I always travel with a laptop and I’m a big believer that technology makes a traveler’s life easier, including the iPhone, but if you don’t have one there are a few advantages you can take away. There are a number of great iPhone apps for travelers it’s true, but some things a beat up old Nokia can do that an iPhone can’t.
Doesn’t Take Hits Well
The iPhone is a well designed piece of hardware that Apple has done its best to make compact and durable. While the stainless steel back well suited to a fall the sensitive touchscreen on the front is easily damaged or destroyed. You’ll have to protect the screen (Invisible Shield is a good option) and likely put it in a protective hard cover for the rest of the iPhone. An basic Nokia might not be able to do much in terms of booking a hotel room like HotelPal, or quickly finding a place to potty like SitOrSquat, but it can be dropped, take a knock, and keep on going.
Expensive Data Plans
Almost every traveler I know who takes their iPhone with them ends up with a very expensive bill their first month or so. That’s because the data plans for the iPhone are costly and you’ll be charged a lot more for roaming. It’s better to turn off the iPhone’s data roaming option when you’re outside of your home area and use the iPhone’s built-in wireless. Use the iPhone version of NetStumbler to find hidden wireless networks (airports and bus stations are a good bet) and make your calls with Skype to avoid outrageous charges.
Attractive For Thieves
The iPhone is a sleek piece of equipment that Apple has done an excellent job marketing. It’s one of the most recognizable gadgets in the world which means that you’ll grab the attention of pickpockets along the way. If you don’t have an iPhone and carry around a basic Nokia or other common mobile phone you don’t have to worry that someone may target you specifically for your phone. (Try to uglify your iPhone to keep it undercover if you have one.)
Repairs and Replacements Are Costly
The iPhone lithium-ion battery will give you about 80% of it’s maximum charge after 400 recharge cycles. While Apple will replace a battery if it dies completely (under a 1 year manufacturer’s warranty) you’ll have to send the phone in – something that can be difficult if you’re traveling. iPhone batteries are not something you usually have to worry about for the first 3 years and extended batteries and third party replacement kits are available in case you need them.
Some Other Ways To Make Yourself Feel Better About Traveling Without an iPhone
- They Take Up Time. Having an iPhone means it’s much harder to disconnect, which can be a good thing or a bad thing at various times.
- You’ll Rely On The Built-In Camera. iPhone users tend to neglect their digital cameras in favor for a quick shot with the iPhone which has a decent camera but certainly not a replacement for the real thing.
- You Won’t Stop Fiddling With It. With your eyes peeled to your iPhone you’ll be missing out the scenery around you especially on buses, trains, or wherever else you can distract yourself.
There are some advantages of traveling without an iPhone but even more ways to reduce or eliminate the disadvantages. There are many free and useful iPhone apps for travelers and plenty of others you can install on a jailbroken iPhone (or iPod touch in most cases). For maximum flexibility though you can take both your old beater phone and your iPhone and use as needed.
[photos by: J.Baker, cdresz, Archie McPhee’s Seattle]
I sold my iPhone right before I left the States, and though I periodically have moments of iPhone withdrawal, I mostly feel that it was a very good choice.
The biggest benefit I’m seeing is that I’m not so dependent on the thing while I’m, well, doing just about anything. When I was living in LA, I would very slowly learn streets and locations because I always had a GPS available and could find a restaurant or grocery store without any trouble…just a few taps on the iPhone and there it was, guiding me point by point until I reached my destination.
Here in Buenos Aires, on the other hand, I’m learning the lay of the land VERY quickly. I have no other choice. If I don’t spend time walking around and learning the cross streets, I won’t have any idea where anything is. If I don’t go out and notice the restaurants and grocery stores, I’ll starve.
If I ever move back to the States, I’ll probably end up getting an iPhone again. It’s just a really amazing device. But so long as I’m traveling, for the reasons you’ve listed above and the one I just mentioned, I’ll still to something more basic.
GPS technology has ruined my already terrible navigational skills too :/
You haven’t dissuaded me! I want to get a jailbroken one before I head out again 🙂 I think it’ll be just too handy in keeping up the site to not do! Thanks for all of the tips, for a few apps and such (and I like the uglifying comment!). 🙂
haha, they do come in handy and are pretty easy to jailbreak (don’t pay extra for that 🙂 Tons of great travel apps for the iPhone, I keep discovering a few new ones a week.
