These Smartphone Accessories Will Change the Way You Travel
Like it or not, smartphones have changed the way we explore the world. From electronic ticketing to GPS, not to mention those all-important social-media updates, our phones are our constant companions; even out of service range or in airplane mode, we're using our devices to take pictures, navigate Google Maps, and supply the soundtrack for new adventures. Since we won't be leaving home without 'em anytime soon, we found six accessories that will make your phone even better—all for $70 or less.
Get Up Close and Personal
(Courtesy SIRUI USA)
Cheap smartphone clip-on lenses are readily available for less than $20 a set, but if you’re serious about photography—or stepping up your Insta game—paying a little more for higher-quality versions will garner better results. “If you use your phone for more then just snapshots, you should have a 60mm lens,” says Budget Travel photo director Amy Lundeen. “The Sirui 60mm clips on easily and ups the quality for portraits and details like flowers and food—the images are nice and sharp, even if you’re a little further away from the subject then you might want.” The only downside? It weighs down the phone a bit, making it a little more difficult to hold, but if you’re not willing to invest in a real camera or tote around the one you have, this is the way to go. It’s available individually, but it also comes as part of a set, in a carrying case alongside a fish-eye and an 18mm wide-angle, for $150.
Sirui 60mm Portrait Lens, $70, bhphotovideo.com.
Fit More in the Frame
To capture that expansive skyline shot, a wide-angle lens is also a must. “The wide-angle is perfect for a sunset or rooftop view,” Lundeen says. “It gives just enough extra in the frame to make images from your favorite destination more dramatic.” Cheaply made lenses will lend a fish-eye look to your photos, but this one from Bower offers 50 times the magnification with a 110-degree field of view, giving you more room to play with only a hint of curve around the edges. It has a built-in clip so it's compatible with front and back cameras, but it doesn’t fit well with a phone case—I had to remove mine in order to get the lens to line up properly. As long as you’re willing to run the risk of droppage to get the perfect shot, though, this is an ideal option.
Bower HD Cinema-Wide Lens for Smartphones, $50, bhphotovideo.com.
Light It Up
Let’s get two things out of the way: Yes, this LuMee light-up case was designed to take better selfies, and yes, it’s been endorsed by the most famous Kardashian. But thanks to LED rails on the front and back, it’s good for much more than just snapping well-lit self portraits. As a former food blogger, I have a compulsive need to document everything I eat, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much better this made my shots, especially in dimly lit dining rooms and dark, divey bars. I did feel a bit conspicuous whipping it out in close quarters—the backlight is pretty bright, even on the lowest setting—but when I saw the results, I was converted. That said, the case adds quite a bit of bulk to your phone, and it’s so difficult to get on and off that the company had to make a video to show how it’s done; plus, without a way to lock it, it’s all too easy to graze the power button and turn it on unintentionally. But those quibbles aside, this case is a great tool to have if you often find yourself taking pics in low-light situations.
LuMee Duo, from $39, amazon.com.
With social-media platforms leaning ever more toward personal broadcasting (see: Facebook Live and Instagram’s new TV feature), you don’t have to be a professional to justify an equipment upgrade. This 10-inch tripod offers a lot of bang for not a lot of buck, with bendable legs that anchor your phone to take steady shots, even when a level surface isn’t available, as well as an adjustable, universal phone mount that allows you to change up the POV. (It also comes with mounts for a proper camera and a GoPro.) And, with a shutter remote that works up to 30 feet away, it can even serve as a selfie stick—especially good news for solo travelers.
KobraTech Triflex Mini Cell Phone Tripod With Remote, $25, amazon.com.
Juice It Up
I’ve been using this portable charger for seven months and counting, and let me tell you, it is a game-changer. Weighing in at just six ounces, at 4-¼ inches long by 2 inches wide and just ½-inch deep, this little guy takes up next-to-no space in my bag, and its built-in lightning iPhone and micro USB cables not only give a serious battery boost in very little time, they also eliminate the need to carry around extra cords. It takes four hours to reach full capacity, but it holds a lot of power—during a recent weekend in San Francisco, it had enough juice to top up my phone and a friend’s multiple times before it needed to be recharged. Just two drawbacks to note: The power button is super-sensitive (on more than one occasion, I’ve pulled it out of my pocket only to discover that I’d accidentally turned it on), and given the positioning of the cables, it can be slightly awkward to hold both phone and charger in one hand—the cables are flexible, but the two units don’t stack very easily. But despite those caveats, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Jackery Bolt 6000, from $30, amazon.com.
