It can be tempting to completely unplug when you go on vacation. After all, if you’re checking your phone, email, and social media every five minutes, you’re not really taking a break from everyday life, nor are you fully experiencing your destination. But don’t go leaving your smartphone or tablet at home entirely. Staying informed while traveling is still important.
Enroll in STEP
The U.S. Department of State offers a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to Americans venturing abroad. It’s free to sign up, and when you do, you’ll automatically receive up-to-date information about your destination via email. Whether it’s an incoming hurricane or a threat of terrorist activity, if an unsafe situation is brewing in a country on your itinerary, you’ll know in advance so you can reroute your trip. Staying connected to STEP also grants you access to emergency services in case you lose your passport or need to be evacuated from a foreign country in the midst of an earthquake, civil unrest, or other emergency.
Review other State Department warnings
Keep in mind that different countries can sometimes have different takes on global affairs. Just because the U.S. Department of State considers a situation unsafe, doesn’t mean the UK will assess that same situation as threatening. On the other side of that coin, just because a potential problem in Southeast Asia has escaped the attention of the U.S. doesn’t mean Australia’s state department isn’t keeping tabs on the situation. If you’re concerned about safety in your next destination, review the websites of multiple countries’ state departments and paint a fuller picture. Many hotels will have computers available to guests, and internet cafes still abound in several corners of the world, so even if you don’t have a phone or laptop in your suitcase, you’ll be able to check in on various warnings and alerts while traveling.
Download news apps
Every major news source out there has an app now, so if you are packing a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, make sure it’s loaded up with your favorite news services. New York Times Now offers free access to top news stories on iPhone, while both the apps from BBC and CNN provide embedded live streaming. Don’t want to trust just one resource? Download an app like Flipboard or SmartNews, which compile top stories from a variety of partners, like NBC, USA Today, AP, and TIME, in an easy-to-read format.
Stock up on offline reading
Flights and train rides are the perfect time to catch up on your reading. Before you leave the Wi-Fi-filled haven of the airport or train station, browse major headlines and tag stories you’d like to read in route to your next destination using Pocket. This handy app works on both Apple and Android devices and can save articles, videos, or pretty much anything for later reading from a web browser, email, or over 1,500 apps like Twitter and Flipboard. Once an article is saved to Pocket, you can access it offline anytime, allowing you to stay up to date on major news stories without using up your valuable data plan.