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14 minute read

Tech on Tour: How to Use Your Smartphone for Travel

June 24, 2024

Did you know that your smartphone can be one of your most valuable travel tools? With an ever-growing list of useful features, the smartphone is the ultimate multi-purpose device that can help you focus on what’s important: savoring and enjoying your journey. Following is a list of practical ways to use your smartphone while traveling.

Please note: The information in this post applies to Android and iOS devices (i.e., Samsung, Google, and Apple smartphones). However, these tips may apply to other types of phones; please check your phone’s settings for details on its features.

If you’re looking for more ways to use your smartphone for travel, be sure to read our other Tech on Tour blog posts.


Take Great Photos (and Edit Them, Too!)

Smartphones offer an all-in-one, easy-to-use point-and-shoot camera option. They can capture crisp, high-quality photos in a range of environments and lighting conditions, and you can edit your photographs instantly with built-in software.

When taking a photograph with your smartphone, remember these tips:

  1. Keep your lens clean. Since our hands frequently touch the lens of our smartphone cameras, it’s a good idea to have a lens cleaning cloth readily available while sightseeing. Always wipe your lens thoroughly before taking a photo or video.
  2. Create a camera shortcut. Your smartphone features quick-access settings that allow you to open the camera without having to unlock the device. On Google and Samsung phones, press the power/lock button twice to access your camera from any screen – including your lock screen. On Apple phones, swipe left on your lock screen to open your camera. For more information, click on the links above.
  3. Hold your phone horizontally. For traditional landscape shots, hold your phone horizontally while photographing. Reserve vertical shots for tall subjects, such as close-up photos of buildings, or for sharing on your Instagram or Facebook stories.
  4. Try zooming out. Many phone cameras have the ability to zoom out to 0.5x or more, which is especially useful if you want to fit more in the frame. Typically, this option works best for faraway landscape shots; it can create an unsightly “fisheye” effect on close-up subjects.
  5. Avoid zooming in too close. Zooming in too much compromises the quality of your photo, resulting in a blurry final product. Use it sparingly and only when necessary.
  6. Focus the lens. Tap the main subject of your image before taking a photo. This ensures the camera lens properly focuses on what you are trying to photograph.
  7. Take several shots, every time. Get in the habit of taking several shots for every photo. Refocus the lens, adjust the position of your phone, and zoom in or out slightly each time. This gives you a better chance at getting that “perfect” shot.
  8. For image quality, prioritize photos over videos. Some people prefer filming videos and then using video stills as photos. However, since smartphone cameras’ video quality is often much lower than their photo quality, opt to capture individual photos instead.

If your photo needs tweaking, try out your phone’s built-in photo editor. Android and iOS photo editors offer the ability to adjust brightness, highlights, shadows, contrast, saturation, sharpness, and more. There’s even an object eraser tool that removes unwanted objects from your photos – especially useful for removing stray people or cars from an otherwise perfect shot.


Set Up Your Mobile Wallet

If you have an Android or iOS device, then your phone likely includes a built-in “mobile wallet” – a digital database of payment methods. By adding your credit and debit card information to your mobile wallet, you’ll be able to participate in secure “touchless” payment options like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Google Pay, all of which are becoming more widely accepted in many parts of the world.

However, that’s not the mobile wallet’s only use. Often, you can also add documents such as event tickets and even flight boarding passes to your mobile wallet for easy access – no paper copies needed. Be sure to set up a quick-access option for your mobile wallet: click for instructions for Samsung, Google, and Apple.


Save Battery Power

If your smartphone tends to run low on battery too quickly, try these battery-saving tips:

  • Keep your phone up to date. Software updates help everything run efficiently, reducing energy consumption overall (and sometimes, updates contain battery performance enhancements).
  • Activate Battery Saver Mode, Adaptive Battery, and/or Low Power Mode. These settings help limit power consumption by reducing background activity and limiting screen brightness.
  • Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Your phone spends a lot of energy searching for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, so turn them off when not in use.
  • Limit push notifications. Turn off or limit push notifications and change your settings so that notifications don’t turn your screen on and/or cause your phone to vibrate.
  • Turn off keyboard sounds/vibrations. Save that valuable energy for more important functions.
  • Delete unused apps. You’d be surprised at how much energy unused apps eat up.
  • Turn on Dark Theme or Dark Mode. This darkens the color scheme of your device, reducing screen brightness and intensity.
  • Use Airplane Mode when you don’t need cell service. Airplane Mode turns off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular service/data, meaning your phone will stop automatically searching for signals. You can still use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi while in Airplane Mode by turning them on manually, so this setting is especially useful for travelers who don’t have cell service while overseas.
  • Turn off Adaptive Brightness or Auto-Brightness. This will cause your phone to stop automatically adjusting the screen brightness according to the ambient lighting of your environment. Instead, manually set your screen brightness to keep it as dim as possible at all times. On iOS, you can quickly adjust screen brightness through the Control Center. On Android, drag down from the top of your screen and use the slider to change your screen brightness. For more information, click these links: Android, iOS.


Translate, Identify, and Learn About Almost Anything

You may not know your smartphone camera can act as a visual search tool. If you have an Apple phone running the most up-to-date iOS software, you can access Visual Look Up in your default Photos app. Just take a photo and if the Info button at the bottom of the screen displays starred symbols, tap it to identify and learn about the landmarks, plants, foods, and more that appear in your photos and videos. On Samsung phones, click the eye icon in the upper right corner to select, copy, and translate in-photo text, search Google for photographed items, and more using Bixby Vision.

Alternatively, you can do all the above and more with the Google Lens app: translate, copy, and scan text; see ratings and reviews for restaurants and other establishments; identify landmarks, plants, animals, and food; learn historical facts and other information; and much more. Just point your camera and let Google Lens do the rest!


Create a Digital Filing Cabinet

Among their many features, our phones can create and save documents and files just like a computer. Transfer existing files from your computer to your phone and organize them in folders for easy, handheld access. You can also create new PDFs, Word docs, Excel sheets, and more with apps like Google Docs and Google Sheets.

There are several ways to make digital copies of print documents and save them on your phone. On iOS devices, you can open your Notes app, create a new note, and click the camera icon. Then, you can use your phone's camera to scan and save a PDF file of any physical document. On Android devices, you can accomplish this with the Google Drive app by tapping the camera icon in the bottom right. Alternatively, you can download a dedicated scanner app like CamScanner.

Save digital copies anything you'd like: important documents, informational pamphlets, receipts, magazine pages, and anything else you would like to keep on hand. By utilizing these features, you can reduce or eliminate the need to print and carry paper documents while traveling. It’s convenient for you and good for the planet!


Use Your Phone’s Safety Features

Smartphones offer a variety of safety features. You can enter and save your emergency contacts and important medical info and allow it to display on your lock screen in case of an emergency (click for instructions for Apple, Samsung, and Google). Most smartphones also have a built-in LED flashlight. For an extra layer of personal security, you can choose from a multitude of apps providing different types of safety services.


Remember: There’s an App for Everything!

There’s an app for almost everything. Check the weather, create a customized packing list, beat jet lag, make restaurant reservations, book flights, buy event tickets, plan your itinerary, create a calendar, download maps…the list of possibilities goes on. If you need some guidance on what apps to download, check out our blog posts: Tech on Tour: 15 Essential Travel Apps and Tech on Tour: 6 Useful Apps for Stress-Free Traveling.


We hope these tips help you make the most of your smartphone while you’re on your next travel adventure!

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