Boost That Battery
Content distribution manager Amanda McCadams carried this charger on her last trip to Puerto Rico, and she came back raving about it. “When I travel, I use my phone non-stop: for navigating, selecting places to eat, looking up opening hours at attractions, buying tickets, checking my email, and constantly texting and taking calls if need be,” she says. “Plus, I’m using my phone to take photos and videos of nearly every interesting thing I encounter, so I quickly drain my battery. This Anker charger was awesome—I used it at least twice a day to charge up my phone, and it still had enough juice that it didn’t make me nervous.” With a slim profile and nine-ounce weight, it fits nicely in a day bag or backpack, and when you pair it with an extra-long USB cord, you can stash it in your pack and keep using your phone while the battery replenishes. It also comes with a case to wrangle your cords, and it charges via USB, so you'll only need to carry one brick for all of your devices.
Anker PowerCore II Slim 10000, $34, amazon.com.
"Flight Shame" Takes Off as the Buzzword of Summer
There are entire websites devoted to foreign language words that have no direct English translation. Shadenfreude—taking pleasure in others’ misery—is perhaps the most familiar example. Or consider cavoli riscaldati, the Italian term for attempting to rejuvenate an unworkable relationship (literally: reheated cabbage). When a person from the Philippines has the urge to pinch something adorable, he has gigil. Now there’s a new term making its way into the lingua franca, the Swedish word flygskam. Translation: flight shame. A record of climate change activism The term—and concept—is the product of increased awareness of the environmental impact of flying. Considering the conscientiously eco-minded behavior in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, it’s become slightly taboo to board a flight. This is the culture, after all, that gave us Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, the activist who made international headlines when, in 2018, at the age of 15, she camped outside Sweden’s parliament building with a sign that read “School strike for climate,” an act that inspired her peers to get more engaged in activism around climate change. Sweden has instituted an aggressive plan to be carbon-neutral by 2045, a fact that puts its history of frequent air travel in stark relief. According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the nation’s aviation sector accounted for 1.1 tons of emission per person, five times the global average. It’s not a habit that’s easy to break, either. According to the United Nations, if initiatives to cut other CO2-emitting industries come to fruition, aviation will be the single largest culprit within 30 years. The impact of social media When it comes to drawing attention, few tactic work better than social media. On Instagram, @aningslosaininfluencers (translation: “clueless influencer”) chronicles the activity of celebrities who fly too often and too pretentiously. The account has more than 60,000 followers. However, unlike so many disparaging trends on social media, this one has an equal and opposite positive movement. Another new term, tagskryt, has taken hold as a response. Literally “train-bragging,” it’s Swedes’ way of broadcasting their pride in their green effort to opt for the train over flying. The Facebook group Tågsemester.nu has almost 14,000 members who post tips and tales of their train travels. Its Instagram account is packed with photos of people enjoying nature at eye-level, certainly something you can’t enjoy at 38,000 feet.
Where to Find Free Broadway Shows in NYC This Summer
This summer, you won’t have to visit New York’s theater district to get a taste of the Broadway action. Broadway in the Boros Broadway in the Boros releases musical theater talent from the confines of Times Square for a free lunchtime performance series. Starting this month, as part of the city’s fourth-annual Broadway in the Boros series, cast and musicians from eight big musicals will take the show on the road, making the magic happen in public plazas across the outer boroughs. The lunchtime series kicked off earlier this month in Brooklyn, with the critical darlings from Hadestown (nominated in 14 Tony categories and victorious in eight) partnering with the Mean Girls crew at Bed-Stuy’s Restoration Plaza. The Prom & LGBTQ Pride in Queens On June 28, for World Pride Month, representatives from LGBTQ hit The Prom and contemporary sci-fi musical Be More Chill will perform in Jackson Heights, Queens. “My district is home to one of the largest and most diverse LGBTQ communities in the nation,” said NYC Council LGBT Caucus chair Daniel Dromm, ”which makes this event’s official World Pride designation very fitting.” Beautiful in the Bronx & Beetlejuice in Staten Island The party continues in the Bronx on July 12, with numbers from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Wicked, and wraps in Staten Island on July 28 with newcomer Beetlejuice and long-running fan favorite Chicago rounding out the bill. (For the uninitiated, the free ferry from lower Manhattan to Staten Island offers great views of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty, and the neighborhood of St. George has plenty to keep you busy once you reach the other side.) “The Arts Are For Everyone” Providing free entertainment far from the chaos of Times Square, the program aims to connect local communities – and lucky travelers too – with a hallmark of the city that’s often inaccessible to its broader population. “The arts are for everyone,” said Brooklyn borough President Eric Adams, “and the cast members, musicians, and cultural partners who make this series possible embody that ongoing mission.”
