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7 Best Mobile Phones for Travelers

By Tobey Grumet
September 23, 2019
Woman Using Phone Travel
Poike2017 | Dreamstime.com
Every year, smartphones get – well, smarter and smarter. Here, the most exciting new models for 2019, including a variety of price ranges and cool features that can make travel easier and more enriching.

From digital maps to translations to photography to reservations, smartphones have radically changed the way we travel. But when it comes to features, not all phones are created equal. Whether you’re ready to purchase a new device or simply need to swap out a SIM card when you arrive at your international destination, here’s a guide to the best features and phones to help you make the most of your next journey.

1. iPhone 11

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Rejoice, Apple lovers. The iPhone 11, with 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR display and powerful processing speeds, is an affordable and legitimately great follow-up to the X. Sure, if you want to get fancy, the pricier 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max offer more premium solutions, like longer battery life and a 2x telephoto lens, but if you’re looking for something that’s easy to tote with access to the new suite of high-quality features, you can upgrade without guilt.

The biggest improvements come with the 12-megapixel front facing camera. In addition to an excellent, automatic Night Mode, it touts an entertaining ultrawide-angle effect, which gives you a 120-degree field of view, as well as a Portrait mode for things like super close-up pet shots. And, ahem, we welcome the slofie: a slow-motion selfie feature in video mode. There are three cameras in all, two prominently housed on the back side, making the overall design a little less sleek – but it does come in an array of colors, including delicious pastels like purple, yellow and green. We’re happy to report that the iPhone 11 is a truly solid phone with a reasonable price tag. From $699 or $399 with trade-in; apple.com.

2. Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus

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This powerful, premium Android phone is the newest addition to Samsung’s Note line and features a giant screen measuring a whopping 6.8 inches. The vertical, angular body and rounded sides present as stylish and cutting-edge, but it’s the new Aura Glow color that will stop you in your tracks. The shiny, highly reflective iridescent chrome elevates the phone to a piece of working art, though without a clear case to show it off, it can also be a fingerprint magnet. The massive HDR10+ certified screen is a Dynamic AMOLED panel and offers vivid, super-bright video with an immersive audio experience – perfect for that long plane ride.

But what makes this iteration special is the S Pen. The Note has always been known for its stylus feature and the S Pen, which easily pops out of the bottom of your phone, allows you to precisely and simply navigate all the different tasks and features the 10 Plus has to offer. The newest additions, a gyroscope and accelerometer, allow you to control your phone using the S Pen from up to 15 feet away. We especially appreciated being able to take photos or switch modes in the camera app without being anywhere near the phone. And with 256GB storage and a MicroSD slot, you’ll never have to worry about storing all those images.

Speaking of images, the Note Plus has three cameras, two 12-megapixel lenses (one is telephoto) and a 16 megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens, and it offers a Night Mode for low-light situations. Other fun, yet somewhat gimmicky, features include a 3D Scanner, which allows you to scan, then animate any object using motion capture, and AR Doodle, which lets you add augmented reality flourishes to videos using facial recognition. Starts at $1099; samsung.com.

3. Google Pixel 3a

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This lower-priced phone from Google, which runs Android Pie OS, makes the most of its lower price point – featuring a premium experience including blazing fast speeds. Its plastic back makes it significantly lighter than the Pixel 3 yet it sports the same color schemes as its more expensive siblings. Throw a cover on it and nobody will know it’s crafted from lesser-quality materials. Plus, there’s a headphone jack, which is missing in more expensive handsets. A full HD screen and 24-bit color depth make watching videos a dream, and the camera (which has always been the Pixel’s biggest strength) has the same rear camera specs as the Pixel 3. Its more standard image signal processor makes for slightly less sharp, detailed photos – though portrait images didn’t disappoint. Capturing motion isn’t a problem, however, and the Night Sight mode allows for excellent low-light images.

The Pixel 3a may not have the more expensive features of its namesake flagship phone, like wireless charging and free HD photo storage, but it gives you a serious bang for your buck. From $399 or 149 with trade-in; store.google.com.

