My wife and I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Kenya and Tanzania, with a stop in Amsterdam along the way. We had an amazing experience, which included going on safari in Tanzania and attending a beautiful wedding at Lake Navasha in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.
I knew before leaving Canada that we would have very limited access to the Internet during our travels. I discovered that, with some careful planning up front and a suite of thoughtfully selected apps, the iPhone can be a very useful travel companion, even when no Internet connection is available. Here are some of the apps that I used regularly during our travels. I’ve also included some essential tips for those of you who travel the world with your iPhone (or iPod Touch).
Our trip took months of planning and before leaving we sought the advice of other people that have travelled to Africa. The information and wisdom we accumulated went into Evernote along with e-tickets for flights, hotel reservations, maps, scanned brochures and a varitey of information captured from the Internet. As a Premium subscriber, I was able to store this information locally on both my iPhone and iPad, allowing me to access it in the absence of an Internet connection. If you’re not a Premium subscriber, you can easily upgrade to a Premium membership for the duration of your travels for five dollars a month and then go back to a free account when you return home.
Price: Free; Evernote Premium ($5/month) required for offline notebooks
My favourite web-based travel service of all time is, without at doubt, TripIt. A beautifully crafted app called TripDeck is the most elegant solution I have found for accessing my itinerary on the go. Importing data into TripDeck was as simple as logging into my TripIt account. Each card in the deck contained information on an item in my itinerary – for example, a flight, hotel booking or activity. Flipping over the card revealed detailed information, such as confirmation codes and the phone number for the airline. Having this information in one, easily accessible place was very convenient.
Price: Free; additional functionality available through in-app purchase
I discovered this gem just before leaving on my travels and it proved to be very useful throughout the trip. Before leaving home I downloaded maps, with bundled point-of-interest (POI) data, for all the places we would be visiting. The maps allowed us navigate without having to rely on an Internet connection and the POI data gave us access to a wealth of information while travelling, including local Wikipedia content for popular sights in Amsterdam. While in Nairobi, we used OffMaps 2 to find our way to a world-famous elephant orphanage and when travelling in Zanzibar we frequently dropped pins when going for a stroll to help us find our way back to the hotel.
Price: $0.99 (includes two free maps)
My most sensitive information is securely stored in 1Password on my Mac, iPhone and iPad and the Dropbox syncing option helps ensure the data on all devices is consistent and up-to-date. Having this information at my fingertips without sacrificing security was very convenient. Instead of digging my passport out each time I checked into a hotel, I simply fired up 1Password Pro and accessed the appropriate “wallet” item, leaving my passport safely tucked away.
Price: $9.99; 1Password Pro for iPhone and iPad also available for $14.99
While travelling in Kenya and Tanzania we found ourselves bargaining for pretty much everything. The Currency Converter app from Oanda, a well-known provider of currency conversion information, was a useful source of accurate information. Handy to know that 10,000 TZS (Tanzanian Shillings) is equivalent to $6.10 CAD (Canadian Dollars). Despite being quite a basic app, Currency Converter has some handy features. The app supports a long list of currencies and commissions can be figured into rate calculations. We typically used the “4% Cash” setting, which gave us a realistic measure of what we were actually paying.
Although we have an SLR camera, having my iPhone 4 in my pocket ready to take photo and video at a moment’s notice was very handy. Despite having purchased third-party camera apps, I ended up using the stock Camera app throughout my travels. I often switched between photo and video and it was convenient to be able to do this without having to switch apps. I also found that the HDR (high dynamic range) mode available to iPhone 4 users is very effective in some instances. And I’m very impressed with the quality of videos shot using my iPhone 4. After we returned from our travels I used the Mac version of iMovie to create an hour-long documentary from our travels, which looked surprisingly crisp, even when viewed on a high-end 60″ television.
Price: Free (included)
I’ve tried a number of alternatives to the Clock app, installed by default on all iPhones and iPod Touches, and keep coming back to Apple’s offering. When catching an early morning flight it’s reassuring to know that the alarm will go off even if the Clock app isn’t in the foreground and even when the mute switch is engaged. I also found the World Clock feature useful when making phone calls back home…just to make sure I’m wasn’t calling in the middle of the night.
Price: Free (included)
If you’re fortunate enough to own an iPhone 4, you may have discovered that the camera flash can also be used as an effective flashlight. Some of the places we visited, including the fishing town of Jambiani on the east coast of Zanzibar, didn’t have streetlights and the Flashlight was a useful app to have on hand when the sun went down. There are free alternatives available, but it was worth paying $0.99 for this app’s elegant design. Fortunately we didn’t need to use the SOS feature, but it’s comforting to know it’s there.
Before you go…
Before jetting off on your next adventure, here are a few other practicalities and precautions to consider:
- Passcode Lock – Several things, including iPhones, have a habit of going missing while travelling (fortunately my iPhone 4 returned safely with me). If you haven’t done so already, add a Passcode Lock to your phone to protect your data. You’ll find the Passcode Lock feature in the General section of the Settings app. For convenience, I chose the Simple Passcode setting, which allowed me to specify a four-digit number as a password. I also enabled the Erase Data feature, which erases all data on the phone after ten failed passcode attempts.
- Keeping Charged – I picked up an Apple World Travel Adapter Kit before heading out on my travels. In addition to giving me an extra USB power adapter (which charges an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad), the package includes a USB cable and six AC adapter plugs. A less expensive, though not as convenient alternative is to buy a plug adapter and use your existing power adapter and cable.
- Beware of Roaming Charges – I recommend that you check with your mobile carrier before heading off on your travels. A chat with my Canadian carrier, Rogers, revealed that I would be charged four dollars a minute for any calls that I made or received in Kenya and Tanzania. I was surprised to hear that if I ignored a call, I would be charged for any time people spent leaving me voicemails. For example, if a friend called to say “hi” and left me a two minute voicemail while my phone was connected to the network, a hefty charge of eight dollars would be added to my bill. Your mileage may vary. If you’re likely to be called while travelling you may choose to put your phone in Airplane Mode when you’re not using the built-in GPS. Another option is to remove the SIM card for the duration of your travels – being sure to keep it in a safe and convenient place, just in case you need to use it in an emergency situation.
With some thoughtful planning, my iPhone proved to be a very useful travel companion, despite having infrequent access to the Internet. The key was to choose reliable apps that are capable of storing data locally and to ensure that the necessary information was synced up to the phone while Internet access was available.
On a side note, I actually appreciated having less frequent access to the Internet. I was able to enjoy the experience of being in Africa more fully without the constant distraction of things like e-mails and Push Notifications. It turns out that Airplane mode also works in my home town of Vancouver, and I’m committed to turning it on every so often so that I can enjoy the natural beauty in my own back yard without interruption.
Do you have any apps to add to the list? Please share your favourites in the comments.