What happened when I took my mobile phone on holiday

texting from pool

Ah, the holiday season – weeks of sun, sea, and Snapchat. The sad fact of holidays these days is that you can't completely get away from it all. Bringing your phone with you is pretty much essential if you want to keep track of your flight times, contact your hotel, or even know what the time is.

I went away to a sunny Mediterranean island this summer, and there was no question about it: I was bringing my phone. I'm glad I did, but heavens, it's a big risk to take a multi-hundred-pound gadget to a tourist haven surrounded by water where roaming costs apply.

Still, a little preparation can go a long way to mitigating that risk. Here are a few things I learned when I took my mobile on holiday with me, and the lessons you can take away when you do too.

1. Mobile roaming can be expensive

That is, it can be expensive. It doesn't have to be.

I thought I'd done well by buying a 500MB roaming data add-on, but then it turned out that on other networks I could have got the same thing for cheaper.

Pretty much all mobile networks let you use your SIM abroad, but they don't all make it good value and it's not always straightforward. Some let you use your usual allowance in select countries - Three has its Feel At Home feature, and Tesco Mobile is doing the same this summer - while others let you buy an add-on of roaming minutes or data. That all varies depending on which country you're going to, too.

The lesson: Get ready to roam-ble in advance. Look at the roaming options on your current plan and figure out what'll work best - or even take out a 30-day plan for a month on a network that gives you a good roaming deal.

Read more about roaming in our guide right here

2. Mobile signal can be rubbish

Once, I stayed in a holiday cottage in the middle of the English countryside, which I'm now convinced was probably Mordor because there was absolutely no mobile signal. None at all. I wasn't able to contact anyone until we ventured out to a proper town, and it was awful.

Admittedly, this was a while ago - I wanted to text people on my Motorola RAZR and gush about a brand new band called My Chemical Something-or-other, to give you an idea - but there are still big stretches of the UK where signal is dodgy.

The lesson: Check your mobile network's coverage in the area you'll be staying before you go away. Check the coverage for other networks, too - if yours is going to be non-existent, it can't hurt to get a temporary 30-day SIM or a mobile Wi-Fi device for the time being.

3. Paper maps aren't as useful as mobile ones

When I arrive in a new place, my hands always reach for those leaflets, the kind you find in train stations and info booths that fold out into a simple road map of the town. I have no idea why, because they're always rubbish.

Half the road names are missing; dozens of places of interest aren't marked; and there's no YOU ARE HERE function for when you're not quite sure where you are. And good luck navigating your way around when it's raining - that map's going to turn to mush.

The lesson: Download a good mobile map app. A mapp, if you will. Citymapper and Google Maps are excellent for finding your way around and getting directions to your hotel; and for dozens of offline specialised maps - think subway maps, maps of mountains, city cycle maps, and so on - go for Maplets.

4. …although both suck when you want to explore what's around you

'Explore near me' functions on mapps are great for finding supermarkets, fine dining, ATMs, and laundrettes - but for the interesting stuff, they often disappoint. Even tourist spots are woefully thin, especially if you're looking for somewhere small and out of the way.

Using a mobile phone in Paris

"Is there anything nearby? I just... I'm not sure..."

Ever tried searching for a place to eat using Google Maps? You'll get a curated list of restaurants, but nothing on where the nearest generic fast food place is. I want food now, dammit.

The lesson: Hope your phone's got decent internal storage, because you're going to need another app. For stuff to do and places of interest, grab TripAdvisor, English Heritage Days Out (iOS/Android), or TimeOut - and for foodstuff, Foodspotting is nice and comprehensive.

5. Batteries run out at the least convenient time

I'm out of my usual daily routine when I'm on holiday, which includes my smartphone charging routine… which means the battery runs out when I'm not expecting it to. Dang it.

The lesson: Either just don't be an idiot like I was, or stay prepared for unexpected battery binges by getting a portable charging pack. We like this one from RAVPower.

6. There's no such thing as too many holiday snaps

…but there's definitely such thing as scrolling through your camera roll and wondering why you didn't take more pictures. I went to museums on holiday! And beautiful beaches! And quirky shops and gin distilleries and a water park! And my hair looked great! Why didn't I document it all?!

The lesson: Get snapping. Seriously. Everything's digital, so even if you get some crummy shots or a million pictures of the same view, it's no bother to delete the excess. Get a bulky SD card to store them all on, invest in a nice selfie stick, and download Snapseed (iOS/Android) so you can make your pics look good.

Friends taking a selfie on a beach holiday

This could have been me, darn it!

7. A phone is more than a phone

I spent my holiday this year on the beach and by the pool, and one day I decided to leave my phone at the hotel to avoid getting it wet. But, of course, leaving your phone behind means also leaving your clock, your camera, your map, an entertainment source, a way to check the weather… it's simply not an option, it turns out.

The lesson: Get a waterproof phone case or special plastic sleeve so you don't have to worry about splashing it. And speaking of splashing, don't forget to download the MSW Surf Forecast app (iOS/Android) to find out the best times for hanging ten.

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