4. OnePlus 7 Pro

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This previous cult favorite has gone mainstream, and the current 7 Pro is a stylish phone with all the fixings of a more conventional brand. Though it’s not as clearly budget-priced as its former iterations, the bump up gets you a glass and metal body, a super-fast fingerprint scanner, three cameras and up to 12GB of storage.

There’s no headphone jack but OnePlus offers its own version of wireless earbuds, the Bullets 2, for $99 – a steal compared to Apple’s AirPods. The large, 6.67-inch screen is also AMOLED and uses filtration to reduce eye fatigue. To create a better screen-to-body ratio, OnePlus added a motorized camera, which pops up when you want to take a selfie or use facial recognition. And with the advent of Oxygen OS 9, the optimized version of Android 9 Pie, you’ll get super-fast speeds and better rendering of 3D gaming. Another interesting feature is the “zen mode,” which, when activated, completely disables your phone—giving you a reason to take a breather from digital life.

One caveat: the new OnePlus 7T was just announced and will be available in October. From $669; oneplus.com.

5. Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL

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An unlocked phone (meaning it'll work with multiple service providers) with a cutting-edge camera and a built-in interpreter, the Pixel 3 is our overall pick for best smartphone for travelers. Though it's expensive, it’s actually only a few dollars more than the lowest priced iPhone (see below).

As smartphones have become ubiquitous, their technology has improved exponentially, and many travelers now opt for their phone’s camera over a stand-alone one. Google has built on that trend with top-notch, dynamic-range cameras. Here you’ll find an advanced 12.2-megapixel sensor on the rear camera, the main one used for your everyday photos and optical zoom, and two additional eight-megapixel front cameras for selfies, including one for wide-angle shots. Other camera features include a flash-free low-light mode called Night Sight,and a Top Shot mode that takes multiple pics around each shot, then automatically chooses the best one.

Another new Google-specific feature is the Google Assistant Interpreter Mode, which detects the language you’re speaking and translates it like a third-party interpreter. Also just announced is the AI-powered Duplex (available this summer), a chat agent that allows you to automatically book appointments or make reservations without making a call or opening an app. Finally, as an alternative to mainstream service providers, Google’s own Google Fi wireless service is a lower-cost alternative that includes free international roaming and hotspot capabilities. From $799; store.google.com

6. Moto G7 Power

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This budget smartphone is a battery all-star. It may not be beautiful, but it certainly is bold – with over 15 hours battery life on a single charge and a 6.2-inch screen with fingerprint scanner. Though the G7 Power won’t win any design awards, due to its bulky specs to accommodate the larger battery, it does have a headphone jack and shares its SIM card slot with a microSD slot for up to 512GB of extra storage.

The rear-facing camera is 12 megapixels and the front-facing camera manages 8 megapixels. It won’t replace your DSLR but with good light, you’ll manage accurate photos.

In addition to running Android 9.0 Pie, Motorola threw in Moto Actions, a gesture-based interface which lets you do things like unlock the camera by twisting the phone twice or using three fingers on its screen to take a screenshot. But the real beauty of this phone is the knowledge that just one battery charge can last up to three days. From $250; motorola.com.

7. Alcatel 1X

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If you’d rather save your cash for your next trip than blow it on a phone, check out Alcatel’s feature-rich, unlocked phone for less than $100. The 1X, crafted by TV-manufacturer TCL, has a 5.5-inch screen and boasts bright colors and decent viewing angles. It also comes with a higher-end fingerprint scanner and Face Key facial recognition technology for quick, easy unlocking.

The dual rear camera has a 13-megapixel lens and a 2-megapixel lens, and though we wouldn’t suggest using this phone as your primary camera, it’s perfect for social media and can capture respectable portrait shots and selfies. Swipe either way on the viewfinder and you’ll be rewarded with a handful of controls, including a flash and a timer.

