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Eight Nifty Cell Phone Travel Tips

For most of us, a cell phone is as much a part of our packing list as a toothbrush. While cell phones are invaluable to make and receive calls, that little electronic marvel in your pocket is chock-full of nifty travel tricks you may not have imagined.

1. Flashlight
Most contemporary cell phones have a very bright display that can be used as a flashlight in a pinch. Let’s say you drop your keys under the car seat, or you need a bit of light to read the menu in a dark restaurant. Simply turn on your phone and point the screen where you need some light — you'll be amazed at the brightness of that tiny screen.

2. Photographic Memory
Buying a cell phone without a camera these days is like trying to buy a car without air conditioning, so chances are good that your cell phone has a built-in camera whether you wanted one or not. As a general rule, the pictures taken with a cell phone are low-quality and worthless for photographic prints. You can, however, use your cell phone camera as the “photographic memory” you wish you had. Need to remember where you parked your car in the airport lot? Take a quick photo of the location and its surroundings. When you get back to town, simply pull up the picture stored on your phone and tell the shuttle driver exactly where to find your spot. Don’t want to forget your room number? Since most hotel keys are no longer imprinted with room information, shoot a picture of the number on your door so you can later recall whether it was room 1114 or 1411. If you take just a bit of time to learn how to use your phone’s camera (or find some 12 year old who will be thrilled to teach you), you’ll find yourself using your “photographic memory” even when you are not traveling.

3. Travel Alarm Clock
Nearly every cell phone has a built in clock, and most automatically reset to the local time simply by turning them off and on. Chances are that there is also a built-in alarm clock that can be used as a reliable alternative to the hotel’s unreliable clock radio or when you are out and about. If you plan a day of sightseeing, browsing museums or shopping for souvenirs, be sure you don’t miss the last train back to your hotel by setting your cell phone’s alarm to alert you when it’s time to return to the station.

4. Electronic Rolodex ®
Your phone almost certainly has a phone book function, and you may already have set up a handful of frequently dialed numbers (spouse, home, work, etc.) Before you head off on your next trip, program in a few more phone numbers such as your airline’s customer service number, hotel reservation line, and rental-car company phone number. That way, if you are delayed and need to contact your hotel about a late arrival, the number is handy. You may also wish to program in the major air carriers (United, American, Southwest, etc.). In the event that your flight is canceled or some other travel mishap occurs, and the line at the customer service counter snakes through the terminal, you can dial up your airline’s customer service number (or another carrier) and work on rerouting your itinerary without waiting in line (and before all the flights are booked by those in front of you).

As a bonus, you can also enter the names and addresses of friends and family. That way, while sipping coffee and writing postcards at that sidewalk café, you can easily look up addresses on the phone. The only tricky part here is that entering the addresses manually on a standard phone without an alphabetic keyboard can get tiresome. However, many phones support downloading address and phone info from common e-mail programs such as Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes. The staff at your local cell phone store may also have some ideas to load your phone from a standard text file, so check with them.

5. Electronic Itinerary
Most phones these days support SMS messages also known as TXT messages. These are short text messages (160 characters or less) that are the cell phone’s version of e-mail. SMS messages can be sent directly from cell phone to cell phone and are the rage for the under-30 crowd. Since typing with a phone’s keypad is rather tedious, there are numerous codes to spell out thoughts with just a few letters (CUL8R = See you later). What most people don’t know is that it is quite simple to send an SMS message from your computer’s e-mail account (using a real keyboard!) to your cell phone - you just need to know the SMS address (see below). So, once you have your itinerary, send yourself an SMS message with the flight number, departure and arrival times. Send yourself another with the hotel name, address and reservation confirmation number. Send another with the airport shuttle info and one more with your rental car details, keeping each message less than 160 characters. Since it is almost always easier to pull out a cell phone and recall an SMS message than it is to dig through your brief case to find the right sheet of paper, you will find yourself sending all sorts of notes to yourself so that they are quickly accessible. One note: unless your cell phone’s rate plan includes a set number of included text messages, you will be charged from 10¢ to 25¢ per message. If you find you like this feature, for just a couple of dollars per month, you can add 50 or 100 messages to your phone plan.

6. Flight Status Notification
We all know that we should call the airline or log into their web site to find out if our flight is delayed before heading off for the airport. However, in the hustle and bustle of getting packed up and ready to go, we are rarely so conscientious. Most airlines offer a Flight Status Notification on their web site which takes advantage of your phone’s SMS messaging. Just visit the web site’s flight notification page and enter the flight number and date, along with your SMS address. A few hours before departure, you’ll receive a notification directly to your phone of your flight’s status along with gate number and other details, and additional messages will arrive with any gate changes or delays. The best part is that since most flight delays are not published until an hour or so before departure, the notification can reach you even when you are en route to the airport, allowing you some extra time for a side trip to Starbucks that you might have otherwise skipped.

7. Fingertip Information
One of the slickest uses for your phone’s SMS messaging is a free service from Google (the huge Web Search Engine) called Google SMS. It’s like having a local Yellow Pages in your pocket! For example, you can send a short text message such as “Pizza 91320” to the phone number 46645 (GOOGL spelled with the numeric phone keys) and in a minute or two you will receive a text message back with all the pizza joints in that ZIP code. Need to find the closest Starbucks in Chicago? Just text “Starbucks Chicago IL” to 46645. White Page look-ups also work if the individual is listed in the phone book – just send their first and last name along with their city and state (text “John Smith Anytown CA”). And, it is not just an electronic phone book. Google offers an amazing selection of information via its SMS service such as weather forecasts (text “weather dallas tx”), currency conversions (text “5 usd in yen”), language translations (text “translate good morning in French”) and even driving directions (text “santa monica ca to pasadena ca”). The service is only currently only available in the USA. For more information go to the Google SMS web site at http://www.google.com/mobile/sms/

8. A Computer In Your Pocket
The features above can be found on just about all popular cell phones. If you are a frequent traveler, you may wish to step up to the new breed of smart phones. It is said that today’s smart phones contain more computing power than the Apollo moon rockets! With a one- or two-year cell phone agreement, basic phones run from free to $100. Smart phones cost from $100 - $400 but offer the tech-savvy traveler a host of additional features such as full e-mail access, iPod-like music player, video player, internet access, world clock, games, electronic books and more. And unlike your home computer, these features are much easier to use. Besides, it fits in your pocket better than a laptop!

So, dig out your cell phone manual and learn how to use its features. A few minutes invested will pay dividends when you hit the road. Happy Travels!



Travel Advice

Flight Delays     

Getting a Good Flight's Sleep

Avoiding Jet Lag 

Cardiovascular Disease and Travel 

Insect Protection 

Eight Nifty Cell Phone Travel Tips 

Packing for the Unexpected

Securing Your Luggage 

Seven Days and One Carry-on Bag

The Five Commandments of Packing 

Lost Luggage 

Avoiding Pickpockets 

Hotel Security for the Traveler 

Security Tips for the Female Traveler 

Take Great Vacation Photos







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