Taking a trip away from home can be good for the body and soul, but it also means you’re going to be without the safety net of your home and office Wi-Fi, and might even involve piggybacking on a different data network and living through a different time zone. Your smartphone can adapt, if you know the right tricks—which we’ll share here.
Photo: William Bayreuther (Unsplash)
All of these are steps to take, or at least ideas to think about, before you venture out on your travels—though not all of them need to be done in advance. Obviously, the preparations you need to take depend on where you’re going and for how long, but whatever kind of trip you’ve got planned, you should find some useful pointers here.
Sync as much offline content as you can
You never know how much Wi-Fi you’re going to get access to while you’re away from home, but chances are it’s going to be less than you think—and for the purposes of security it’s probably a good idea to spend as little time on public networks as possible.
With that in mind, get as much content synced to your phone as you can before heading out. A variety of streaming apps now let you store content on your phone for a limited time (usually well outside the duration of your trip), so you don’t have to worry about finding Wi-Fi before you can start listening to some tunes or watching a few movies.
For example, on Spotify simply open up a playlist that you’d like to be able to hear on your travels and turn the Download toggle switch at the top to on. You’ll find the same switch on entries in the Albums and Artists menus under Your Library—so you could download everything by one band (well everything in your current playlists anyway).
On Netflix, meanwhile, tap on any movie or show to see if a Download button pops up on screen (this will depend on the licensing Netflix has got for it, but all Netflix Originals are included). Tap the Download button to save an episode or a film to your device. To see a list of stuff you can save, tap Search then Available for Download.
Make sure you know where you’re heading
Another area where a lack of connectivity might hit you is in your favourite mapping app. GPS will work without any data connection, but those map tiles aren’t going to appear if you don’t have any internet on your phone—and that could leave you struggling to find the local landmark you’re after.
With Google Maps on either Android or iOS, you can cache maps and routes before you set out and while you’ve still got strong Wi-Fi. From the app menu, choose Offline maps then Select your own map (Android) or Custom map (iOS), then drag the selector around the area you want to cache. Tap Download to confirm.
Apple Maps doesn’t have a simple offline map system like that, unfortunately, but we know from playing around with the app that it does cache certain parts of the map and certain routes while you’re using it with internet enabled (try going into airplane mode then zooming out to see for yourself). Your best bet is to search for routes while you’ve still got an active connection to the web, but it’s not ideal.
The Here WeGo mapping app for Android and iOS can save maps for offline use before you set out on your travels, so that’s another option if you don’t want to use Google Maps or Apple Maps. Maybe just keep a paper map in your back pocket, just in case.
Change the settings in your calendar and clock apps
Just about every smartphone out there will adapt to the local time automatically, wherever you go in the world, though the alarms won’t always follow suit (otherwise they might be going off in the middle of the night). Double-check your phone alarms are set to the time you want, or disable them completely.
Your phone’s calendar app will either adjust to show existing entries in the local time or continue to show the timings from back home, depending on what you prefer. If you’re trying to catch up with sports events or meetings it can be helpful to see the corresponding local timings, but on the other hand it can also be disorientating to see all your calendars shift forward or backward a number of hours.
In Google Calendar for Android and iOS, tap Settings from the main app menu, then General, then toggle the Use device’s time zone switch to on if you want to see all your existing events shift in time. On an iPhone, open Settings then tap Calendar and Time Zone Override—enable the switch and choose your preferred time zone (usually your home one) if you don’t want the Calendar app to use the time zone you’re currently in.
Other apps may or may not adjust time zones automatically, so it’s worth your while to double-check any that you particularly rely on (your fitness app in particular might get confused about why one day has lasted twice or half as long as normal).
Review your phone’s data use settings
If you’re heading beyond your country’s borders then the last thing you want when you get back is a huge data bill. Your first port of call should be your provider—find out what terms and conditions apply where you’re going abroad and how much you can expect to pay, and to see if there are any temporary travel deals you can take advantage of to get yourself some cheap calls, texts, and data while you’re abroad.
Unless your phone network operator is offering you a sweet deal outside the country, many of you will want to limit the cellular data you use while you’re in another part of the world. On Android, head to Settings and tap Network & Internet, then Mobile network, then turn Roaming off. To be extra sure your phone has got the message, you can turn Mobile data off completely. The same menu screen lets you see how much data you’ve chewed through recently as well.
Over on iOS, head to Settings, then tap Cellular Data and choose Cellular Data Options—you should see an option to turn Data Roaming off, which disables data while you’re outside your home network. Again, you can turn cellular data off completely if you prefer, so nothing happens unless you’re on Wi-Fi.
If you want to keep on using data but keep your data use down to a minimum, head to the apps you use most often, as many have some form of data saver feature. They include Chrome for Android (Settings, Data Saver), Snapchat (Settings, Manage, Travel Mode), Spotify (Settings, Music Quality), and so on.
We’re not finished yet with the advice for getting your phone ready for a trip. One idea we’d recommend is checking up on the local travel apps you might need ahead of time: Especially in big cities, there are often bespoke apps covering local transit routes like buses and trains that can save you a lot of time and confusion. These apps are made by the transit firms themselves, or the city authorities, and usually prove to be better than Apple Maps or Google Maps.
We shouldn’t need to say it, but make absolutely sure your smartphone is well protected with various lock screen defences. If your phone should fall into the wrong hands, you don’t want your apps being opened up. It might also be worth putting contact information on your lock screen so anyone who comes across your device can return it, if they’re feeling altruistic.
In Android, you can open up Settings then choose Security & location, tap the cog next to Screen lock, and tap Lock screen message to set a message. In iOS, your best option is to open the Health app then tap Medical ID, then Edit, then list yourself as an emergency contact (make sure Show When Locked is enabled). Alternatively, maybe just create a temporary trip wallpaper image for your phone with your contact details on it.
Finally, and in spite of what we said about syncing lots of content to your phone, make sure there’s plenty of room left on your device for all those photos and videos you’re going to be taking on your travels—you don’t want to run out of room while you’re away. We’ve written plenty of guides on this before, like the ones here and here.