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How to Prepare an iPhone for Travel

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When you’re travelling, an iPhone is an indispensable tool. It’s your map, booking confirmation, entertainment centre, emergency radio and countless other things. If you’re heading off travelling, however, there are some things you should do or set up before you leave.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to ensure an iPhone is ready to travel the world.

Backup Before You Go

iCloud Backup is one of the best features of iPhones. Whilst you sleep, all the important data is backed up to Apple’s servers. Most iPhone users have it turned on, but to check head to Settings > iCloud > Backup.

It works by backing up the data whenever the iPhone is plugged in, locked and connected to Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, when travelling Wi-Fi connections can be spotty. You also may not be able to charge the iPhone every night. Make sure that before you go the iPhone is backed up. That way, you won’t lose everything even if you lose the iPhone.

Add a Medical ID

Medical ID is a little known iOS feature. If you open the Health app, and go to the Medical ID tab, you can create one. 

Turn on Show When Locked, and whenever anyone taps on the Emergency button on the lock screen they’ll have access to your Medical ID.

medical id
Medical ID is useful if you run into trouble.

In your Medical ID you can add information about allergies, blood type and the like, but you can also add an emergency contact. This is incredibly handy just in case something happens to you.

Secure the iPhone

If you’ve an iPhone newer than the 5S, you should be using Touch ID. If not, you need to add a lockscreen passcode. The last thing you want is someone stealing the device and having access to all of your important information.

Find My iPhone is another feature you should already be using. While using it to actually track down an iPhone can potentially be dangerous, it does let you erase all of the data and brick the iPhone so no one else can use it. If you want to go a little less extreme, you can just have the iPhone display a message so whoever has it knows how to contact you.

To turn it on, go to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone.

Use a Case

Unlike a Nokia 3210, an iPhone can break from any fall. Yes, Apple has improved things with the latest releases but they are still incredibly fragile for a device that costs up to £789 ($949). 

The simple solution is to use a case. It might hide the graceful curves and smooth lines of the iPhone inside, but it makes it more likely to survive a three-foot tumble. It also stops an iPhone looking so much like an iPhone. This makes it less appealing to opportunistic thieves.

iphone case
This is the iPhone case I use.

You don’t have to go hardcore and get an Otterbox or military specification case, anything with a hardshell and a small lip around the screen will do. I use this Incipio DualPro Hard Shell and I’m really happy with it. Despite dropping my phone more than once, it’s still completely undamaged.

Unlock the iPhone

The cheapest way to use a phone when you travel is to buy a local SIM. If you’re only away for a few days it probably isn’t worth the hassle but if you’re going anywhere longterm, it’s the best thing to do. Chasing Wi-Fi signals around a city is a terrible way to spend an afternoon.

To use local SIMs, you’ll need a SIM-unlocked iPhone. You can buy one directly from Apple, however, that means you may not be able to get carrier subsidies.

If the iPhone isn’t SIM-unlocked, contact the carrier and explain why you need the iPhone to be SIM free. They’re normally understanding and you may be automatically entitled to have it done, depending on how far along in your contract you are. The one thing to bear in mind is that the process can take up to ten working days; do it a few weeks before you leave.

Manage Data

If you’re not going to use a local SIM then you'll need to manage the data very carefully. If you don’t, you could rack up a very large bill of charges.

Before you leave call the carrier and find out what roaming plans they charge. My carrier, Vodafone, offers a roaming deal where—for €2.99 a day—I get 200MB of data and can use my minutes and texts like I’m in Ireland.

With a package like that you can get by as long as you don’t try to watch Netflix.

vodafone roaming
My carrier, Vodafone, offers good roaming plans.

Even if you’re signed up to a generous roaming plan, you need to make sure your phone doesn’t decide to download 2GB of podcasts.

The first thing to do is turn off Background App Refresh. This will stop apps doing too much in the background. Open the Settings app and go to General > Background App Refresh. You can configure it for each app individually but the simple option is to turn it off for everything.

To control data more directly. Go to Settings > Mobile Data. Here you have a few choices. You can use Mobile Data Options to turn off Data Roaming. You’ll still be able to make calls and send texts but you won’t be able to access the internet. If you need to, you can turn it back on, post that important photo to Instagram and then turn it off again.

My preferred option is to leave Data Roaming on but to turn data off for any apps that are likely to use too much like Spotify and Overcast

With Background App Refresh blocked and the data hogs cut off from the internet, you can use the iPhone pretty much as normal without fear of burning through too much data.

This works best if you’ve at least 100 MB of data a day, otherwise you might accidentally go over the limit.

Preserve Battery Life

As well as mobile data, the other hot commodity when you’re travelling is battery life. If you’ve a ten hour bus trip, you need to carefully ration your battery usage especially if you plan to use your phone at the other end. 

Even if you’re just wandering around a new city, taking a few photos and checking Maps every so often can leave you on 30% at three o’clock.

closing apps low power mode
Closing apps does nothing to preserve your battery life. Low Power Mode, however, really helps.

The most popular 'battery saving' iPhone tip—opening the App Switcher and closing all running apps—doesn’t work. If anything, it wastes battery life because it takes time and means each app needs to fully boot when you launch it again.

The two things I’ve found that work best are putting an iPhone into Low Power Mode and not using it stupidly. 

Low Power Mode is an awesome feature that uses a few different under-the-hood tweaks to preserve battery life. Normally, you’re just prompted to turn it on when the battery drops to less than 20%, however, you can turn it on whenever you want by going to Settings > Battery > Low Power Mode. When you’re travelling, you should have it on even when your phone is at 100% battery.

The other big tip is not to use your iPhone when you don’t need to. If I sit still for more than about 30 seconds, I’ll subconsciously grab my iPhone and just start staring at social media. It’s a terrible habit but it’s not an uncommon one. This sort of thing just won’t cut it when you’re travelling. An iPhone is an important tool; don’t waste it by procrastinating on social media, playing mindless games or watching YouTube videos.

If you’re sensible, an iPhone will easily last a day on a full charge. If you know there’s no hope of you only using it when you absolutely have to, buy an external battery pack and keep it in your bag. Having an extra charge or three available will keep it in the game for longer.

Wrapping Up

An iPhone is an invaluable companion on your travels. I’m not sure what I’d do without mine; probably get lost and end up deported knowing my luck. You can’t, however, just step off a plane and use it like you do back home.

In this tutorial I’ve covered what you need to do to protect the iPhone, data plan and, most importantly, your bank balance, when travelling. If you’ve any other suggestions, please post them in the comments below.

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