This article is a compilation of some of the best travel-and tech-related tips, tricks, hacks, and workflows I’ve learned. It is iPhone focused, but most tips will apply in exactly the same way to the iPad.
While you can find many iPhone tips and tricks online, this isn’t a collection of random tips. Specifically designed for people who want to take their iPhone use to another level in a travel and mobility context. That is, it’s for people who want to use their mobile device as a mobile device.
So, for example, I don’t just say the iPhone has a great world clock (it does) or that you can activate Airplane Mode to shut off the Wi-Fi connection (you can). Instead, I prefer to tell you how to tweak the settings to get the most out of that feature, or how (and more importantly, why) you can best use those features in a travel or mobility context.
Where possible, I endeavour to go beyond the obvious. I’m aware most people know about popular apps like Skype, so you won’t find a tip here about saving on phone call charges by using Skype. I prefer to focus on some of the features or applications of those services that you probably don’t know about and that would be useful to you. My aim is to provide maximum value to the reader.
At the same time, I need to cater to a broad range of readers, so I include a few tips that may be obvious to some. That said, however, you’ll be sure to discover loads of tips and tricks that even the most experienced traveler or tech geek won’t have known.
Also, because the iPhone operating system (iOS) is always being updated, you may find that some of the menu settings described here are different by the time you read this article. In most cases, though, the change will be cosmetic, and the setting will just have moved to another menu. The concept or tip that I’m describing will still be applicable.
Finally, a brief word about > these > arrows. In this article, I use them as a form of shorthand to abbreviate a sequence of actions you can perform on your iPhone. For example, the instruction “you can find this setting in Settings > Mobile > Mobile Data > OFF”, means to tap on die ‘Settings’ button on your device. On the next screen, tap the ‘Mobile’ icon, then ‘Mobile Data’. And on the following screen, switch the slider to ‘OFF’.
1. Put Google to work for you
These Google tips work best if you use the official Google iPhone app, but you can also apply them in a Google search using other web browser apps like Safari.
If you do use the Google app, you can make your requests by voice, just like you do with Siri. While you’re there, you might try asking Siri if she likes Google.
Here are some of the many travel-related actions (with examples) that Google will perform for you:
• Convert a currency. (Use either the currency symbols or words.) Example: 1 AUD in USD. This gives the exchange rate for 1 Australian dollar in US dollars. If you want to convert a specific amount, for example, to work out the cost of your flight in your home currency, enter it in the same way: 843 USD in AUD.
• Find out a flight status. Enter the flight number, for example QF5.
• Convert units. 10kg in pounds. 7 kilometers in miles.
• Time. What time is it in Sydney?
• Weather. What is the weather today? What is the weather in Paris?
• Temperature. 48 degrees in Fahrenheit.
• Weight. 2kg in grams.
• Distance. What is the distance between Melbourne and Sydney? How far is it to Singapore? 878.3 km in miles.
• Sunrise / Sunset. Sunrise in Taipei.
• Questions. How old is Bono? When is Easter? Dialing code for Taipei. Google will pick what it believes to be the most accurate answer and return that with a website link. Google is pretty good at answering factual questions.
BONUS TIP: While you can’t do this from a mobile device, it’s a pretty nifty trick to use on a desktop computer. In a Google search box type: Set a timer for [NUMBER] minutes.
2. Save webpages offline
Your iPhone and third-party apps offer many different ways to save content you find online to be read later when you don’t have an Internet connection.
If you only need to view a web page offline once, the easiest way to do that is using the Safari web browser. Simply tap on the Share button (the box with the upward pointing arrow), followed by ‘Add to Reading List’. You can later access the webpage offline through the bookmarks icon at the top of the Safari screen.
If you want to save a web page you intend to view more than once, you can use an app like Evemote, Pocket or Instapaper. If you have any of these apps on your device, you can send the content directly from the Safari web page to them using that same sharing extension.