10 Stupid Things Americans Do Overseas
Don't get us wrong: We're darn proud to be Americans, and we don't mind saying so—whether we're here at our New York City headquarters or standing on foreign soil. But unfortunately, we've all seen the embarrassing U.S. traveler abroad: The idiot wearing the "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt while visiting a museum of tolerance, the big shot flashing a wallet full of euros on the Paris metro, or the family that insists on chowing down on American fast food in Rome. How not to be the ugly American? Well, here are the 10 stupidest things Americans do while overseas: 1. DRESSING—AND ACTING—LIKE A TOURIST Traveling is one time when it's actually cool to be a poseur. Try your best to fit in with a country's style of dress and customs by ditching the fanny packs, visors, dark socks with sandals, and Hawaiian shirts—and not using your outdoor voice. "The golden rule of travel is that blending in and conformity are a form of flattery," says Lisa Grotts, author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. "Most countries will not expect you to be an expert on the nuances of their culture, but they will appreciate a show of interest in matters of importance to them." Taking your usual gregarious behavior down a notch is a good idea too. "People of other nationalities are more reserved than we are, so it's important not to come across as the ugly American: overbearing, overly familiar, loud," Grotts says. 2. FLASHING MONEY AROUND Peeling bills off of wads of cash won't endear you to the locals—nor does it curry much favor here in the U.S.—but showing the contents of your wallet and taking copious amounts of money out of foreign ATMs in full view of everyone will make you popular with pickpockets. The cash machine itself could be a thief in disguise too. "Look closely at an ATM before using it, as criminals have been known to place 'skimmers' on the machines, especially in areas frequented by tourists," says Elizabeth Finan, spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. 3. ASSUMING EVERYONE'S THERE TO WAIT ON THEM Just like money doesn't buy taste or love, having vacation savings to burn doesn't guarantee the royal treatment everywhere you go. There are two keys to not being an American jerk: "Being a little bit patient and not assuming that everybody here is here to clamor over your tourist dollars is important," says Anna Post, co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette 18th Edition. Back in 1922, Emily herself wrote a book chapter titled "Europe's Unflattering Opinion of Us." Unfortunately, very little has changed. "For years, we Americans have swarmed over the face of the world, taking it for granted that the earth's surface belongs to us because we can pay for it," she wrote. Try to buck those stereotypes. 4. ORDERING AMERICAN FOOD ABROAD Don't be that person who orders French fries in the middle of Italy. "The absolute worst thing you can do is to ignore the local food in favor of what's familiar to you: always seeking out the American-style burgers and pizza and Caesar salads on a menu or, worse, eating at fast-food or chain restaurants you know from home," says Laura Siciliano-Rosen, founder of Eat Your World, a website featuring local eats around the globe. Not sampling exotic food means you'll miss a large chunk of the area's culture that will enrich your travel experience. That said, everyone has heard at least one horror story about getting food poisoning abroad. "Wash your hands a lot and be smart about the basic things—avoid tap water and ice and unpeeled fruits and vegetables—and you can eat plenty of local food," Siciliano-Rosen says. 5. NOT BOTHERING TO LEARN BASIC FOREIGN PHRASES English is indeed widely spoken all over the world, but not making any effort will just make everyone hate you. "If at all possible, at least say a greeting in the other person's language, and then say, 'Do you speak English?' right after that," says Post. "One thing that I've been told grates is to just start speaking English in a foreign county. Yes, it's likely that a lot of people, especially in touristy spots, will speak English, but the presumption that they do is really obnoxious." No need to bust out an entire language dictionary either. "If nothing else, learn how to say hello, thank you, and please," Post says. 6. BRINGING BACK SOUVENIRS THEY THINK THEY ARE ENTITLED TO Not so fast hauling that vase out of the country and into your foyer. Absconding with a piece of a country's history—whether you knew it was authentic or not—isn't smiled upon. "Some countries, like Turkey, Egypt, and Mexico, have strict laws on antiques," Finan says. "If you purchase a