The 1X comes with 16GB of storage, but we appreciate the microSD slot, which allows you to store up to 128GB of images, videos, podcasts, music, and more. From $95 at Best Buy, Amazon and Walmart; alcatelmobile.com.

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Travel Tips

The Most Expensive Travel Mistake (And How Not to Make It)

It’s every traveler’s worst nightmare: A good vacation gone suddenly bad. You may be hiking a beautiful trail in a national park, or practicing your rock-climbing skills, or learning to surf on a gorgeous beach. Then the unthinkable happens: A fall, a head injury, broken bones, or worse. You require a medical evacuation, hospital stay, and, after surviving the ordeal, you are presented with a medical bill for $100,000 - or maybe even a lot more. And the medical insurance you have in your home country? It’s not accepted in your current destination. Oops. Ouch. Sure, we said that accident was “unthinkable,” but the fact is, huge unexpected expenses can be avoided by travelers who do think ahead. The world of travel insurance can feel complex, expensive, and unnecessary, but not having the right kind of insurance, especially when traveling internationally, can be the most expensive travel mistake you can make. Here’s how to prepare in advance. Why travel insurance is worth the investment Why do we think of travel insurance as an “investment” rather than an “expense”? Because when you travel internationally, there is a strong likelihood that the medical insurance you have in your home country will not be accepted in the country you are visiting. In some respects, you are paying for peace of mind, of course: Knowing that, in the event that you are seriously injured or ill, you’ll be prepared with a health insurance policy that local medical practitioners and hospitals accept and are familiar with. In some cases, additional travel insurance can also deliver 24/7 emergency service, coverage against theft or loss of travel documents, and even language-translation services. Travel medical insurance For international travelers, “travel medical insurance” is the coverage that ensures that, in the event of a medical emergency in a foreign country, you are not liable for high out-of-pocket fees. It is a short-term, temporary policy covering health, injury, and emergencies. For example, if you are an international traveler planning to visit the US, it is recommended that you obtain a US-based travel medical insurance plan, which will be recognized by more doctors and hospitals in the United States, leading to an easier experience in the event that you seek medical care, customer service, or need to file a claim. (Note: Most of the better-known US-based insurance companies do not offer coverage to international visitors - coverage is offered by smaller US-based companies that specialize in international travelers.) What is covered by travel medical insurance In general, you can expect a travel medical insurance plan to cover any new illness, accident or injury, medical evacuation, and, in the regrettable event of a death abroad, the return home of the deceased’s remains. Generally not covered are pre-existing medical conditions, routine doctor check-ups, immunizations, pregnancy and childbirth, major dental work, or eye exams. Other travel insurance options In addition to medical insurance when traveling internationally, “trip insurance” can be appealing to some travelers. This kind of policy allows you to recoup some or all of your expenses in the event that you have to cancel or interrupt your trip, your trip is delayed, you miss a connection, lose baggage, car rental, and other specific instances itemized in your policy. A “cancel for any reason” policy, just as its name suggests, is more comprehensive and allows you to recoup some or all of your expenses if you decide for any reason at all that you need to cancel or postpone a trip. Cruise insurance works in a similar way, giving travelers a measure of security when they book a cruise that ends up being threatened by a significant weather event.

