I’m a Geezer. I want cheap travel, comfortable travel, and lots of travel. I’m retired and I DON”T want to mess with tech stuff. Tech stuff just makes me grumpy. Really grumpy, but technology makes traveling a lot easier so, like a fool wondering in the wilderness, I’m going to write this article. Be warned read this article with caution because I am a tech retard and the issue of travel phones is a multi headed dragon.
Modern traveling involves having to dip your toes in the tech world. You need a phone. You need some type of computing device. You need some form of entertainment. You need to be able to plug in your electric tooth brush and razor unless you decide to go mountain man on your trip. In short there are some “tech tools” every Geezer should have.
I’m a big fan of spending money on traveling and not on travel toys so I will try to keep the dollars and cents involved in this discussion at a minimum.
Lets start with the basics. When you are over seas you need a phone. Lets face it if you don’t have a phone your kids can’t call you with their latest crisis. Seriously, you need two phones. Your spouse also needs a phone so when you and your spouse get separated you can find each other. I’m a child like wonderer so traveling with me involves at a minimum a couple of calls a day by Charlene to find me.
A phone is a simple thing, right? NO. Geezers travel, they travel in multiple countries, they travel in places where you don’t have the best WiFi, they travel on cheap planes that don’t have any entertainment, they take photos, they drop thing and drown things. One of the most important tools you are going to have if you are traveling is a good phone.
There are three aspects of a phone we need to talk about. First, is the actual device, second is the software or applications that are on the phone and third is the carrier that actually supports the device such as Verizon, T Mobil and AT&T.
There are so many phone options out there it’s amazing and the costs can go from $10 for a really cheap throw away to thousands for the best smart phone. I honestly think that a budget of about two hundred dollars can get you a phone that does the job. In this blog I want to discuss some of the attributes of a phone that might make it a better travel phone.
The Throwaway Phone
To start with, you are going to need two phones. A primary phone that you will use most the time and all your applications are on and a cheap “unlocked” throw away phone that you can put individual counties “SIMs” cards in.
Because the subject is easier I want to talk about the throw away phone first. The throw away is just a small cheap phone that gives you the ability to communicate using local SIMs card technology. Every where in the world they sell SIMs cards. Once you have the card you can buy ” call and data time” that will allow you to call or text people anywhere in the world at a per minute charge, when your time is up you have to go back to the store and put more time and data on the card.
I use a seven year old throw away flip phone I bought for $30 in Virgin Gorda. It is very basic. I can call a number or text period. The phone is unlocked which means that I can put any SIMs card in it and if the card has credit on it, I can communicate.
Heres how it works in a Geezer kind of a way. If I am in a foreign country and need to communicate and my primary phone is not working I take my throw away phone to any local store and buy a SIMs card off the shelf. Most of these cards are location specific so you may need one for Europe and one for Mexico etc. Because the cards do have value and cost a few bucks I have a little ziplock where I keep my different countries SIMs cards and just mark the cards with a magic marker. Once I have the card and it’s identifying number a store clerk can put “credit” on my card and I’m able to make calls and text. The truth is, I usually hand the clerk my phone and he or she puts the card in and loads the credit and then hands it to me and says, “you have $20 worth of credit”. Main idea: you need an old phone that is “unlocked” for a backup communication phone. The throw aways you buy on the street for $20 or so dollars are already unlocked if you use an old phone of yours you may have to go to the phone company that you contracted with and them unlock your phone.
The Primary Phone
There are millions of options with your primary phone so all I can accomplish is to tell you about some attributes that you may want in your primary phone to make it a good travel phone.
First, get a phone with a good battery. Your primary phone is a powerful travel tool you will be using it to navigate and do internet searches and those functions need lots of battery power.
Second, get a phone that has a processor and data storage that is capable of running all the applications you want on your travel phone. Explain to your phone salesman what you want to do with your phone and he or she should be able to guide you in the right direction. I would recommend spending extra money on getting a faster processor and more data storage than you think you will need because over time you will be adding a lot of apps to your phone.
