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Five iPhone Essentials for the Digital Nomad


When I left on this trip, I wasn’t sure how useful my iPhone would be.
At first I just used it just as a quick-access camera and as –gasp– a music player. After I unlocked it and bought a local SIM card, however, it quickly became one of my most-used pieces of gear. Here are 5 tips and accessories I’ve found useful.

1. Kensington Mini Battery Extender — I received this as a going-away gift and it has saved me more times than I can count. I simply charge it up and throw it in my bag for when it’s needed. It’s so small that finding it in your bag can be tricky.

As soon as my iPhone battery shows red, I plug it in and the phone recharges to about 75% full in a half hour or so. It comes with a cute retractable cord but it feels pretty flimsy. Thankfully, it uses a standard mini-USB connection for recharging, so I just use the same cable I use for my camera. Link

Thailand is very wired but I’ve found that “Free Wi-Fi” is often worth exactly what you pay for it.

2. Tethering — I unlocked my phone and bought a local SIM with a cheap data plan (1 month unlimited for 1,000 baht) but found that the provider, DTAC, didn’t support tethering. A Google search turned up a hacked DTAC profile that enabled the feature and I love it.

Thailand is very wired but I’ve found that “Free Wi-Fi” is often worth exactly what you pay for it. Hotel Wi-Fi often goes down at night and stays down until someone reboots it in the morning. Tethering allows me access anywhere and also gives me some added peace of mind when checking my bank account online.

The all-you-can eat plan is slow, so I’ve had to curb my tendency to have 6 tabs open at once and certainly can’t watch streaming video. But sitting at a beach with a fruity drink, fully unplugged and working away online is wonderful. Be sure to take a photo of your new office to annoy your friends. Link to my DTAC How-To

3. ReaddleDocs — Billed as a complete document and file management solution, ReaddleDocs allows me to write articles and make notes while stuck on a bus or anywhere that I don’t want to pull the notebook out. I can then email or transfer the docs to myself to clean up on the laptop and publish. It reads .doc and .xlxs files, PDFs, and has a bunch of networking and file-swapping features that I haven’t even dug into yet. Well worth the $4.99 price. Link

4. Must-Have Travel AppsSkype probably needs no introduction, but I have to say that being able to call home from any Wi-Fi signal for pennies a minute really is a game-changer. HootSuite is my favorite Twitter client so far — it loads fast, manages several lists/searches, and allows me to schedule tweets. It does crash occasionally (as did TweetDeck) but not enough to make me crazy. Currency is a free exchange rate calculator and Statistics for WordPress lets me check traffic on my site.

5. Quick-Access Camera — There are times when I don’t want to dig out the SLR for a snapshot. I find the iPhone’s image quality to be pretty reasonable but getting to the Camera App always took too many clicks and I missed the shot half the time. Then I found that you can set the iPhone to launch the camera with a double-click of the home button.

Just go to Settings/General/Home and select Camera. Now accessing the camera takes just a swipe to unlock the phone and a quick double-click — easy!

What’s your essential iPhone App or trick?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

AJ Alexy April 9, 2010 at 8:10 pm

I brought my 1st gen unlocked iPhone and attempted to use it with a TIM SIM in Italy but it never worked out and I decided to just use the wifi wherever I was for duration of the trip as there was a generally good infrastructure wherever I stayed. I did bring my 3GS as well but did not unlock it since it’s still under warranty.

And since I had no google maps as a result of no data plan, I found that the digital compass on my 3GS was well worth bringing the phone, bar-none. Sometimes as the night would fall within the narrow streets of a large and unfamiliar city, having a compass to orient oneself was absolutely one of the best time savers and for quick orienteering in conjunction with a map or a “you are here” city bus map, it was indispensable. And just as a disclaimer, it should never be used as a primary means of navigation. Nothing beats a real compass.

This little camera app was great for taking pix in areas where you don’t want to look like too much of a tourist or where you need a steady, non hand-held shot. You can set it to take a snap every few seconds for x number of minutes as well as black out the screen so you can put it up to your ear and walk around like you’re on the phone and snap away.

Voice Memo (built in)
Another great one for attaching audio “vmails” to emails or just recording ambient sounds of the area or journaling. Sometimes I’d forget I had it and wish I had used it more frequently. When you put it to your ear and talk normally, it looks like you’re just chatting away on the phone and you don’t look like a reporter. Really wish I’d used this more and comes in handy when you’re not in the mood to type or hand-write in the analog journal. Amazing for memory jogging.

It was great as an iPod as well, especially listening to audio books or free podcasts about local sights.

Incase iPhone slider case
This has saved my phone on more than one occasion, once falling into a lake and smashing it on the side of the dock (I dried the phone out in a bag with silica gel and it came back to life later) and twice while my hands were completely numb and freezing, fumbling for it in my pocket and relatively early in my travels, too. Thank you, Incase!


wes April 10, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Thanks for the detailed list, AJ. I too keep forgetting to use the voice memo function as often as I should it’s damned handy. Will check out Time-Lapse as well — that sounds very useful.


Joel April 9, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I can’t wait until they crack the latest update (I upgraded before thinking I might want to jailbreak it when I’m traveling).

