iPhone + international travel

I brought my iPhone to Portugal last week and purchased basic data/sms plans for the trip. This turned out to be way cheaper than I expected. I bought 120mb data for $30 and 50 text messages for $10. I used 72mb of data and 1/50 text messages (it didn’t occur to me that my wife and I are both on iOS so our messages are sent via data).

Here are a few of my observations:

  • I went on one day trip with nothing on my person except my phone and wallet. No map, guide book, anything. I took photos of the relevant pages in the Rick Steves book, used Google maps to navigate, and the 4S camera for photographs.
  • Depending on where you travel, Google Maps on iOS is very accurate. Transit directions worked well in Portugal. I didn’t update with iOS 6 until after I got back because I knew I’d be relying heavily on Google Maps.
  • When trying to tell your taxi driver where you are staying, pulling out your phone with the pin on your hotel is an effective cross-cultural communication tool. I stayed at a relatively new hotel that many taxi drivers didn’t know, so I used this trick several times.
  • Make sure the GPS dot is visible when you show your phone to the taxi driver—it tells them that you’ll know if they take you on an indirect (e.g. “scenic”) route to drive up the fare.
  • FaceTime was a great way to interact and stay connected with my wife and little girl (over wifi).
  • Denominations is an effective, to-the-point currency conversion tool.
  • You look less touristy checking your phone than a travel guide or map.
  • On the other hand, you have to be careful that your phone doesn’t get snatched. Then you’ve lost your map, photos, digital guidebook, and who knows what else if you haven’t taken adequate security precautions.
  • On that front, you should set your phone to (a) require passcode immediately after locking and (b) to wipe the phone’s memory after 10 failed attempts. (Beware of this option if you have small children who like games on your phone.)
  • With AT&T;, you can purchase international data/voice/sms and apply it to your account retroactively. I have no idea why they let you do this. Their copy says something like, “If you go over on text messaging, no problem—add the next tier to your account and backdate it effective before your trip began.”

I almost didn’t even look into this before the trip because I assumed it would cost too much. Now, I can’t imagine not doing this for future excursions overseas.

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