Almost anywhere you travel in the world these days—especially to any First World country or popular tourist destination—a strong cellular signal and Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, restaurants, Internet cafes, shopping centers, and airports are readily available.
So even though you may be on the opposite side of the world from where you live, your iPhone or iPad can still serve as a powerful communication, organization, and productivity tool, as well as an interactive entertainment device.
The following five sections discuss ways you can use your iPhone or iPad while you're traveling in order to be more productive; stay in contact with friends, family, and coworkers; save time; and make the information you need readily available at your fingertips.
1: Use Your iPhone or iPad to Make and Receive Skype Calls
As soon as you leave the United States, your unlimited voice plan for making and receiving calls from your iPhone (or any smartphone) no longer applies. With most cellular service providers, each time you engage in a call, you wind up paying extremely costly international roaming fees. To avoid these charges and to be able to make and receive calls from your iPhone or iPad, consider using the Skype app (or a similar voice-over-IP [VoIP] app, such as Line 2).
Instead of using a cellular connection to make and receive calls, a VoIP service, such as Skype, allows you to make voice or video calls from your iOS mobile device as long as it has access to a Wi-Fi Internet connection.
Making and receiving calls via Skype is free if you're communicating with other Skype users. However, to make calls to other cell phones or landlines, anywhere in the world, the cost is just pennies per minute. Using the basic Skype service, as long as you have access to a strong Internet signal (cellular or Wi-Fi), you can make or receive calls.
For an additional monthly fee, you can acquire a unique Skype phone number so people can call you directly from any phone. Each phone number offers a wide range of calling features including voicemail, Caller ID, and conference calling.
To obtain a free Skype account, download and install the Skype app, or visit the Skype website from any web browser. Any charges incurred using this service can be paid for by using a major credit card or debit card. Especially when traveling overseas, you'll quickly discover that Skype can be a powerful and extremely inexpensive communications tool.
2: Make Last-Minute Travel Reservations or Itinerary Changes from Your Mobile Device
If you want to make additions or changes to your travel plans—before you leave home or even while traveling—you can use proprietary travel apps installed on your iPhone or iPad. To use these apps, your smartphone or tablet needs access to the Internet.
Every major airline, hotel chain, and rental car company now has its own app for making travel reservations and managing your itinerary. However, the majority of the independent online-based travel services such as Hotwire.com, Kayak.com, and Hotels.com also have apps that allow you to save 30 percent or more when booking any type of travel.
There are also apps designed to help make your travel less stressful after your itinerary is locked in. For example, the FlightTrack app allows you to manage all aspects of your itinerary from one app while you're on the go. The app will automatically track your flights and alert you of delays, gate changes, weather conditions in your departure and arrival city, and the conveyor belt on which you can pick up your checked bags in Baggage Claim upon landing. If your flight is cancelled, Flight Track can help you pinpoint an alternate flight quickly.
3: Watch Movies and TV Shows On Demand, Plus Keep Yourself Entertained
Many airlines have cut out all in-flight entertainment or charge you to watch the small selection of movies (and sometimes TV shows) offered on a particular flight. By loading your iPhone or iPad with a handful of movies and TV show episodes that you want to watch, you can have this programming available to you on demand during a flight or in a hotel room.
Keep in mind that you'll need to download programming from the iTunes Store, for example, before your flight, so the content is stored within your iOS mobile device and viewable using the Videos app. Thanks to the 10-hour battery life of your iPhone or iPad, and new regulations related to using your smartphone or tablet on airplanes, you can now begin watching your favorite programming from the moment you sit down in an airplane to touching down at your destination.
Of course, you can also use the iBooks, Kindle, and Nook apps to transform your iPhone or iPad into a feature-packed eBook reader, use the Music app to listen to your favorite music or audiobooks while on the go, or download and play popular games to keep yourself entertained for hours at a time.
Using the cameras built into your mobile device, it is possible to take vacation pictures and share them with friends in real-time and stay active on all your favorite online social networking services, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Tumblr.
4: Discover Tourist Attractions, Tours, and Activities Worth Experiencing
If you want to quickly find interesting things to do, great places to dine, or exciting tours to experience in other cities or countries, there is a wide range of apps to help you. There are also apps that serve as interactive travel guides and/or tour guides for specific destinations.
The Viator app, for example, will help you quickly learn about tourist attractions, tours, and things to do in almost every popular tourist destination around the world. Many of the tours and attraction tickets available through Viator are offered at a discount, whereas some are more exclusive and designed to offer a truly unique experience that's not readily available elsewhere.
Meanwhile, if you're an AAA member, the official AAA app can pinpoint your location and help you find local restaurants, stores, attractions, and other businesses that offer a discount to members. Or if you're looking for a great local restaurant but don't know the area, use the Open Table app to quickly find restaurants that are of interest (and within your budget), and then make a reservation, directly from your Internet-connected mobile device.
If you're traveling within a major city within the United States, and you typically rely on hotel room service for dining, try using the GrubHub app. Using GrubHub, you can order from the menu of local restaurants that don't typically deliver but have your food delivered directly to your hotel room often for no additional fee (or a small delivery charge). Not only will the food selection be much more extensive than what's available from your hotel's room service menu, the food will be better, and the hotel's exorbitant room service fees won't apply.
5: Keep Your iPhone or Compatible iPad Connected to the Internet via a Cellular Data Connection
If you're traveling overseas, any time you attempt to access a cellular data connection from your iPhone or compatible iPad, you'll wind up being charged an international roaming fee, which could easily be up to $20.00 per megabyte.
To avoid excessive roaming charges, you can rely on finding and using Wi-Fi hotspots. Or visit any cellular phone store at your destination and purchase a prepaid SIM chip that's compatible with your iPhone or iPad model for use in the country you're visiting. Before your trip, you can purchase a one-day, one-week, or one-month plan; or a plan that offers a predetermined amount of cellular data usage, depending on the service.
Once you replace the SIM chip currently in your mobile device with a locally purchased chip and then activate an account, your iPhone or iPad will have full access to the Internet using either a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection (using a 3G, 4G, or LTE cellular data service, based on what's available where you're traveling).
On the iPhone, depending on the type of plan you purchase, you may also be able to make and receive calls using a locally acquired phone number.
Using a prepaid chip to access a cellular data network in the country you're visiting is a much less costly option than using international roaming from your existing cellular data service provider.
Regardless of whether you're planning a trip within the United States or abroad, having the right collection of apps and content installed within your mobile device, and taking steps to ensure inexpensive Internet access, will help to make your trip more enjoyable and stress free.