I drop my phone all the time and I am now on Crackberry #3. I don’t know if I could afford to carry an iPhone. Great article!
Thanks Shannon. My phones usually do well the first 6 months before I start dropping them left and right.
I haven’t done international travel with my iPhone yet. Next year will be a good test for me. I agree with you though about having iPhone can take times from you. I notice that I check my FB, Twitter and other apps more often. 🙂
Watch out for those data roaming charges!!
Twitter and Facebook take up about all of my time now, it’s like this laptop is glued to my face. I carry an iPod touch so I’m limited to wherever there’s a wi-fi signal. If and when I do get an iPhone though I don’t think I’ll ever been offline 😛
I’ve not been tempted yet for an iPhoen though their suite of apps looks superb. Cell phones are the bane of many people’s lives and I try to spend as much time as possible without one though that is getting trickier and trickier to do.
I didn’t have a cell for a few months a few years back and I tried to just wing it with Skype and email but it made life much more difficult. It’s really the apps that make the iPhone a good option over other smart phones.
I have mixed feelings about this. Two summers ago, I went to Europe for a few weeks, and at the time I only had a regular phone that didn’t work internationally. I ended up buying a cheap international phone with a UK number — it worked OK but was very basic and a little tricky (when I made calls, I had to dial the number, hang up, wait for it to ring, and then answer — and it didn’t always work).
I got an iPhone earlier this year and I took it with me this summer when I went to Europe again for a few weeks. There were several huge perk. I stayed in a few places with free wi-fi, so it was great being able to access the internet on the phone without needing a computer. This also allowed me to make some Skype calls. But calls and texts were very expensive. And at one point I was in a huge bind and really needed internet access, but couldn’t find wifi anywhere — I had to turn data roaming on and use that to look someting up. That one incident alone cost around $10! I definitely have second thoughts about using it again — I would rather bring a laptop that I can safely pack up and use more efficiently when I do find free wifi.
That’s what I’d be worried about too. I’m so hooked on wireless that I think being without it I’d resort to data roaming way too often and end up with huge huge bills. Still an iPhone can be very useful with enough discipline. A (latest version) iPod touch is a good alternative and can be used as a Skype phone but it’s not quite as sleek a setup.
Good article! I would like to offer something of a counterpoint on the ‘expensive data plans’ point:
True, using your home phone plan and doing data on the road can be hideously expensive. Here’s what I did with my iPhone:
1. Jailbreaked it, and installed Cydia and Bossprefs, so I can actually TOTALLY disable EDGE and 3G. (The iPhone doesn’t allow this by default, which annoys the heck out of me.)
2. Unlocked it.
The result is that now I can buy SIM cards around the world, giving me a local number. This is insanely cheap and useful, especially if you’re hopping around and have to call ahead for information of train reservations. In places like Indonesia, it costs a ridiculous $5 for a SIM card and plenty of time to spare. In Singapore, you can get a SIM card for S$8, and it comes with S$10 time… As I said, ridiculous prices.
As for all the apps on the iPhone, I get to use it when I find a wifi hotspot, which is very often in cities. So I don’t get to use apps everywhere, but I usually have wifi at the guesthouse, or in a favorite café. Sometimes I check wifi from across the street from a Starbucks. Great way to avoid the temptation of browsing for hours as you’re on a street corner bumming someone’s wifi, and you get a cheap local number without the EDGE/3G money sinks.
Awesome comment – one of the reasons I travel with a jailbroken iPod touch (the only thing I’m missing is the ability to call). Not being able to disable the edge/3g is incredible annoying. I hope that it changes in future releases although I’m not sure Apple has the economic incentive to do that. Good thing you let us know how to get around that. Thanks again for the great information.
Anil, if you get the free Skype for iPhone/iPod Touch app you can make free calls when you’re on wifi 🙂
I don’t have an i-phone, because I can’t bring myself to part with all that money although I love the sleek feel of it.In fact my phone is the cheapest the shop had available – you can tell I’m not really a flashpacker!
But if I did have one, it would be to keep in touch when travelling – I can’t see much point of having one otherwise – also there is the Twitter factor. I think Twitter is designed for people with i-phones and I feel sure that the people I see tweeting 10 times an hour must have one, otherwise how would they manage it?
I go everywhere with a beat up Nokia that can do anything. It’s only talent is the ability to be dropped, kicked, you-name-it, and it will keep working. A jailbroken iPod touch does it for me. I like to disconnect from time to time too, although it’s not often. I wonder what kind of Internet-addict I’d be with an iPhone. I suppose I’ll find out at some point, I can only put the geek in me down so long.
