Everyone knows the iPhone is an awesome gadget, with lots of features and apps to make everyday life easier, so when I went backpacking around Europe, it was the first item on my list. However, not everything is as easy as it seems. Here are some thoughts on how to make the most of it and not go crazy with its short comings…
Have your wall charger with you at all times and charge your iPhone whenever you can. The battery WILL drain when you most need it, like when you arrive in Berlin, for some reason at the wrong train station, with no place to sleep, no idea where to go and for some reason can’t find anyone who speaks English. (I guess I could also get a map, a REAL compass and have a guide book with me at all times but what kind of geek would I be if I did that?)
If your iPhone’s battery is running low, STOP USING IT. Don’t think “oh, I know my way from here, I won’t get lost”. If you’re anything like me, you WILL ALWAYS get lost right before your iPhone shuts itself down.
If even with my expert tips you still managed to reach 3% of battery, take a moment to write down on a piece of paper or notebook (remember those?) any important details you might need, like your hostel’s address or the phone number of the guy whose couch you’re crashing on.
Attitude & communication:
Squealing and taking pics of the Apple Store when you get to Regent Street not only makes you look tourist-y it also makes you look really weird, just sayin’ (from experience). Waving goodbye to the Apple Store when you’re about to leave London apparently is also not a good look (don’t make fun of me, we don’t have Apple Stores here).
Happy hour at the hostel bar is not the time to sit in the corner and post on Twitter how much fun you’re having. Specially if you’re travelling alone, you’ll want to meet people when you can (so you’ll actually have interesting stuff to tweet about).
Showing all the cool stuff your iPhone can do is not a good way to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers (unless they’re iPhone geeks too in which case you can just say hello from across the room with the “Banner” app).
There are a few good navigation apps that have stored maps, which means you won’t get a huge bill from downloading maps all the time (I have Navigon) but I came to realize that for walking directions Maps is still a lot better. What I ended up doing was getting the directions I needed in Maps whenever I found a free wifi hotspot and then just followed the path. I left Navigon mostly to find some POIs and to find my way back to the hostel when i was lost in the middle of Bruges with no wi-fi around (Bruges is very small, so according to my tour guide no one gets lost there, except me of course).
Unfortunately even Maps won’t help you if you gest lost inside a train station like I did. That’s one situation where it helps to have a language app so you can look up what the word “exit” looks like in the language of the country you’re in so you can more easily find your way out.
I know we like to think the iPhone is the most perfect gadget ever, but sometimes it will fail you. When I was trying to find a cyber cafe in Paris, Maps sent me to TWO wrong locations. When I actually tried asking the guy at the reception desk of my hostel, I found out there was actually a cyber cafe just a block away. We geeks might like to use our gadgets for everything but sometimes getting out of our technological bubble and actually talking to people is a good idea. We might even make a friend (yes, geeks can have friends too).
Security (the iPhone’s, not yours):
Try not to use your iPhone (unless you really need it) when you’re getting drunk at the hostel bar. Alcohol makes it a lot more likely that you’ll drop it, spill something on it or hand it over to someone and forget to get it back. That being said you should ALWAYS use it to take pics of people doing embarrassing drunk things (then you’ll have something to trade for the video of you dancing on top of the hostel bar, hopefully before it hits YouTube).
If you walk around alone at night, which you should avoid if possible in a strange city, try to memorize your path back to your hostel before you leave; you don’t want to draw attention to yourself by using your iPhone to find your way if you happen to get lost in a bad part of town.
If you’re going to use your iPhone to take a lot of pictures consider investing in a case with a wrist strap. My boat tour around Amterdam would have been a lot more enjoyable if I wasn’t so worried I would drop my iPhone in the canal every time I used it to take pics.
Double check that the hostel where you’re staying really has free wi-fi. Sometimes free wi-fi is only available for the people who pay more for the same room (so it’s not really free), only in the lobby or not available in the building where your room is.
Location, location, location. In most dorm rooms usually only the bottom beds have a power outlet nearby (if that) so you should try to claim those beds if possible. You’ll want to let your iPhone charge through the night whenever you can but you should never let it charge on the power outlet on the other side of the room.
It’s also a good idea to get a bed near the door so you won’t bump into everything when you get to your room drunk at 4am. If you can’t find a bed near the door, the iPhone can be a pretty discreet light source to find your way through those crowded dorm rooms.