Travel Tips

9 TSA Rules You Might Be Breaking

With the Transportation Security Administration’s restrictions around the boarding process constantly shifting (see: those Star Wars-themed Coca-Cola bottles that had Disney-goers in an uproar), even the most jaded frequent flier can be caught unaware. Here are some scenarios you should have on your radar before your next departure. 1. You went on a spice-buying spree and packed your finds in your carry-on For the past year, the TSA has required additional screening for any powder-based substances greater than 350 ml (or about how much would fit in a soda can). They don’t have to be packed in your checked luggage, but you will need to allow time for additional screening—and depending on how savvy your airport staff is, that could take a while. A 16-ounce bag of sea salt, for example, proved problematic for one of our writers returning from Sicily, triggering the scanners and stumping the agents at every port of call. To alleviate the hassle, pull them out with your electronics at security or consider stashing them in your checked baggage. 2. You stopped at the dispensary to refill your prescription, and now you’re carrying too much medical marijuana Speaking of stashes: Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, plus D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, but that doesn’t mean it’s cleared to fly cross-country. Because the plant remains illegal under federal law, only FDA-approved goods or those that contain no more than 0.3% THC when weighed dry are allowed, either in carry-on or checked bags. (The rules apply to some CBD products as well, so tread carefully.) Though the TSA screens for security, not specifically for drugs, if an officer sees that you’re holding, they’ll call in the authorities. To avoid the issue altogether, some airports have installed cannabis disposal bins – look for them in locations like Las Vegas, Toronto, and Aspen, Colorado. 3. Your liquids are out of sight, out of mind Sure, you remembered to take out your toiletries and empty your water bottle, but what about your roll-on deodorant, heating pad, or glow sticks? The former and the latter are fine in your carry-on as long as they’re less than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters, but gel-based items like heating pads and candles have to go in your checked bags. (As with any liquids, gel ice packs are fine as long as they’re completely frozen – if they’re at all melted or slushy, they have to meet the 3-1-1 requirement, unless they’re medically necessary.) On the off chance you’re transporting a Magic 8 ball, stick with your checked baggage there too. As the TSA’s reference page puts it, “For Carry-on bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…Outlook not so good! For Checked bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…It is certain!” 4. You snapped a picture of something you shouldn’t have Shooting photo or video isn’t completely verboten at security checkpoints, but the regulations around it are pretty hazy. The TSA says that you’re fine as long as you don’t reveal sensitive information, shoot equipment monitors that aren’t in public view, or interfere with the screening process in any way—including but “not limited to holding a recording device up to the face of a TSA officer so that the officer is unable to see or move, refusing to assume the proper stance during screening, blocking the movement of others through the checkpoint or refusing to submit a recording device for screening.” It’s easy to see how an innocent action could be interpreted as interference, so you’re probably better off skipping the snapshots, just to be on the safe side. 5. You’ve lost a loved one, and you’re traveling with their ashes Going “Code Grandma,” or simply taking a loved one to their final resting place? Some airlines might ban cremated remains from checked bags, but somewhat shockingly, the TSA as a whole has no issue with passengers bringing cremated remains on board, as long as they’re transported in a vessel that allows the scanners to see what’s inside. (Wood and plastic are fine, metals like tin or stainless steel, not so much.) If the officers can’t make out what’s in the container, it won’t be allowed. Per the site, “Out of respect for the deceased, TSA officers will not open a container, even if requested by the passenger.” 6. You’re heading for the big game, or Comic-Con, or a killer Halloween party – and you’ve dressed up to get in the mood Though it’s not strictly prohibited, dressing in costume, painting your face, or altering your appearance in any significant fashion could result in additional screening. TSA agents need to be able to identify you to wave you through the checkpoints, so save the makeup or the mask for a quick restroom change after you’ve cleared security or once you’ve landed at your destination. 7. Your smart luggage was grabbed for the dreaded gate check, and you forgot to pop out the battery Most rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries – lithium, cell phone, laptop, and external batteries, plus power banks and portable rechargers – are fine in the cabin, but they become a problem when they’re stored under the plane. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, check the Federal Aviation Administration’s guidelines before you head for the airport. 8. You won a goldfish at the carnival, and you want to take him home It should go without saying, but live fish should not be relegated to the cargo hold. As one of few exceptions to the notorious 3-1-1 rule, live fish in water – no matter the amount – can go in your carry-on, as long as they’re in a transparent container and pass muster with the TSA officer. 9. You let the holiday spirit take over Air travel during the holiday season is bad enough – don’t make it any harder than it has to be. Your carefully wrapped gifts can trigger an alarm, so use bags and boxes instead of wrapping paper and tape whenever possible. Even the most minor trinkets can cause trouble: Snow globes bigger than a tennis ball likely violate the 3-1-1 liquids rule, and Christmas crackers aren’t allowed at all, either in the cabin or in the cargo hold. Foodwise, fruitcake is fine, but if you’re smuggling gravy across state lines, be sure to mix it with your mashed potatoes if you don’t want it confiscated by security – a lesson model, presenter and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen learned on the fly this summer.

