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Adding an international phone service plan when traveling abroad is just one more expense to budget for when planning a trip. It is worth the expense if you plan on using it to the fullest: making calls, sending texts, and using data to search for things on the fly while in a foreign country. I’ve noticed during my travels that the only thing I really need to stay in communication with my friends and family is WIFI and even that has been hard not to come by while traveling abroad in Europe and South America. Thus I’ve found other ways to get by.

For keeping in touch? WhatsApp. It’s a cross-platform messaging app that allows users to send texts, calls, images, and videos at no cost. For getting around? Google maps. Yes, the same Google maps app you know and love is even more useful when traveling to a foreign country. Here’s how I take full advantage of it on my Samsung Galaxy s7 while traveling the world without a phone service plan.

Airplane Mode

The key to not getting charged for using data, even accidentally, is to keep your phone on airplane mode and to make sure that all data settings are turned off. The good thing about this mode is your phone will take much longer to deplete its battery (since it’s not searching for data and syncing everything) but you can still enable and use Wi-Fi.

Know where you want to go

When planning my itineraries for abroad travel, I typically do my research online, in travel books, and with friend’s recommendations, then use Google maps to star the places that I plan to visit. This helps me to get a reference point for where I want to go and also how far it is from my lodging and other attractions on the map.

You can do this by using the search function in Google maps and typing in your desired location (or finding it on the map and clicking on it). Swipe up on the name of the place for more information and to reveal additional options. Use the Save button to either save the location to your favorites, as a place you want to go or as a starred place. The location will now appear with a star on your map.

With all of your locations saved in the city, your map will look something like this:


Enable location settings

While you are successfully on a Wi-Fi network, turn your location on. This will enable the blue dot to follow your exact location on the Google map while you are off of Wi-Fi to be used as a compass to help you navigate in real-time.

Navigate your way around

Use the blue dot to direct your path as you walk through the city.* Note that the dot may take a few seconds to adjust to your exact location. This has also helped me while riding in taxi cabs to ensure that we’re going the right way and, sometimes, directing the taxi to the exact location. When back on wi-fi, you can add new locations to explore!


*Disclaimer: As is the case for any large city or foreign place, maintain awareness of your surroundings. If you feel that it is not safe to use your phone in public, opt for public transport or an actual paper map. If traveling to Hawaii, note that it is illegal for pedestrians to hold their electronic devices while crossing the street or highways. Careful using your phone while biking!

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