iPhone and Android apps for travel

How Our Digital Devices Have Affected our Lives as Expats and Long Term Travellers

Our mobile devices took on added importance yesterday when someone asked out of the blue if we wanted to sell our home in Turkey. We have been thinking of moving on – though not for a year or two yet – and the question got me thinking more seriously about what we would do with our possessions and how much could be left behind in favour of digital alternatives.

Four years ago we ummed and ahed about buying an iPod Touch. The spendthrift part of TWT wanted one because it looked sleek and shiny, while the other half of TWT wondered if it was worth the money. I won out and a few days later Amazon delivered the device to rural Northern Ireland where the lack of wifi for miles around concealed just how massively useful it is for living and travelling abroad.

If it has one drawback it is that it is not a phone but for us a low end Samsung smartphone fulfils that function and we also recently bought a Samsung tablet for the bigger screen. The new tablet also comes in useful when I can’t get the iPod Touch off of a certain someone who thought it would be a waste of money.

We also have a dumb phone because Turkey places dumb restrictions on mobiles bought outside Turkey – unlike most places around the world where we would advise popping a locally bought sim card into your phone in Turkey they stop working after 60 days unless you jump through a lot of hoops and pay a tax.

Aside from needing trousers with lots of pockets this all means we have become quite familiar with the Android and Apple apps that come in useful for living and working abroad, long term travel and gap years.

On the move

The apps we use vary from device to device and where we are. On the occasions we make it home to the UK we need to visit England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Sometimes we prefer a fast way to reach our destination, but usually as budget conscious travellers we look to save money travelling by coach in Britain. For example to go from Ipswich to London is about £32 cheaper per person than going by train, according to the android app of travel search site GoEuro. The app is soon to officially launch, having been in its beta phase since early July, and has been added to our arsenal of tools for when we next need to travel Britain.

Navigating a foreign city is when a smartphone really comes into its own. Ours was a great help getting us around Bangkok last year and useful apps can be found in the iTunes or Play Store for the mass transit systems of most big developed cities.

Another interesting new app is Trover. I saw this one mentioned on Wandering Earl’s blog and will give it a try myself soon. I usually use Wikihood to find out what is around me but Trover looks much more interesting.

Nonetheless, despite all the advantages mobile devices bring to long term travel it can be a shame to walk in to a hostel and see everyone engrossed in their electronics rather than engaging with each other. One of the things we noticed when travelling around Burma was the poor wifi meant people seemed to talk to each other much more. Aside from being distracted with social media and talking to friends from home rather than making new ones, not being able to find travel information online meant we and other travelled old school – exchanging advice and ideas with each other in a way we didn’t in neighbouring Thailand.

Getting rid of the TV

The dynamic is a little different when living abroad. When we are travelling there is so much to see and do we rarely want to waste any time watching TV (though it is nice to catch a film every now and again) but at home in Turkey with a reliable internet connection television takes on greater importance.

When we first arrived in Turkey over seven years ago we would buy a few films each week from the DVD guys that came around the bars selling pirated copies of the latest movies. Invariably, they would be crap quality, filmed on a camera with cinema audiences coughing and getting their heads in the way of the screen. Sometimes they were not even the correct film.  Now there are many ways to watch films online both legally and illegally.

Another way we have saved some money is by ditching Digiturk, the satellite TV provider in Turkey. This was ordeal in itself – they really didn’t want us to go – but our television set now sits unused in the corner of the living room and we now watch TV on laptops or on the tablet. For this we use FilmOn – an app we’ve already raved about – but TVPlayer and TVCatchup came into play during the World Cup when FIFA blocked access to the games. For catching a game abroad I have already provided a few suggestions but would also add the LiveSoccerTV app for finding out when and what channel a match is on.  Other TV options include the BBC and ITV players.

Some apps are only accessible when a VPN is switched on. On the iPod we use Hotspot VPN but the free service provided by this app doesn’t work satisfactorily on our tablet and none of the other VPNs we have tried have worked well either.

Music and audio

We’re old enough to have ditched cassettes a long time ago and carried a case of CDs when we first travelled. Now I save a few songs from YouTube to iTube and the phone that doesn’t function in Turkey makes itself useful as a radio. When using the iPod for this I prefer The Radio.  Offline, Podcasts are a wonderful way to get through a long bus journey.

Books

When we do eventually move it won’t be the first time we have had to leave books in someone’s loft or given them all away. This time it won’t be so heart wrenching as they can all be carried digitally or one device or the other.

Keeping in touch

Whether you are staying abroad for good or intending to go back home again, keeping in touch with home is the number one priority for most expats and long term travellers. We were reluctant to get on Facebook but it eventually sucked us in when we realised it was the best way to contact most of our friends and family. We do use other social media for blogging but no one outside of our work is on anything else other than Facebook.

Another way we keep in touch is through the news. I’ve never been in to celebrity culture or chats around the water cooler but thanks to the radio and access to UK news feel less like an alien dropped in from another planet when we do visit home.

Image courtesy Martin Voltri

* A link in this post helped us to eat and pay some bills this week

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