Travel Tips

8 Common Travel Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

Even experienced travelers can become victims of crooks that prey on tourists – and we’re not just talking about pickpockets. Perpetrators use a number of ploys to dupe tourists. The good news? There are steps you can take to avoid these eight common travel scams and swindles. Fake booking websites Fraud can occur before you even pack your bags. Fake travel reservation websites are common culprits. In fact, a whopping 15 million online hotel reservations are made on bogus third-party sites every year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reports. How to avoid it: The easiest way to protect yourself is by going to the official website of the hotel, airline, or rental car agency to book reservations. If you’re considering using a third-party booking website, though, look up the business on the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints lodged against the company for fraud. Also, make sure the booking site’s URL starts with https:// – this ensures it’s a secure website. The broken taxi meter Sadly, some taxi drivers take advantage of tourists by telling them that their meter is broken and then charge them significantly more money than the fare should have cost. How to avoid it: If a taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter, get out and opt for another driver. Don’t have another taxi to choose from? Negotiate the rate ahead of time. Phony Wi-Fi hotspots Connecting your computer, smartphone, or other electric device to an unsecured Wi-Fi network can put your personal data at risk, since the perpetrator can gain access to what’s on your device, including sensitive information like credit card account numbers. How to avoid it: Instead of using public Wi-Fi, create a mobile hotspot from your smartphone. This entails sharing your phone’s mobile data connection wirelessly with the other device you’re using. If you don’t have a large or unlimited data plan, though, creating a mobile hotspot may not be a financially feasible option. If you must use a public Wi-Fi connection, use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which is “a private network that only you can access, hiding your important data from potential hackers,” says Hailey Benton of Global Travel Academy. Your hotel accommodation or attraction is "closed" We’re not trying to give taxi drivers a bad rap – most cabdrivers are honest providers – but some drivers mislead travelers by telling them that their desired hotel or attraction is closed, even though it’s open. The driver will then try to pressure you to stay at a different hotel or visit a different attraction, which offers the driver a kickback for bringing the company business. How to avoid it: This one is pretty simple: if a cabbie tells you that your hotel or attraction is closed, call directly to see whether it’s truly open or closed. Car trouble Renting a car? You need to have your guard up. A fraudster may tell you to pull over because there’s a problem with your vehicle, like a broken taillight or a flat tire. Instead of inspecting your car, the person robs you at gun- or knife-point. How to avoid it: Don’t pull over. If there’s a genuine problem, you’ll likely hear a noise or see an emergency light pop on, at which point you should find a repair shop. The bag slash A purse may seem like a good place to store cash and other valuables. However, crooks target tourists by riding on a bicycle past the person while slicing the strap of a bag, then pedaling away with its contents. How to avoid it: Though some people think they look silly, storing your valuables – money, passport, and credit cards – in a money belt that you tuck into your pants is the safest way to stroll the streets. The shell game It’s an age-old scam: a game operator on the street places a ball under one of three shells or cups, shuffles them around, and you place a bet on where you think the ball is. The trick? Associates acting as tourists guess correctly, leading you to think you can win. The perpetrator has removed the ball using sleight of hand, or you win and the person pays you with counterfeit money. How to avoid it: Don’t play. Don’t even stop to watch – you could get pickpocketed by a conspirator while you’re distracted by the game. The souvenir switcheroo You stop at a stall to buy a keepsake. You find the item you want to purchase and pay the vendor, who then goes to wrap up your purchase. When you get home, though, you unwrap your souvenir to discover it’s not the item you purchased – it’s actually a cheaper trinket. How to avoid it: Don’t buy souvenirs on the street. Instead, go to a brick-and-mortar store that can be held accountable.

