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The travel phone


I have an old iPhone I keep in a drawer at home just to use when I travel abroad. As soon as I get to a international destination, I head to the nearest cell phone store and purchase a new SIM card and a pre-paid data plan - usually about 5 gig. Total bill is around $20-$30 and the data lasts for at least a couple weeks.

I only realized on this last trip to Europe just how dependent I've become on this old device.

Its primary uses are for navigation and photography (which needs no explanation.) I do feel totally dependent on GoogleMaps whether walking, driving, or even taking mass transit. (A librarian in Tokyo taught me how to use GMaps to use the city's complex metro system.) I love how GMaps will predict walking time and has the directional indicator that shows which way you are facing. For me, one of the most confusing parts of a subway is figuring out exactly where you are when you come up on to the streets. When I do a lot of driving, I have a commercial app called CoPilot that I like because the maps are downloaded and one can still navigate without having a cellular data connection. 

Other apps on which I depend when traveling include:

  • Speak and Translate -  real time lanuage translation 
  • Spanish Anywhere - Spanish dictionary
  • Fly Delta - boarding passes, updates of flights
  • GlobalConvert - currency conversion, but also does metric length, weight, temperature
  • Mobile Pass - easy go through immigration returning to US
  • Uber - works around the world. Taxi drivers are corrupt in many places.
  • HostelWorld, TripAdvisor, Kayak - on the fly booking for rooms, tours
  • AllTrails - maps of hiking trails
  • Bed Time Fan - creates white noise to help one sleep
  • Facetime, Skype, GoogleVoice - calling home
  • Compass - when you really just need to know what direction is actually north
  • DropBox - storing and accessing pdfs of reservation confirmations, copy of passport, and other travel docs

I explained to a friend recently that one of the reasons I like to travel is I consider it a test of my aging brain. Can I still figure out how to get from A to B? Can I make myself understood when neither of us speak a common tongue? Can I still a book a room, rent a car, or sign up for a tour? He observed that travel asks us to use different parts of our brains than out daily life, and suggested that is perhaps why it feels like an effective test. I like that.

I've long wondered whether our devices are enhancements or replacements for our thinking processes. When the affordable pocket calculator came out in the mid-70s, I liked to think that I could use my mental processing power to solve problems rather than to remember multiplication tables. Does the GPS allow me now to learn more about where I am going rather than worry about how I get there? As language translation apps become more powerful and realtime, will I now be able to craft more effective communications with my host country friends? 

Or maybe, just maybe, my phone being smart helps compensate for me not being quite so smart myself.

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