The iPhone 3G will be my new travel companion when I leave for Zurich, Switzerland tomorrow morning (yep, I finally upgraded from my Blackberry Curve).
The iPhone has a lot to offer the international traveler, and here are 10 ways you can use the iPhone to help you on your next trip abroad (most are applicable even if you're just traveling to another state or province).
Note: if you're looking for ways to save money on data roaming charges, scroll down to the bottom of this page.
Keeping track of the current time is the first thing I worry about when I travel across multiple time zones, and the iPhone lets you add a clock for every imaginable city in the world. I've added a clock for my destination city, my lay-over city, and my home city.
You can add Yahoo! weather reports for any city, just by opening the Weather app and clicking the little "i" at the bottom right of the weather screen. You can store multiple weather reports and easily flip through them to see what the weather is like in other areas of the world.
Looks like it's cold in Zurich in October, so I'll be sure to pack warm clothes for my trip.
Convertor Pro is a freebie that you can download from the App Store that lets you convert any currency to another. It's updated every hour with actual current rates too.
You can also click the "i" in the upper right of the screen to view a graph of the currency conversion rate over the last 5 years - handy for evaluating global economic trends.
I visited Germany for the summer back in 1989 (dating myself a bit here) and picked up a little Germany while I was there, but I'm pretty rusty.
You can download free Cool Gorilla language packs from the App Store for quite a few different languages, including German which is the official language in Switzerland.
The language lessons let you read and hear the words or phrases with the correct pronunciation. I'll be listening to this on the plane over, and was surprised at how much I had remembered from my previous trip almost 20 years ago.
You can find quite a few language instructional videos for free on YouTube, that make it almost like sitting in a virtual classroom.
These aren't free, but are pretty close at only $3.99 for the iTranslate programs that bring text-to-speech capability to the iPhone. Not only do they translate English sentences into foreign languages, but it reads them back to you in that language!
Just do a search for iTranslate and you'll see a list of programs for each major language.
It's really easy to get lost in a different city, let alone a foregin country. I found that to be the case while visiting London, and I've already printed out several Google maps so I'll know how to get to my hotel from the airport.
While you're viewing a Google map, tap the locator icon in the bottom left of the screen and the map will zoom in on your current position. It uses a combination of GPS satellite positioning and cell phone triangulation to narrow in on your location, and I've found it to be noticeably more accurate than the Blackberry's GPS.
Apple was smart enough to include international dialing assistanc, where it will add the correct prefic to US numbers when dialing from abroad.
To turn on this feature, tap "Settings" and then "Phone", and turn on "International Assist".
Last but not least - no matter how jet-lagged you might be after that first night's sleep, you can rely on the iPhone's built-in alarms to wake you up.
You can even set multiple alarms, which is helpful if you have a medicine that you need to take on a regular basis. I have severe Restless Legs Syndrome that requires me to take medication every night before bed and also at 2:00 a.m. in the morning, so this feature will be a big help.
This list covers what your iPhone can do for you while you're traveling abroad or even just traveling to another state - but there's one more thing you'll need to do:
Sign up for an international data plan.
If you go overseas without doing this, you'll wind up with an astronomical bill for doing regular things like checking email, sending your wife a few instant messages or text messages, checking the web for your checking account balance, etc (HUGE, as in thousands of dollars, according to the AT&T rep I spoke with just a few minutes ago).
By astronomical, I mean upwards of $2500 or more depending on how long you're traveling.
There are 2 types of coverage/service that you'll need: phone coverage and data service. You can get an international roaming plan for your phone calls that varies in price depending on which country you're visiting - check here for details. Switzerland is $5.99 and that brings calls down to 99 cents a minute.
LOL, yep, you hear me right. Without the roaming plan however, calls are 1.29 a minute, so it's still worth it in my opinion.
The data plans run from 24.99 for up to 20MB of data transfer, on up to the big spender plan that costs 199.99 for up to 200MB of data transfer. That's not a lot of data transfer for a ton of money, if you ask me.
I didn't have much choice, so I opted for the 100MB data plan for $119.99 a month (which will be pro-rated since I'll only be using it for a week). AT&T has a full page of ways to minimize data transfer while you're traveling internationally, that's worth taking a look at as well.
If you don't want to buy the data plan from AT&T
So I recognize that not everyone wants to buy the data plan, so if that's you then just be sure to turn off Data Roaming.
To turn off data roaming on your iphone, go into Settings -- General -- Network and make sure Data Roaming is set to "Off".
The will ensure that you aren't charged airtime for things like email, web browsing, and google maps (yes, using GPS with google maps consumes lots of data roaming bandwidth). You'll still be able to use your phone to make calls, but you won't get dinged with airtime charges for the other network services.
You'll also still be able to use wifi without any AT&T charges. Wifi does not incur carrier charges - in fact, you might even be better off just buying an iTouch instead of buying a data roaming package from AT&T (thanks to Brandon for that suggestion).
I'll send greetings from Zurich while I'm away, and let me know if you know of other ways your iPhone can help travelers get the most out of their trips.