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How to Prep Your Smartphone for Travel

Young woman using smartphone at airport terminal
Zodiacphoto/Shutterstock

Your smartphone is an incredible travel tool but if you just hop on a plane without a bit of prep, you might end up with a $10,000 roaming bill or, perhaps worse, losing all your precious photos. Here’s what you need to do.

Back It Up, Back It Up

Backups, backups, backups. Tech writers harp on about them, but do people listen? Well, sometimes. And now is one of the times you really should listen.

If you don’t have your phone backed up, or better yet, set to back up automatically, then don’t set foot in the airport. Travel is an absolute phone killer. If you don’t want to risk all your kid’s baby photos and countless other priceless bits of digital memorabilia, then make sure you’ve got a copy of everything backed up safely.

Thankfully, backing up a phone is really simple. Over at our sister site, How-To Geek, we’ve got full guides on everything you need to know:

With your phone all backed up and your data secure, now we can actually look at getting it ready for travel.

Lock Your Phone Down

Hand holding smartphone while entering the passcode
releon8211/Shutterstock

When you travel, you’re likely to use your phone more than you would at home in weird, novel situations. It’s all too easy to leave it on the table at a restaurant, misplace the bag it’s in, or even have it stolen from you. Before you go, there are some fairly simple things you can do to make your phone more secure.

Enable the passcode, fingerprint, or face lock. Whatever lock screen security features your phone has, enable them. You should really have this done already, but it’s especially important when you travel. If your phone isn’t locked, you’re giving anyone who finds it open season on your personal life.

Write down your phone’s IMEI and serial number. If something does happen to your phone, for police reports, insurance claims, and getting your carrier to block it, you’ll almost certainly need the IMEI and serial number. There are ways to find them without your phone by contacting your carrier or looking at receipts, but really, it’s better to have them recorded already. Here’s how to find them for iPhones and Android phones.

Turn on Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager. Find My iPhone on iOS and Android’s Device Manager do essentially the same thing: they let you locate a missing phone or wipe it remotely. It’s this latter option we’re most interested in since you should never ever try and recover your own phone from a thief—people have been killed this way. Instead, if your phone goes missing, you can check to see if you left it in a hotel or restaurant; if not, you can wipe it from afar. How-To Geek has the full lowdown on how to set up and use Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager.

Work Out How to Use Your Phone Abroad

Let’s talk about a different kind of lock: the carrier lock. If you’re planning to use your phone with a SIM card from a local carrier, you’ll need to get it removed.

As long as you’ve paid off your phone, you can demand that your carrier unlock it. That way, when you get to your destination, you can buy a local SIM card—normally available in the airport—and get back online straight away. If you’re doing that, just make sure to turn off data roaming before you go so you don’t rack up any fees before you get your new SIM up and running.

Digital Trends article about official racking up $20,000 in roaming charges

If you haven’t paid off your phone, your options aren’t as good—although they are getting better. Your carrier almost certainly offers some kind of roaming plan; how much data you get and at what price is by far the most important thing to consider. T-Mobile even offers very slow speed data for free.

If you have a newer phone, like the iPhone XS or Google Pixel 2, then you might be able to use the built-in eSIM. What plans are available varies from country to country and it’s not widely supported yet, but it might work for you.

Download the Right Apps

woman using smartphone to call for a ride at night on city street
Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock

Your phone isn’t much use when you travel without the right apps. While there are countless travel apps out there, some of our favorites are:

Download Your Entertainment

The odds are your phone is going to be your primary source of entertainment when you travel. Before you head off, you should stock up on downloaded media you can enjoy on the plane or lying by the pool. YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify all have options for downloading content (although only Spotify lets people using their free plan download anything). Amazon’s Kindle app is definitely the best choice if you want to read.

Accessorize!

To make the most of your phone while you travel, there are some accessories you probably need:

  • A case: A good case will protect your phone if you drop it and also disguise the make and model of your phone from any thieves. Our sister site, Review Geek has loads of great recommendations whatever your phone.
  • An external battery pack: Shockingly, when you use your phone, it drains the battery. Since you’ll often use your phone a lot when you’re traveling it’s worth bringing an external battery pack so you’re never caught short. Check out Review Geek’s round up of the best ones.
  • A selfie stick or small tripods: Selfie sticks get a bad rap but they’re actually a really useful tool for taking photos while you travel—same with small tripods. If you’re at all serious about taking good photos while you’re away, it’s worth investing in some smartphone camera gear like this.

There’s no way you’re going to leave your smartphone at home the next time you travel so, by far the best option, is to prepare it properly.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »

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