As a traveler, there are many types of content you might want to save offline, including maps, blog articles like nature walks or restaurant reviews, Wikipedia articles, bus timetables, interesting news articles, pages from an airport website (like transfers to the city), and more.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the ‘read it later’ services like Pocket and Instapaper are only for news or blog articles. You can use them to store any useful information you find online.
3. Save files from online without downloading them
Using the Puffin Browser app, you can save files ‘cloud to cloud’. That is, you can save a file you might want to download from the Internet directly to a cloud storage service like Dropbox.
You might want to save a file from the Internet because it may be removed, or you might not have access to it later.
The advantage of saving a file ‘cloud to cloud’ is that you don’t need to download the file to your device and then upload it again.
Also, this feature uses almost none of your data, so if you’re transferring a lOOmb file to your Dropbox account, you can do it almost instantly, even with a poor Wi-Fi or cellular data connection, and without using much of your mobile data plan.
4. Save on web browsing data
If the data plan you’ve purchased is tight, you can reduce the amount of data you download by using a web browser that offers data compression.
Opera Mini web browser is one third-party web browser that has built-in compression. Thankfully, it is also a great browser with special features like being able to save web pages offline. Opera Mini claims that it can achieve up to 90% compression; in my experience, it’s usually somewhat less than these maximum figures.
Opera Mini has three settings: Opera Mini with maximum data compression; Opera Turbo, which has less compression although better website compatibility; and Normal, with no data compression. Clearly, this is a useful feature for a travelers using cellular data or dodgy Wi-Fi.
If things are tight with your data, you could start using maximum compression. If you’re having problems loading a particular webpage, switch first to Opera Turbo and then, if necessary, to Normal mode.
Another trick that you can use on any browser (like Safari) to save on data usage is to force websites to load mobile versions of their sites. You do this by entering ‘m.’ before the website name in your browser. For example, rn.news.com.au or rn.facebook.com.
When you do this, the website will send you a stripped-down version, with fewer ads and lower quality images, and that will save on mobile data. It is, however, a far less elegant web browsing experience than using Opera Mini.
5. Quickly find the airport on a map with Google
Entering the airport code into the Google Maps search box will quickly navigate you to the airport on the map.
For example, to find Los Angeles International Airport (Airport code LAX), type LAX into the Google search box. It works for many but not all airports.
6. Set up a reminder to use online checkin
By setting up either a reminder in the built-in Reminders app or a calendar entry, you can be notified when checkin opens so you can nab the best available seats on the flight. (You can set up a push alert when you create a new calendar entry.)
If you’re traveling with only carry-on luggage, checking in online means you usually skip the checkin process and the bag drop at the airport. (When traveling internationally, you’ll still have to get your documents reviewed by an airline staff member.) If you’re traveling domestically, you can turn up a little later at the airport.
GEEK ALERT: Ever noticed that unusual little SEQ number (“SEQ 138”) on your boarding pass? That’s called the sequence number. It represents the number in which you’ve checked into the flight. When the gate attendant can’t scan the barcode on the boarding pass, they’ll call out that number for the other attendant to enter it manually into the computer to register you as boarded. You might even get a little smile if you got No. 001! (For the real nerds – or if you’d like to increase your chance of getting one of those smiles – you can actually login as soon as online checkin opens to see if you can get No. 001. Note that some passengers (like groups) get checked in before online checkin opens so you can’t always get SEQ 001. Good luck!)
Also, if you get a really high SEQ number on an aircraft that has, say, a 180 seat capacity, you know the flight is going to be full. Given this information you can get to the gate early if you want to make sure you have space to stash your bag in the overhead storage bins. Likewise, when you get to the airport late and have a low SEQ number, you’re probably going to have room to stretch out.
7. Create your own iPhone ‘app’
Sometimes a service or organization doesn’t have an iPhone app, and it can be useful to create your own ‘app’ for them. When I say ‘app’, I mean creating a shortcut to their webpage on the Home screen of your iPhone. Because you’re on a mobile device, however, you’ll often be served a mobile version of that website. That mobile version might give you easy access to the website’s core features.
