I love wandering around new cities, even if I’m not always sure of where I am. I’m addicted to my phone. And aside from food and discount plane tickets (okay and housing and student loans), I rarely spend money.
There are many things my more spend-y friends who also like to wander and have phone addictions buy to make their exploratory lives easier (SIM cards for that country, unlimited data and international calling, guides so they’re never in a situation where they need to rely on their phone to get around),
but for me, those things are too expensive so I just work around not having them. Here’s one thing I do and two necessities I actually buy to make sure I don’t get lost, stranded, or stolen while exploring abroad using my phone.
UPDATE (4/5/2017): I take this post except #2 back and renamed it to ghetto tips. Traveling with a SIM card for that country is seriously the best. I used to be weirdly against this because it cost money but holy shit you can use google and snapchat and do all these things in real time without the frantic search for WiFi that somehow only can be easily found in Europe.
Download offline maps and make sure your location is on.
The very first time I went abroad on my own, I was visiting one of my best friends in Paris. A seasoned jet-setter, he told me I should download CityMaps2Go, which has maps of cities you download, so you can see where things are. He also showed me that if you have an iPhone, connect to the wifi somewhere, and leave the wifi button active after you leave that somewhere, your location persists in the map! AND it doesn’t even use data!
This trick+the offline map helped me when I tried to go to Versailles on a whim by myself even though I hadn’t planned anything out (except that I was going to follow the potential signs/people, because everyone was trying to go there so it should be easy… Right??) . Somehow I ended up not near Versailles but in an extra maze-y suburb with school kids everywhere. Hopeless and hungry, I continued to walk around in despair… Then I remembered I had this app, and using it, I was able to find the palace (and food)! Thank you, blue location dot, for updating when I move.
Now that it’s 2016, there are even more map apps. I’ve been using Maps.me, which I like better because it gives you estimated walking times and sometimes Tripadvisor’s because it gives you more info on what’s around. PS: Versailles is beautiful, even though it ended up being closed the day I went, so everyone should 1) go to Versailles and not get lost and 2) remember that planning things is important sometimes.
Bring a ton of portable batteries and make sure they are charged.
Cell phones have so much power. Not having a cell phone in places where you don’t know where anything is and are surrounded by people who potentially don’t speak your language- especially if you are direction challenged, easily lost, emergency prone, or take a lot of phone pictures is hard. My phone at least uses a lot of power even when it’s on airplane mode, so it always needs to be charged when city adventuring.
These are things everyone knows, right? What’s less known (or maybe just something I found out recently) is you can charge your phone on the go with a portable power bank! I like this one because it’s easy to carry/hide and this one because it lasts forever.
Get some sort of international-calls-and-data-allowed-to-an-extent cell phone plan.
I used to be weirdly against this. “Hell no, I’m not spending money to make calls abroad. I want to live in the moment and connect with people in that country,” were things I used to think. But then I arrived in Rome for the first time at midnight and could NOT find A) the hotel, B) people who I could ask for help, or C) somewhere open where I could make a wifi call. The tricky thing is it wasn’t your traditional hotel- it was an old apartment complex, with a couple renting out rooms on the top floor.
We didn’t know that yet, so we were expecting signage or front door people (you know, normal hotel stuff) as our clues that we had arrived. Instead, everything on the street was poorly numbered buildings with locked front doors and/or passcodes to get in, and the GPS seemed wrong. 45 minutes of 40L backpacking carrying in heels later (I don’t know why either), we remembered that our T-Mobile plan lets us call internationally and use (3G) data- for a small fee!
Thank you, T-Mobile, because then we were able to call the owners and they gave us the passcode. Despite how hard it was to find the place, it was the coolest hotel I’ve ever stayed at and had beautiful views of Rome.