Just the advice I needed as I was suffering from iPhone envy during my recent trip. Your point about people fiddling with it is so true. I watched so many people staring at their screen instead of scenery that I was glad not to have one. At least my addiction is to my DSLR camera, not that latest app!
I’ve got a severe technology addiction – I think an iPhone would take me over the edge. The iPod touch does most everything I need and is a good medium but have to hand it to Apple…whenever I see an iPhone I want it!
We are still on the fence. We bought an Iphone, jailbroke it and then couldn’t unlock it due to some firmware issues. We then sold it for $25 more than we paid for it to boot! However, we haven’t bought another one. We are probably just going to buy a phone once we get to India and use SIM cards now. But then again, we still have a little over a week until we leave and we have been known to make some quick purchases. This post helps a lot in our decision making though, thanks!
You got a pretty good deal on the re-sale though. I’ve found the iPod touch to be a good replacement, especially the latest model which has a microphone. Plug in some headphones and you’ve got yourself a Skype phone.
If you do end up getting another iPhone though, let me know I’ve got a few easy jailbreaking methods up my sleeves. I’m going to be posting them at some point over on the tech site but if you let me know I’ll send them your way.
I’ve never had any problems with my ratty old Nokia, it’s been great and the laptop covers everything else. I’m tempted to get an iPhone too but the charges scare me a bit honestly. Plus it’s nice not to have to worry about leaving it at a shop for repairs or having it stolen.
I totally understand anyone not wanting the distraction (or crutch) of technology while traveling, and you make some good points, but personally I never go anywhere without my iPhone.
I’ve dropped mine a number of times, with no damage, and my husband’s iPhone survived a trip through the washer & dryer just fine, but now I keep mine in a nice rubber case from iSkin.com, with an invisible shield to protect the face (and provide some anti-glare as well).
I have found that the convenience offered by some of the travel apps I use outweighs other factors for me, and I do keep costs down by using free wifi spots whenever I can, but I also like the idea of jailbreaking/unlocking and using local SIM cards – it’s a great suggestion for anyone who spends a lot of time in places that would otherwise be ‘roaming’.
I think the iPhone is my last refuge from technology when I travel! The Invisible Shield is great, I use it on my iPod screens and they make good laptop screen covers as well. I’m impressed that you husband’s iPhone went through a wash cycle and lived, pretty amazing!
There are advantages to both traveling with and without an iPhone certainly. The travel apps are great in particular. I find myself not talking too much on the phone and rely on Skype from my laptop for most everything which makes the decision easier. Plus I’ve got the jailbroken iPod touch which makes up for an iPhone pretty well.
All said, who knows, everything I play with an iPhone it makes me want one. Great marketing on Apple’s part!
Great advice! I just purchased an iphone when I returned to the US. I’m really excited about everything it can do – but you are totally right – I have to really consider the ads and disads of traveling with it. I do agree with the the idea of traveling with an old phone – at least using it as the one that you ‘flaunt’ around. I travel with a laptop all the time and rarely take it out in public as I don’t really want people to know that I’m carrying expensive equipment! I will also def. check out the travel apps you mention!
It’s funny, in some places I’ve traveled one of the first things people ask me is what kind of phone I have (seriously). When I pull out my ancient Nokia they always look disappointed. A good and bad thing I suppose.
The iPhone apps are very cool and useful though. I keep discovering new ones all the time.
I still haven’t switched to an iPhone or blackberry in the U.S. because I know i’ll be checking email way to often. This article at least helps justify me not having one abroad!
Jason, I worry what I’d become with an iPhone or any smart phone from that matter. I’m probably online for a solid 8-12 hours on most days and it’s nice not to be ‘connected’ every now and then. I’ve got to enjoy traveling somehow!
I personally think carrying any cell phone with you while traveling is unnecessary and a pain in the ass…De-tech yourself! Friends, family and co-workers will understand that you can’t be on your cell phone while traveling, it’s a luxury for you! Plus, getting in an international call overseas when really necessary is always an interesting experience 🙂
I don’t use cell phones too often but I’m online *a lot* no matter where I am. Skype, an iPod touch, and an old Nokia meet my needs. Occasionally I might buy a SIM card somewhere to use temporarily, but rarely. Now if I didn’t have those things I wonder if I could make it without a phone at all…