Creating a weather ‘app’ is one good example of how this tip can be useful for travelers, and creating an ‘app’ for airlines that don’t offer one is another. Following this discussion, I’m sure you’ll think of other examples, as well. (One that comes to mind would allow you to navigate to your own website or blog quickly).
Let’s take a brief look at airlines. Some of them (particularly budget airlines) don’t have an iPhone app. By creating a shortcut to their web page on your iPhone Home screen, you can go quickly to their website to search for flights, do online checkin, and any other airline-related tasks you might want to do. Given that you’re on a mobile device, you might be served a cut-down, mobile version of their website with only the key features, like online checkin, search for flights or flight status. This is exactly what you want.
Next, there’s the weather. If you’re staying in one location for any period of time, you’ll often find that the international weather services don’t give the most accurate local forecasts. For example, you might be staying in a country like Vietnam or Cambodia, which don’t have good coverage by the international weather websites. While some of the popular weather sites look amazing, their weather forecasts will often be off by several degrees and sometimes more.
If you can’t find a local weather app for the country you’re traveling to, you can create your own using local government weather data for your desired country and city.
First, search in Safari and navigate to a webpage that contains the local weather forecast for your desired city. Next, tap the Share icon (it is the square with the upward pointing arrow), followed by ‘Add to Home Screen’. This will add a shortcut to that web page on a Home screen of your device. You might want to move that shortcut to somewhere more accessible, like the first Home screen, and rename it – ‘Phnom Penh Weather’, for example. Next time you want to know the weather, you can tap on the shortcut to go directly to the current forecast.
8. Record the IMEI number of your iPhone
Every mobile device has a unique 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number that is used to identify your phone handset to the phone network.
If your iPhone is lost or stolen, you’ll need this information to report it to the police. They will use it to identify your phone, and sometimes they’ll send a list of the IMEI numbers of stolen phones to second-hand shops or pawnbrokers so they can report stolen devices. In many countries you can also contact the phone company and have the phone’s IMEI number blacklisted so that it will not work on domestic phone networks.
You can find the serial number and IMEI of your iPhone at Settings > General>About. Alternatively, you can dial #06 on the phone keypad to display the IMEI number, or by logging in online to your Apple Support Profile if you purchased or registered the device directly with Apple. (You probably didn’t know you had a support profile, did you?)
9. Using the volume button as shutter release
The volume up and volume down buttons on the iPhone act as a shutter release, as do the same buttons on your Apple EarPods. This means you don’t have to tap the screen of your iPhone to take a photo, which leads to a much steadier shot. It’s also a great tool for taking a better selfie.
The volume buttons on your iPhone will also operate in ‘Burst mode’. Burst mode allows you to take a number of photos in rapid succession by holding the capture button.
Besides listening to music, there are many other things you can do with your EarPods. You can activate Siri, answer an incoming call, skip to next track, rewind audio and video, and other functions. EarPods even work on your Mac with iTunes and QuickTime player. Download the EarPods user manual if you’re interested in learning more.
10. Find local apps
You can find lots of great ‘local’ apps in many places that are specifically designed for use in diat country. The most useful for travelers are usually transport-related apps, but you can also find good apps for guide books, walking tours, museums, dining recommendations, and more.
I find the best way to search for these apps is to go to the iTunes store in the particular country and then navigate to the Travel category. You can do this in iTunes on your Mac or PC by opening the iTunes Store and navigating to the very bottom of the home page. There you’ll find an icon of the national flag of the country whose store you’re currently in. Click on the flag to change the country.
This strategy is better because if you search for apps in your home country App Store, you’ll have to look through hundreds, if not thousands of apps to find the ones from foreign countries. By contrast, in their home country, the best local apps will typically be at the top of their various categories, like Travel.
To purchase or download one of these apps, you’ll need to navigate back to your local App Store, search for the app by name and see if it is available for purchase in your local App Store.
