Smartphone technology has more or less taken over the world by this point, and there’s a decent chance that anyone reading this article has one or is considering taking the plunge. For travelers, the decision to do so can be alternately easier or harder, depending on what company and model they choose, what their destination is, and how much data they really plan to use. How do you wade through all of the necessary steps and get the coverage you want while paying as little as possible?
The first step is, of course, acquiring a smartphone. With so many to choose from, this decision can be somewhat daunting. What are you looking for in your phone? If you plan to be doing a lot of traveling, it needs to work on the GSM network. You can also check if your phone is sold “unlocked,” meaning it can access other networks than its default one. If it isn’t, you can get the access code to unlock it yourself from your provider. Some of most popular options for world travelers are Blackberrys, iPhones, the Samsung Galaxy S, and the LG Optimus. However, there are countless other options, and you would do well to research them beforehand to make sure you’re happy with your decision. You can find cheap mobile phones at dial a phone and similar sites, which not only provide a range of descriptive and comparative information about smartphones, but also offer purchasing plans that can help cash-strapped backpackers afford these useful but expensive gadgets.
Once you arrive in your destination, you need to buy a local SIM card, which is an inexpensive chip that fits under the battery of most phones. This allows you to load up on credit for calls and messages. You’ll also probably want to purchase a data bundle of some sort, which could be as small as 50 MB or up to several GB of browsing, messaging, using maps, and accessing other network data on the local 3G network. 3G is available in a pretty good chunk of the world, and offers you unparalleled convenience for reasonable prices. When possible, though, it’s better to save your data and use wifi at your hotel or guesthouse, cafes, and the free public networks that many progressive cities offer. You’ll never know when you’ll find yourself running low on data credit when you need it most. SIM cards are so cheap that you may find it an economical choice to buy a new one in each country you visit. You’ll have to keep learning new numbers for yourself, but that’s a small price to pay to have a functional phone making inexpensive calls.
Smartphones are a great choice for backpackers because of their portability. If bringing a laptop isn’t necessary, or you’re traveling with a partner and can limit yourself to just one, mobiles provide you with all of the convenience (and more, if you get 3G) at a small fraction of the size and weight. If you already own one it’s a no-brainer, and if you don’t yet it can be a great investment. Move forward with the technology; you won’t regret it.