Maps Abroad via iPhone
The iPhone, or any smart phone, is the ultimate travel tool. It allows you to plan and revise plans on the fly, eliminate paper documents and maximize time in an incredible way. (Remember how much time was wasted trying to find a lost friend on the slopes before cell phones?)
The handheld technology that’s evolved over the past seven to ten years is astounding. In the early to middle part of the last decade I could never imagine I’d have access to global maps (down to street detail), transit schedules, hotel and restaurant reviews, flight schedules check-in, travel apps and so much more right in my hand.
In fact when I visit a new city in the U.S. I never even pack a map. Google maps functions perfectly everywhere, and even includes transit schedules in many major cities. I can land in a strange city and plan my route from the airport to downtown while the plane is taxiing to the gate.
The downside is you can become very dependent on it. Or at least I have. When I travel outside the U.S. I’m forced to give up my constant web access unless I uprade to an expensive plan that includes data roaming. My budget says no thanks. Like most of my friends my data roaming is always turned off upon landing outside my home borders. With data and downloads at $19.95 a megabyte I don’t care to come home to a $25,000 phone bill.
But my smartphone is still extremely useful overseas thanks to the prevalence of public and private WiFi . I use Skype for my calls, which has an iPhone app so well integrated you forget you’re using Skype and not just making standard calls. (It even incorporates your contact lists.) I do admit to texting at 50 cents a text, but do so sparingly. (That is useful for maintaining contact when traveling with friends.) But above all, any WiFi signal for an iPhone or any smartphone opens the same access doors you have back home. In most major cities WiFi is extremely easy to find and use, so long as you know and take precaution against connecting to unsecured signals.
When abroad and opting out of data roaming, one feature I often use is the iPhone screenshot feature. This takes a photo of whatever is on your iPhone screen, then saves it to your photos for future reference. You simply hold down down the center button while quickly pressing the top (power) button. Your screen flashes as the screenshot is saved. I didn’t know about or use this feature until a year ago, and find some people who aren’t aware of this marvelous tool.
It’s a phenomenal tool if you want to retrieve an important document on your iPhone, but won’t have web access. For example an email with directions; rather than printing and carrying paper, or copying and pasting it to the “notes” app, simply take a screenshot and look at the photo.
My most recent and most useful example: A week ago I did a couple road trips in the Netherlands. Unable to find a decent map at my Denver library I planned to just purchase one at a gas station there. Before leaving I Google mapped the route from Amsterdam to Zeeland, which involved several busy and congested freeway interchanges around Rotterdam. I simply took screenshots of the route, and close up shots of the important interchanges, and saved them one by one to my phone. (Fortunately I was the passenger and able to fully concentrate as navigator.) I never even needed the a paper map.
Scrolling through the photos of the maps it reminded me of the old days when AAA would create a “Triptik” for their members – a small rectangular booklet with maps and turn by turn directions that you’d leaf through while driving. Even without web access this proved to be an amazingly easy way to not get lost and save money on maps or car rental GPS.
As shown below I’ve also used it for other maps – by taking a screenshot at the apartment with WiFi, then referencing it while out on the town.