They are then available to read offline during your journey.

 16) Check The Weather and Forecast – You can check current weather conditions as well as the forecast for your current location or anyplace else in the world for that matter.  I use AccuWeather – it works for me. 

 17) Take Notes – Sometimes it’s nice to be able to make a quick “note to self” about something on your journey – an address, the cost of an item, a person’s phone number, etc.  I use the NOTES app on my iPhone.  And I don’t bother with typing. Instead I use the voice dictation system which does a very nice job.

 18) Flashlight – Looking for something?  Not enough light?  Try the “Flash Light” function on your smartphone. Very handy.

 19) Alarm Clock & Time Checks – Set alarms to waken you in the morning. Set alerts with alarms to remind you it’s time to do something.  Use the clock to simply tell what time it is.  Use the “world clock” function to check the time at different points in the world. These and other features are available in your smartphone.

 20) Calculator – Yes, I am math challenged.  The calculator function in my iPhone is used with great frequency.

 21) Monitor Security At My Home – I have several security cameras which monitor my home. They are connected to the internet and send an alert to my iPhone if any activity is detected.  I can also log into these cameras directly from my iPhone to get a “live view” of what is going on at my home.   I use the EZVIS system which I find is reliable and cost effective

 22) Play Games – Sometimes you just need a bit of diversion.  I load up a few basic games “just in case.”

 23) Translation –  There are a variety of apps available which are designed to provide translation services – some relying on an internet connection and others operating off-line.  I have to admit I have had mixed success with these apps.  Some work well for some languages and less well for others.  Finding the right one for your needs will likely take some effort.  FYI – Currently I am experimenting with both “Speak & Translate” and “Google Translate” for my stay in Thailand.  “Experimenting” is the operative word here.  There is a learning curve to get the most out of these apps and even then each has it’s limitations and I have yet to find one which I feel does a really good job.

 24) Storing Travel Documents – I like to keep back up copies of various travel documents such as my passport, airline tickets / confirmations, hotel bookings / confirmations, medical insurance, driver’s license, etc.  I travel with print out / hard copies of these items but for back up purposes I keep copies on my iPhone.  How?  Again – there are many apps which could serve this purpose.  I use ACTPrinter.   Before departure I scan documents I want to backup into my computer.  Then, using ACTPrinter, which is essentially a virtual printer, I can “print” the documents from my computer to my iPhone (and iPad as well for that matter.). All documents are then available and viewable on my iPhone and can also be printed from the iPhone should I need to produce a hard copy during my travels.       

25) Complete Last Minute Christmas Shopping –Traveling in Thailand over the holidays is great in many ways.  But it does present challenges for the Christmas Shopper.  Those with good advanced planning skills might be able to get it all sorted and done before departing on their journey.  But for me (and possibly you too?) last minute shopping is all part of the Christmas tradition.  So here in Thailand I am pulling out my iPhone and doing my shopping on-line.  Again, my go-to shopping app is AMAZON.  Shop – order – and the gift is on it’s way.   Quick and efficient – shopping from home or from the other side of the world.  Thank you iPhone.