packing light

How Your Smartphone Can Help You Travel Light

Ditch that big suitcase and stuff your phone full instead.

We're not saying you should literally toss a full bag out into the road on your way to the airport, though. That's a hazard.

Whether you're heading out of town for Independence Day, Thanksgiving, or any other occasion, traveling light has its advantages: fewer items to remember, an easier time navigating crowded streets, and you simply won’t have to carry as much.

So it’s good that one thing you probably carry no matter what—your phone and the apps on it—can replace several items in your luggage, letting you concentrate on getting from A to B.

Boarding passes and travel documentation

Thankfully, many travel companies are up to speed with the progress we've made in the digital age and will allow you to send documentation such as boarding passes or tickets straight to your phone—either over email or in a dedicated app. You don't need a folder full of papers under your arm anymore.

Take the free Fly Delta app for Android and iOS as one example. You can store your trips, boarding passes, and flight information right inside the app itself, and it'll let you check the status of your flight and the gate you need to be at. Other airlines have similar offerings—just make sure your phone is fully charged before you set off.

The big hotel chains also have their own apps and they're usually worth installing to cut down on the amount of paperwork you have to take with you on your travels. The free Hyatt Hotels app for Android and iOS, for instance, stores your booking details and room charges, will let you check in early, and can even be used to request items be sent to your room. In some locations, the app even lets you use your phone as a room key.

Other apps allow you to collect information from multiple sources in one place. TripIt, which is free for Android and iOS, is one of the best examples. If you forward all your confirmation booking emails to TripIt, it will build a custom itinerary, tell you exactly where you need to be at what time, and help you manage everything from flights to hired cars. If you pay $49 per year for a Pro subscription, you'll get extras including real-time flight alerts and notifications about the length of the airport security queue.

Maps and guides

Gone are the days of stuffing hefty maps and chunky travel guides into your baggage, because everything in those pages is just a few taps away on your phone. From Lonely Planet Guides (free for Android and iOS) to TripAdvisor (also free for Android and iOS), you won't be short of information and advice while you're out and about.

Most map and guide apps let you download content for offline viewing, so it's a good idea to do this before you head off and potentially encounter expensive data charges. Visit A City (free for Android and iOS), for example, covers more than 3,000 destinations and works offline, giving you access to a host of pre-made itineraries, lists of things to do, and recommendations for the best attractions.

Here's a neat trick for Google Maps (free on Android or iOS): if you open the app menu and choose Offline maps , you can download sections of the map to your phone before you start traveling. It's handy in areas where you won't, or can't, get any signal, and it's something Apple Maps doesn't yet offer.

If you’re vacationing in a place where web access won't be a problem, Google Maps and Apple Maps can offer up a host of recommendations about what to see and do. In the Google Maps app, just drag up the Explore tab to look for bars, restaurants, events, and more. In Apple Maps, tap inside the search box to see a similar list of options for finding notable spots and attractions near you.

E-books and audiobooks

a Kindle e-book
. Popular Science

If you're a serious reader, then taking enough literature to get you through a vacation can really weigh down your suitcase. But this doesn't have to happen, as your planned reading can live on your phone in digital and audio form. Even if you prefer books of the physical kind, it's still worth it to think about switching to e-books and audiobooks for your travels.

The best-known apps here come from Amazon. The free Kindle for Android and iOS gives you access to a whole host of e-books for sale or rent, and if you own an actual Kindle e-reader as well, the apps will sync your reading progress between devices.

Amazon owns the Audible audiobook platform, too, which means you can switch between audio and e-book versions of selected titles as you read through them, if you want the variety. After your 30-day free trial is over, subscriptions start at $15 a month, which includes one free audiobook. Apps are available for Android and iOS.

Other options are available, including Google Play Books (for Android and iOS), Kobo Books (for Android and iOS), and Apple Books (iOS only), which all support both e-books and audiobooks.

Ditch the camera

Your smartphone comes with a camera, of course, so it might be time to think about saving the space taken up by a dedicated digital camera and making do with what your phone can offer instead. This is especially true if you've got one of the latest handsets on the market, which may feature optical zoom, optical image stabilization, and special night mode enhancements.

You might consider packing some small extras to improve the quality of the vacation snaps your smartphone can take. A tripod stand will make sure your photos stay rock-steady, and it also means you can make full use of the camera timer on your phone to get yourself in the shot.

A pack of lenses can make a big difference, too. Compatible with most modern handsets, they give you the opportunity to take super-wide angle, fish eye, and other types of non-standard shots with ease.

At least some of the suggestions we've come up with should prove useful in lightening the load for your next trip, but don't forget you can also use your phone to look for cheaper travel deals and use maps while you're away from home. Just make sure you don't lose your smartphone along the way!

Written by David Nield for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.


1 comment


  • Anna A

    Great ideas! I can use them for road travel as well!


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