Going overseas? Your iPhone can be an invaluable resource for all things travel-related.
First things first. You'll need to sort out your mobile data for use overseas. Given the exorbitantly high cost of global data roaming, this isn't a feasible option for regular use. You have two options: you can take your existing micro-SIM out of your iPhone and replace it with a local prepaid SIM in your destination country; or you can take advantage of add-on packs from your carrier that give you an allowance of data for much cheaper than the global roaming per KB rate.
There are pros and cons for either method. The first option gives you the most data and an allowance of local and international calls and texts for an affordable price, enabling you to use your iPhone without having to worry about bill shock when you get home. Most countries offer prepaid micro-SIMs for travellers. The downside is that people won't be able to reach you on your existing number while you have the prepaid micro-SIM in your iPhone, and this is the main advantage of the second method, although the add-on packs are for data only.
The prices for global roaming data packs from each of the main Aussie carriers aren't cheap, but they're still far, far better than what you'd otherwise pay. Vodafone offers a range of roaming data bundles for post-paid accounts on a month-to-month basis, from $20 per month for 10MB of data to a whopping $3,300 per month for 2GB of data. Telstra offers international roaming data packs for post-paid and prepaid users with roughly the same prices across both account types, starting at $29 for 10MB. Optus offers a great deal for its personal users on a postpaid account travelling to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines and South Korea: for $27, you get unlimited data for three days; or for $40, unlimited data for five days. In other countries, the rate is $20 per 10KB, but Optus offers a 20% discount if you connect to particular networks in certain countries like India, Singapore and Thailand.
Once your mobile data is sorted out, it’s time to load your iPhone with the apps that will make your trip as smooth and enjoyable as possible. TripIt, a travel itinerary organiser, is a good start. This app makes compiling your itinerary across various service providers (airline, car, hotel, shuttle buses, tours, restaurants, shows, etc) ridiculously easy. For most emails, you don't have to do a thing - it will access your inbox (if you give it permission to), find the relevant confirmation emails, and compile your itinerary with all the relevant details in one place. But it doesn't catch everything, and for the ones that slip through the cracks, you can forward the confirmation emails to the TripIt email address. The service and app are free, but you can upgrade to the 'no ads' version for $4.49, and there's a TripIt Pro option for $49 a year that monitors your flights for potential airfare savings and sends you status alerts for delays, cancellations or gate changes.
Trip It can organise your entire itinerary for you.
Most of the major airlines also offer their own iPhone apps that do everything from check you in and track your flights to monitor your luggage and help you navigate your way around the airport. The British Airways app, for example, lets you check-in, use your iPhone as a boarding pass, and view live departure times and gate number information. Surprisingly, Qantas doesn't have an iPhone app for this purpose (Windows Phone is the only platform that Qantas has developed for thus far), but you can sign up to Qantas' SMS update alerts to be notified of any flight changes.
Search for flight information on the British Airways app.
A currency conversion calculator is a must-have any time you're overseas, and the free XE Currency gets our pick as the best one for the iPhone. Currency rates are updated every minute, and it stores the latest rates so you can use it even if you don't have an internet connection. A basic unit converter can also come in handy for countries that don't use the metric system. There isn't much to separate the various unit converter apps that are available on the App Store, but if you want one that includes currency conversion and is easy to use, GlobeConvert is one of the better free apps.
Work out exactly how much you're spending with a currency exchange app.
Travelling to a non-English-speaking country? The right app can turn your iPhone into a modern-day Babelfish. The free Google Translate works wonders for translating between English and other languages - it can translate text between 64 languages, translate spoken words and phrases for 17 languages, and use text-to-speech for having translations spoken out loud for 24 languages. If you're after more of a phrase book, Coolgorilla offers a range of affordable "talking" phrasebooks with over 500 phrases split across categories like accommodation, activities, shopping and medical. Lonely Planet also offers a range of talking phrasebooks, with a built-in search function (in addition to navigation by category) to make it easier to find certain words or phrases.
A translator in your pocket is a must!
A guidebook app is another useful addition to your iPhone that will help you navigate unknown territories and find the best places to visit, shop, eat and drink at. Frommer's has just released a new range of interactive 'day by day' travel guides for popular destinations like Great Britain, Japan, France and California. The apps aren't cheap, starting at $10.49 each, but they improve on regular 'hard copy' travel guides thanks to the interactive layered maps and itinerary guides, links between related subjects, the ability to call places directly from the app, and built-in search function. It also offers some of the hard copy perks like bookmarking and highlighting. Another advantage is that its apps are universal, so you only have to pay once to access the same app from your iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. There are many other travel guides worth considering as well - Lonely Planet offers city guides for more destinations than the Frommer's series, and they're cheaper at $6.49 each.
A twist to the traditional travel guide apps are audio walking tours, and these work out to be significantly cheaper than booking a regular "human-operated" tour. It's worth doing a Google search for iPhone audio tours in your destination city, as different software developer tends to offer tours for particular cities only. Lonely Planet, for example, offers a selection of audio tours in London, while Rick Steves' Audio Europe app lets you download self-guided tours through certain European cities.