A budget traveller’s 5 fantastic smartphone hacks to save money abroad

This new year began with a bang for me I was off to teach English in southern Italy. As I got ready for the big move, I had a lot to sort out. I was headed to a fairly remote city in the mountains, and everything from getting there to meeting people was a challenge. Plus, a English teacher’s salary doesn t stretch far. Rather than treating myself to Discount Holidays © holiday blowouts, I was looking for workarounds that would keep working, and saving me money, for months.

I had great fun finding my way around on a budget. But I couldn t have done it without my smartphone.

1. Getting online FON Wifi1

A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad No need to prowl the cafes for WiFi

Ten years ago, buying an Italian SIM would have been my number one priority, right after claiming my luggage in Naples airport. But thanks to apps like WhatsApp2 and Skype3, I didn t need texts and calls. Rather than spend money on a SIM just for the data allowance, I made my phone a Wi-Fi only device.

Checking out the available connections in my new apartment, I noticed one called Vodafone Wifi. It was part of the FON network like the BT FON that many Brits use at home. FON lets you jump onto other people s broadband connections securely and legally. Either you swap this for access to your own home broadband (at no cost besides your broadband contract), or you can buy an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly pass.

The cost to join Vodafone WiFi FON for a month was just 22.78.

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With this option, I got streaming-quality internet on my laptop, smartphone and Kindle. Out and about, there was no desperately trying to find a caf or hotel that hadn t password-protected their network – I could get WiFi whenever I passed someone else on the FON scheme. FON doesn t have partners in every country, but there s a decent selection: check out the list here5 to find out if it s an option where you re going.

2. Staying entertained – Scribd6

A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad Enjoy the scenery with an audiobook

I’m a lifelong bookaholic. Trying to fit six months of living essentials into one easyJet hold bag was a recipe for trouble. I couldn t possibly take enough to keep me entertained.

The solution was Scribd, a subscription app that costs 6.29 ($8.99) per month, less than a single paperback. For that price, you get unlimited ebooks.

A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad Scribd comes with a free audiobook

I chose Scribd over other e-book apps because the subscription includes a monthly audiobook7. On a long train ride through beautiful, mountain scenery, I didn t want to keep staring at my smartphone, and audiobooks are perfect for keeping your brain entertained while you stare out the window. Scribd s selection of books is a little eccentric, missing some big-name authors but there are big crime, romance and classics selections, as well as some really interesting books by newer authors.

3. Finding your way around Google Maps8

A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad Not the budget option

After a weekend on Naples, on a two-leg journey home, I jumped out of one train just in time to see next one chugging out of the station. Staff told me there were was no other way to get back to my city till the next day. I was stranded in an unfamiliar city.

The train staff recommended the hotel across the street, a big imposing building that looked way out of my budget. But revving up Google Maps showed me a list of hostels and B&Bs in the city. It allowed me to weigh up distance and star ratings on the same screen. That ‘ 16 night in a converted medieval convent would never have happened without it.

Google Maps A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad You can use Google Maps offline too

There are many rival mapping apps Waze9 and Navmii10 are popular but Google Maps ticks all the boxes. Recommendation apps like Yelp11 and Foursquare12 work in some cities, but I ve found them patchier when you re off the beaten track.

Google Maps can be used offline, if you load the map for your destination area before you get there. The little blue dot will still move with you as you explore, and you ll save money you might have spent on a physical map.

4. Tracking my money XE Currency13

Getty A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad How much are you ACTUALLY spending?

Remember when Italian lira or French francs seemed like Monopoly money? As a child, I felt like a millionaire paying TWO THOUSAND lira for my Discount Holidays © holiday ice cream. Unfortunately, the euro just makes everything seem slightly more expensive. I’m often confused about how my spending in euros matches up with my bank account in pounds.

To get round this problem, I keep the XE app14 on my phone. The world s most popular currency converter, it updates once a minute – you know it’s accurate. The best thing about this app for me, though, is that it works offline.

A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad Check you’re not getting ripped off

Checking currencies isn t just good for understanding foreign prices. It also gives you an idea of how much an ATM is charging you. Banks always add a fee and/or percentage conversion rate, but there s a lot of variation. I check XE in the queue, so that I can turn around and go elsewhere if I m quoted a cost that s several pounds more than the real value of the money I want to withdraw

5.

Exploring the culture – Couchsurfing15

A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad You never know where it will lead you

Most people are aware of Airbnb16, which can work out miles cheaper than a hotel. But there’s actually a FREE option, Couchsurfing, where people across the world open up their homes just through the goodness of their hearts. Join the Couchsurfing community and you ll lay your head down for nothing (although it s good manners to bring a bottle of wine or small gift).

But that s not the biggest benefit. Staying with a Couchsurfer gives you a unique understanding of the place you re staying in. Vera, who lives outside Rome, told me: After 3 days you know the other person better than your brother because you speak so much and compare the two cultures. Guests save 20 a night staying with her, but that s not why they come. She takes guests on her favourite hiking paths, to the coolest nearby bars and to events which won t be found in any hotel s list of nearby activities. No pricey guided tour or guide book in sight!

In other words, Couchsurfing is the friend abroad you ve always wished you had.

A Budget Traveller's 5 Fantastic Smartphone Hacks To Save Money Abroad Couchsurfing – like Airbnb, but free

Unfortunately, Couchsurfing doesn t seem as active as it was a few years ago, perhaps due to the rise of Airbnb, and I haven t found any Couchsurfing in my region of Italy. But I have fond memories of a car tour of Madrid just my host s daily commute, but I could never have afforded it in a cab and attending a Madonna concert in the south of France. A new Couchsurfing friend just happened to have a spare ticket. It s easy to feel you ve lost your budgeting antenna when you re in an unfamiliar country.

But by focusing on value and doing a bit of research, it s easy to trim your expenses while still having a fantastic time.

References

  1. ^ FON Wifi (fon.com)
  2. ^ WhatsApp (www.whatsapp.com)
  3. ^ Skype (www.skype.com)
  4. ^

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