Travel Tips

21 Ways You Could Get into Trouble as a Tourist in Italy

It can be hard to stay afloat of Italy's wave of bans on visitor-related misbehavior. From snacking on the street in Florence to riding a bike in Venice's city center, there are specific everyday activities that could see you slapped with a fine of up to €500 ($550) or daspo (temporary ban). Italian authorities have introduced a slew of new rules aimed at curbing unacceptable behavior, many of which are in response to issues with overtourism. Some have been introduced with a zero-tolerance approach. In June, a Canadian tourist was fined €250 ($278) for sunbathing in her bikini in Venice's Giardini Papadopoli. While in July, two German tourists were fined €950 ($1058) and immediately asked to leave the city after they were found making coffee on a portable stove beneath the historic Rialto Bridge. Officials confirmed that this was the 40th time since May that visitors have been ordered to leave town for breaching the rules. "Venice must be respected," mayor Luigi Brugnaro said at the time, "and bad-mannered people who think they can come here and do what they want must understand that, thanks to local police, they will be caught, punished and expelled." It's not just Venice taking firm action. Two French tourists were caught allegedly taking sand from a beach in Sardinia this month and could face up to six years in prison. And in Rome, police have been encouraging lounging tourists to move from the Spanish Steps as sitting on them is now subject to a fine of about €400 ($450). At first glance, the rules may seem harsh but residents in Italy are really starting to feel the strain of overtourism. Many have had enough of visitors treating their cities like theme parks. You obviously don't want to be that person who could cause offense (or worse, commit an offense). Simply respecting Italy and its citizens should be enough to keep you out of trouble but even the most well-intentioned visitor might slip up from time to time. With that in mind, here's a quick brief at what not to do on your next visit to Italy: 1. Purchase unauthorized tours from touts in any city. 2. Purchase "skip-the-line" tours outside historic monuments in Rome such as the Vatican. 3. Join organized pub crawls in Rome. 4. Eat or drink at famous sites in any city, like the Spanish Steps. 5. Sit or lay down in front of shops, historic monuments and bridges. You'll more than likely be moved on. 6. Eat on the streets of Florence's historic center – Via de' Neri, Piazzale degli Uffizi, Piazza del Grano and Via della Ninna – from noon to 3pm and from 6pm to 10pm daily. 7. Drag pushchairs or wheeled suitcases up the Spanish Steps in Rome. 8. Jump into fountains or otherwise damage or climb on them. 9. Set up picnics in public spaces or pause too long on bridges in Venice. 10. Ride bikes in Venice city center. 11. Drink alcohol on the street between 8pm and 8am in Venice. 12. Busk on public transport in Rome. 13. Attach love locks to bridges in Rome and Venice. 14. Take part in group celebrations such as hen and stag parties outdoors during weeknights in Venice. They're only permitted outdoors during the day or on weekends. 15. Let your mouth touch the spout of Rome's public drinking fountains, known as nasoni. Instead cup your hands under the spout of place your finger under the stream to direct an arc of water to your mouth like the Romans do. 16. Drink alcohol out of glass containers on public streets, public transit and in non-enclosed green spaces in Rome after 10pm. Or drink alcohol out of any container after midnight in these spaces. 17. Dress up as a historical figure or character like a "centurion" (gladiator) in Rome and pose for photos with tourists. 18. Walk around shirtless or in your swimwear in any metropolitan area. This state of dress is strictly restricted to the beach or lido. 19. Wear sandals or flip-flops while hiking in Cinque Terre. 20. Swim in the Blue Grotto on the island of Capri. You can visit by boat but swimming in the grotto is strictly forbidden, just ask supermodel Heidi Klum who was fined €6000 ($6696) for taking a dip in the waters this summer. 21. Steal sand from the beaches of Sardinia (or any beach for that matter). You could face up to six years in prison.

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