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Travel and Technology

japanHow do you successfully navigate a foreign country in which you don’t speak the language and have no access to your cell phone’s data plan?

Nate and I recently took an awesome vacation to Japan, and although we were anxious about the language barrier, we found some unique ways to make it work.

Before I left the country, I installed several travel friendly apps to my iPhone. The first was XE, the Currency Exchange app that let’s you convert currencies. This app helped me stay within my spending budget because it gave an up to date conversion rate.

googletranslateThe Google Translate app was also very useful. It was great for translating foreign languages. This app let’s you either type or speak a phrase and then it translates it to the language you pre-selected. I used this app to translate signs and menus, however, it would have been great if this app included a photo recognition feature in addition to the typing and speaking functions.

lineAnother challenge we had was that I arrived a few days after Nate, so we were concerned about how to communicate to each other once my flight arrived. This was solved easily with the Line app. We were able to send SMS messages and make calls to one another over the WiFi network. It worked as well as text messaging and provided us an opportunity to stay in touch. This is a must have app for any people who live or travel to a foreign country.

But how do we use all of these apps if we don’t have data? Easy. Japan has a really convenient technology for monthly rental- a  mobile WiFi device.  It’s a portable, personal, WiFi hot spot that you can carry with you.  Nate signed us up for one with a deposit. We had to spend some time at the end of our trip to return it and get the deposit back, but it was well worth our time and money.

Besides the WiFi hot spot and the apps I used, another travel technology tip is to utilize GoogleMaps and the iPhone camera. Before heading out from our hotel each day, we planned our itinerary and mapped out directions in both English and Japanese. When the directions were loaded to my phone, I snapped a screenshot of the map so that I knew we could access the map even without an Internet connection. This proved even more useful when we got lost and couldn’t articulate in Japanese where we needed to go. I simply opened up the photo of the directions in Japanese and zoomed in to the location. The lady smiled brightly and knew exactly how to help us.

Overall we were able to navigate through Japan with very few issues. I’m sure we could have done this with travel guides and translation books, but books can be heavy when you’re packing light!


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