souvenir that authorities believe is a national treasure, you may be arrested. In countries with strict control of antiques, document your purchases as reproductions if that is the case." 7. NEGLECTING TO RESEARCH A COUNTRY'S CUSTOMS Accidentally making a jerk move abroad usually means you haven't studied what that country's jerk moves are. Post says there are six major areas to educate yourself about before you go to a new locale: greetings, gift giving, exchanges of money (whether to put money in someone's hand or on the table), handshakes, body language, and food. Food etiquette has many facets, Post says, "whether it's the eating of the food, the not eating of the food, complimenting the food, trying the food... In some places, a compliment may mean you want more." 8. RELYING ON CREDIT CARDS FOR PURCHASES Carrying zero cash and using your debit card to pay for a bottle of water is growing more and more common in the U.S., but when you're abroad, you can't count on plastic. "Credit cards are not widely accepted in some countries," Finan says. "Although it is a good idea to bring a credit card or two, leave all unnecessary credit cards at home." If you run out of cash, the U.S. Embassy can help you with everything from contacting friends and family on your behalf for wire transfers or giving you a loan to get back to the States. 9. PACKING SOMETHING DUMB Other countries' security can make going through airport security in the States look lax. Abroad, if you bring over an item that so much as looks dangerous, you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law. "A foreign country's laws can be different from laws in the United States," Finan says. "For example, some countries have strict laws on weapons—in some cases, possessing something as small as a pocketknife or a single bullet can get you into legal trouble." Clean out your suitcase before you start packing. 10. FORGETTING THEY ARE REPRESENTING THE REST OF US You can't cancel out the bad behavior of every American doofus traveling abroad, but you can make a difference by being a positive example of a U.S. citizen. "Americans in general have a pretty bad reputation to try to live down," Post says. "Any time you can go the extra effort to use every courtesy that's available to you to show appreciation—like for the time that someone gives you in a shop—even if they don't return it right there, I think that that is part of what it means to be an ambassador for your country when you travel."
TSA Warning: Security Lines Are Going to Get Longer
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials are warning that an expected increase in airline passengers, and an insufficient increase in TSA staffing, will lead to longer airport security lines, reports the Washington Post. TSA Staff Face Difficult Job, Low Pay An expected 4.5 percent increase in airline passengers and a request for a 2.5 increase in staffing for fiscal 2020 equals headaches for both travelers and TSA staff. As we witnessed during the government shutdown earlier this year, TSA officers will continue to follow protocols, one passenger at a time, regardless of staffing levels or long lines, in order to maintain the highest standard of flight safety and security. But TSA officers are already facing other challenges, including some of the lowest salaries in the federal government (with full-time pay starting around $33,000/year) and some of the highest rates of turnover. Redeployment to the Southwest Border Another TSA challenge is the Trump administration’s proposal to move hundreds of TSA officers to the Southwest border to handle immigration duties, which could have an impact on airport security, especially during the morning peak hours of the summer high season, the Post reports. PreCheck May Get Slower Too TSA PreCheck has been one of the best ways to ensure an efficient trip through airport security, but even PreCheck may slow down as the TSA moves to make enrolling in PreCheck easier than ever, reports Bloomberg. TSA estimates that 9 million “high-frequency travelers” aren’t enrolled in PreCheck yet, and an additional 80 million travelers who fly at least once per year are also not enrolled. If the initiatve to add even a portion of those frequent air travelers to PreCheck succeeds amid TSA understaffing and redeployment to the border, even PreCheck lines will likely get longer. What Every Air Traveler Can Do Right Now Budget Travel’s advice for getting through airport security remains the same regardless of TSA staffing: Get to the airport with plenty of extra time, pack smart, and if you haven’t already started the PreCheck application, do it now. Learn the TSA’s top 5 summer travel tips, and pack your patience.