I like a larger primary phone for three reasons. First, I want a fairly big screen because I use the screen to watch movies, TV, Skype with the kids, play games, and navigate, a bigger screen makes all these functions more comfortable. I also like a larger screen because it is easier to text on a larger screen with my little bear paws. There is a balance to how big a phone you want. The simple fact is; the bigger the phone the harder it is to pack around. My phone is about 4″ by 6 1/2″. It has a big enough screen and still fits in my shirt or pants pocket.
Most phones on the market now have these advantages but make sure your phone has a good flash light, a good photo app and a speaker and microphone built in. There are phones out there that take amazing photos and I think at some point may make taking a camera unnecessary for most travelers. I would spend the money for a higher end camera on my phone.
I recommend getting a phone that will fit in an “Otter type” case. When I say an “Otter type” case I mean a protective case that is impact and water resistant. When your traveling your phone is a lifeline and you need to do everything you can to protect it.
PHONE SOFTWARE OR APPS
You could write a book about this subject and not fully cover it so I’m just going to talk about some applications that I use.
Navigation is a big part of the function you will want your primary phone to do. For navigation I recommend the WAZE navigation app. You can download WAZE for free here. WAZE is an unique navigation program because it integrates a form of social media into the navigation program allowing the drivers to exchange in real time information about accidents, road hazards, traffic congestion, fuel prices and police presence. Charlene and I did a six week road trip across America and our WAZE navigation was a huge asset. I would guess it saved us at least $100 just in fuel costs. The down side to WAZE is it uses a lot of your phones assets such as battery and data.
Discount food apps are a must. I have Restaurants.com and Opentable.com apps on my phone that help me find discounted dining and make reservations. Google Translate is a free app that will translate foreign text from 80 languages into english, it is a great tool for reading foreign menus etc.
For free music if you don’t mind some ads you will like Pandora.com and iheartradio.com either of these options work well on your phone. The youtube.com app offers both music and video including some movies and TV shows. If you have Netflix at home you can download movies onto your phone this site will tell you how.
Another major app you can use on your phone are internet based phone apps like Google Voice. The phone plan Charlene and I have has a 20 cents a minute charge for international calls so we use Skype nor Google Voice a lot. For a good discussion of free internet based phone apps check out this link.
You can also get apps for all the major airlines that will allow you to check flights, book flights, and check in for a flight. With these apps you don’t even need a paper ticket just show everyone from security to the people at check in your digital ticket.
Also every major hotel chain has an app, so you can book rooms while your driving. Many of the motel apps will offer deals and often the best price for rooms is generated by the motel app.
Finally, all of the travel web sites offer apps so on the fly you can use your phone to book travel with favorites like Google Flights, Expedia.com and Momondo.com.
As I mentioned before as a Geezer Traveler your phone is your lifeline and there are literally thousands of apps that can make your travel more rewarding.
Depending on how much time you spend traveling overseas your phone carriers international options may be a major factor in which mobil phone company you go with.
After a lot of debate Charlene and I chose the T Mobile international program it works in 140 countries and offers us free data and text. Phone calls cost us 20 cents a minute but we use the internet to make calls most of the time so thats not an issue. Every major carrier has international programs and different programs may fit you better. For an in-depth discussion of international programs check out this great Nerd Wallet article.
Like in the states different mobil phone companies will have different coverages in different locations so along with checking out the actual international programs you will also want to check coverage in the parts of the world you will be traveling.
I strongly recommend that when you are traveling check your phone bill on a regular basis because even the smallest glitch can cost you a fortune in hidden costs. In 2008 I was moving a boat from the U.S. to St. Croix U.S.V.I. because of weather the move took about two weeks. Before leaving I got an international plan that the salesman told me would be FREE in the Caribbean. I was more than surprised to find out that when I looked at my bill it was almost $2000 with most of the bill being for foreign phone calls. We managed to work the bill out to a reasonable bill but I learned a valuable lesson. When you are overseas watch you bill so you can catch misunderstandings with your phone company quickly and straighten them out.
There are literally hundreds of blogs and articles on international phone use and I recommend to any Geezer that you take a few hours to educate yourself. Your phone is your lifeline on an extended trip and can add a lot of value and quality of life to your trip. It makes sense to get a phone that fits your needs, arm it with software that fits your needs and partner up with a mobile phone company that fits your needs.
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