I know this may be a bit “preaching to the choir”, but on my recent trip to Italy, my wife and I discussed several times how vital our cell phones and a data plan are to our travels now.
We are long time travelers, many trips, and for years resisted bringing a phone or even a tablet or computer, I suppose under the illusion that we wanted to “disconnect”. However, now I can’t imagine traveling without my smartphone, and find it nice to have my tablet along as well.
Some of the features we noted:
Google Maps: Obvious, from directions, to restaurants, and a map overview. But also it provides detailed public transit info, need to get from Termini to your Hotel, hit directions, the exact bus number, even where to get on and off, when the bus is scheduled, everything right there. We also tagged restaurant, hotel, and shop locations for easy reference, many based on research ahead of time.
We also used the Google “location sharing” feature quite a bit. My wife just does not share the same interests in museums and churches that I do, so I go to a museum, she shops the streets and looks around, maybe stops for a coffee. When done, I can see exactly where she is (and vice-versa) and can walk right up on her in the street or shop. No setting up pre-arranged meeting places and times, no searching forever for her, of course no longer getting wonderfully lost anymore (you could also turn your phone off for that, I suppose)
Transport Apps: The Trenitalia app is really slick and well made. Search for routes, buy tickets, easy payment, even for the Regional routes, saved time and trouble at stations. Rome metro also has an app, and just about every train or metro option does as well. Uber was handy on an earlier trip...but of no use in Italy.
Edit: Hotel app: Since much was uncertain about travel, we held off on many reservations, and used Booking.com to make reservations a few days ahead. Used the app to coordinate with B&B operators, though many prefer switching to Whatsapp once contact is established.
Google Translate: handy for deciphering words, signs, “how to say”, etc. Also just Google searches for menu items helped decode menus, though you could also find a number of apps for that.
Digital guidebooks, audio guides, including apps for sights like Pompeii. Also Google search is handy for specific things you encounter, see the Temple of Apollo in Siracusa…google it, websites and a Wikipedia article tell you all about it. My wife is also a plant geek, so we see a plant, use an app or Google to figure out what it is, same with trying to figure out why ugly ceramic heads are popular in Sicily. Like having a private guide in your pocket
QR reader; with Covid, many restaurants, museums, and other places ceased handing out paper copies of literature, instead providing a QR code to scan for a .pdf or even an app or website.
For all this, you may be able to get by with Wi-Fi, but Data connection works best. That is why we switched to Google Fi, when we landed, turned on the phones, and we had service at the same price as in the US, International call rates apply where applicable, but we had our same numbers, texts and calls to us from family in the US costed nothing more to either party than in the US. Many restaurants, museums and other locations wanted cell phone # or email for contact tracing.
Of course, our phones also serve as cameras, music players, email, social media (Facebook, Untapped), file repository for excel or word files, photos of documents, etc.
I’m starting to wonder how we ever traveled without a smartphone.
An Edit: I have also been using Google Pay more and more, while I did see it available some in Italy, it was not widespread in the places I was, otherwise, that would have been handy.