Evernote is my go-to for taking photos as reminders of things I want to write about later. I take a quick pic or leave myself a note and it syncs up when I hop online with my laptop.

Gorillacam as a photo app is pretty cool. It adds self-timer, time lapse, 3 second burst mode and a couple other features to the iphone camera. At “free” it’s priced wonderfully.

The Kindle app – haven’t used it extensively, but even if you’re not a fan of e-readers, you can use this to pull down language reference books to keep at your fingertips.
.-= Joel´s last blog ..World AIDS orphans day – May 7, 2010 =-.


wes April 10, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Thanks, Joel. I’ve installed Evernote but have yet to find time to play with it. Everyone raves about it, though. The Kindle app has been very handy when stuck on a bus and just wanting to veg out with a cheesy novel. And Gorillacam sounds very interesting. Downloading it next. Thanks a bunch!


Joel April 11, 2010 at 4:36 am

Evernote is one of those things that you will always forget to use and not get much out of. UNTIL you push yourself to keep using it, then it becomes a great way to get thoughts recorded on the go. Now that I’m in the habit, I love it.
.-= Joel´s last blog ..World AIDS orphans day – May 7, 2010 =-.


Nomadic Chick April 11, 2010 at 4:06 am

Oh you techie geeks! Love your brains, cause this gal needs all the help she can get! Some stellar tips here Wes, I’m emailing this article to myself… uh, any ideas how? LOL
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog .. =-.


wes April 11, 2010 at 8:16 am

Ha! Grats on the new site design, by the way. It looks great!


Nomadic Chick April 11, 2010 at 8:30 am

Merci! Hop and Jaunt did a fab job of capturing bits of my personality. :)
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog .. =-.


Stephanie April 13, 2010 at 10:56 pm

That camera trick is what I have always needed! So many times I miss a shot because the camera wasn’t ready. Thanks.
Crazy what’s going on in Bangkok – I was there about a year ago and it’s hard for me to imagine any violence going on there….I hope things calm down and don’t get worse.
I just returned from Korea a few days ago and was thinking that we were relatively close in physical proximity and how fun it would be to bop over to Thailand. I had never been to Seoul before and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also found out a couple of tricks for staying in the city with room and food practically free, so if you ever go let me know and I’ll fill you in!


wes April 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Yeah, I have to admit that it made my day when I discovered that camera setting. I’m a geek….

Will definitely hit you up for tips in Seoul if I make it that way. Thanks!


OlaDunk April 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

EveryTrail – GPS tracking of where you’re going. Track shown in map. Can add photos (and video in Pro version). Great also for looking at trips other users have done in the area you’re currently in.

Evernote – mentioned earlier. Very handy for “on the run” notes in text, photo or audio.

Oanda Currency Converter – Free, good and accurate.

Google maps – for GPS functinality. Where am I and how long to my destination? Where is the closest pharmacy, library etc? For better GPS apps buy Navigon or TomTom.

Shazam – nice to identify music I hear around when I am “on the run”. Records and recognise songs based on a few seconds audio recording.

TripAdvisor Local Picks – find restaurants where you are now. With user recommendations and categories.

Public transportation apps for the place I am.

Translation apps – there are many.


wes April 18, 2010 at 9:09 am

Great list, thanks!


Lorraine May 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm

My top 3 Apps for traveling are…

*Currency Converter by
*Wordpress for writing on the fly….
*Notes as I make lists for everything!


wes May 28, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for sharing! I’ve installed the WP app, but haven’t found time to try it out yet. Glad to hear you like it.


Jennifer June 2, 2010 at 5:30 am

What about a solar powered iPhone charger?!

It’s totally been a lifesaver for me, especially because it means I generally don’t need to find an outlet, just a sunny spot somewhere.


wes June 2, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I almost grabbed one before I left but was afraid I was becoming ‘over-gadgeted’. Now I wish I had…


Neale October 7, 2010 at 12:17 pm

One thing i need for mine is to fit a charger outlet on my wave :-) this would be very cool as I’m often using the battery up checking directions
.-= Neale´s last blog ..4 Months and all is looking well =-.


wes October 9, 2010 at 8:31 am

Yeah, keeping my phone charged is a constant battle. It’s such a useful tool, though, that I don’t mind :)


Justin April 19, 2011 at 5:35 am

Nice article! Skype can really be a life saver. I recently did a article about Iphone apps as well. @


Juno June 1, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I can’t find the last option?! I don’t know why.. but great tip Wes! Really needed the info.


Cathy June 4, 2011 at 12:13 am

One you missed is Telicost-Lite by Anomalous Networks. It is a great free app that tracks your roaming and plan usage so you don’t get reamed with a surprise cellphone bill.


wes June 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Ah, good tip. Thanks.


Lucy August 23, 2012 at 7:47 am

Did you unlock your iPhone before you left? Or after once you were already there?


wes August 28, 2012 at 9:45 am

I jailbroke mine before I left. I’ve been out of touch so I don’t know what’s required for the most recent versions of iOS. I noticed, too, in Bangkok malls (and even the airport) there are places that will jailbreak a phone in 10 minutes for less than $10.