Conveniently, you can find some of the popular local apps by tapping the ‘Explore’ button in the App Store on your iPhone or iPad.
BONUS TIP: Ask a local. Quite often locals prefer to use one app in any given category, such as transport. Ask somebody local what they recommend, and that will save you downloading several apps and having to try them out.
Even if an app is written partly in a foreign language, it can still be incredibly useful, so don’t let a country’s language barrier put you off exploring their iPhone apps.
11. Tips for creating great panoramic photos
Your iPhone camera has the ability to create beautiful panoramic photos. You access the panoramic photo option in the Camera by swiping to the left until you get to PANO.
(BONUS TIP: In the Camera, you don’t have to swipe on the names of different photo styles to navigate through the list; you can swipe anywhere on the Camera screen.)
Here are a few tips to create better panoramas:
• Consider using a tripod for your panoramic photos.
• Alternatively, to get a stable picture, you might try rotating your body rather than the camera to get the shot.
• Extend your arm fully when taking the panoramic photo. This will ensure that the camera stays the same distance from your body as you turn to take the photo.
• If you want to stop taking the panoramic image before the arrow reaches the other side of the iPhone’s screen, tap the capture (or volume) button once more. You don’t have to take a full length panorama.
• With panoramas, the default option is to shoot left to right. You can also shoot them from right to left by tapping the right arrow button before you take the shot. The arrow will flip so that it is now pointing to the left, and you’re good to go.
• Finally, you can also shoot panoramas vertically as well as horizontally.
12. Use the Grid to frame better shots
Tum on a grid that overlays the iPhone camera screen in order to use popular photography techniques such as the rule of thirds.
You can find the grid setting at: Settings > Photos & Camera > Camera > Grid > ON.
13. Open the SIM card tray without the SIM-eject tool
If you forget to bring the SIM-eject tool with you, there are a few other tools that you can use to eject the SIM card tray. Some of the better alternatives to the SIM-eject tool include a paper clip, the end of a staple, and a hair clip.
Before sticking other types of foreign objects into your gorgeous iPhone, you might want to ask your concierge or other travelers, or pop in to a phone store to borrow a real SIM-eject tool.
In all situations, you should be careful about scratching or otherwise damaging your iPhone.
If you’re traveling internationally, it’s best to bring the SIM-eject tool with you. You can store it in your wallet or a special purpose SIM card container.
14. Turn off mobile data
If your mobile data plan is expensive, there are many ways you can make sure you don’t use too much data. If you want to make sure you don’t use any mobile data, turn it off completely at:
The easiest is to turn mobile data off completely at: Settings > Mobile > Mobile Data > Off.
You should use this method if you want to make sure you’re not using any mobile data but still want to make phone calls.
Another method of turning off mobile data is put your iPhone in Flight Modeand turn on Wi-Fi. However, in this case you won’t be able to receive any phonecalls.
15. Create your own custom postcards
Postcard On The Run (by Postcard On The Run LLC, a free, in-app purchase) is a simple tool for creating and posting personalised postcards.
The app itself is simple to use. You choose an existing photo from the photo gallery or Facebook, or snap a photo using your camera. Next, position the image and add an optional border.
Then you compose a message of up to 200 characters, sign the card, and select a person from your contact list to send it to. If the recipient isn’t in your Contacts or doesn’t have an address, you need to add him and his postal address. Otherwise, the app will send the recipient an email requesting his address.
Once you’ve submitted your postcard through the app, it is printed and then mailed by Postcard on the Run.
Postcard costs vary (and seem to change over time) depending upon whether you send them within the United States or internationally. The cost of the postcard includes postage. Postcard On The Run occasionally has promotions, where you can send postcards at a reduced price.
Note that postcards sent outside the United States (from where the service is based) can take a few weeks to arrive. (To be clear, if you’re on holiday in Singapore and create a postcard with this app, the postcard will still be mailed from the United States.) The postcards are of good quality.
There are many other good apps in this space; another popular choice is Touchnote Postcards by Touchnote (free, in-app purchases).
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