Can you travel with only your smartphone?

May 15, 2017 Mark Dauner

I've been reconsidering a topic we used to think a lot about back when smartphones and tablets first hit the market. Is it possible to effectively engage in travel - particularly in business travel - using only your mobile device? Back then, the answer was similar to what someone might now say when asked if it was possible to live in one of those tiny houses: "Sure, but it might be annoying, and some things you'll just have to live without."

In the years since we first asked the question, a lot has changed. Laptops back then weighed 4 to 8 lbs and had screens as big as 17". Even the small portable machines from that era (remember netbooks?) were poorly made and were a pain to carry and use.

We stopped asking the question of whether or not we could travel without our laptops because it became so easy to travel with our laptops. 

It's now 2017. Technology has gotten better, lighter and more compact. My 12" Macbook really isn't that much heavier than my 5.5" iPhone. Every major PC manufacturer now sells laptops that are thin, light and fast. TSA doesn't even make you take some of the thinnest ones out of your bag at security. That's what happened. We stopped asking the question of whether or not we could travel without our laptops because it became so easy to travel with our laptops. 

Now that electronics carry-on bans on international flights are a reality for some travelers, and may be a reality for many more travelers very soon, this question is starting to be asked again. Let's examine it. To state the obvious, there are two words in "business travel". I'll start with the second one because it's the easiest: 

Travel
There's very little we can't accomplish using only our smartphone from a travel standpoint.

  • Mobile boarding passes still annoy the TSA and airline gate agents but they're definitely becoming the norm. 
  • Every major hotel and car rental brand has a mobile app, and many even allow you to check in without stopping at the counter or front desk. 
  • Apps like Travel and Transport's Dash Mobile give travelers total control over their itinerary, providing access to travel delays, gate changes, mobile booking, check-in, alternate flight options and more. 
  • You can summon a car with the tap of your touchscreen via ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.
  • You can even use the mobile passport app to get through the long lines more quickly at Customs & Immigration.

I could add some more bullets here but it's pretty clear. We've got the mobile travel part down. 

Business

This is where it gets tricky because the tools you take on your trip depend on so many factors. How long are you going to be there? What is the purpose of your trip? Who will you be interacting with? What kind of work do you need to get done and where will you have to do it? What image does it portray if you only carry your phone into an important meeting? What technology and security requirements does your organization have? 

You'll know those answers better than I will so I won't presume to answer them for you. What I can do is take a look at the mobile tools that we now have access to for getting work done, whether you're traveling without a laptop altogether or whether you're required to put it in your checked luggage.

Microsoft Office Apps

Until just a couple of years ago, it was very difficult to do any real work on your phone or tablet because you didn't have the right apps. I dare you to try to edit an important Excel spreadsheet using Apple's Numbers app on your iPhone and see what your colleagues say when you send it back. 

That's all changed. As part of Office 365, Microsoft has released versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and more for both iOS and Android, meaning that you can access and update documents from your smartphone with ease and be confident that what you're sending back to the office will look good. 

Other apps and tools

You need more than Word, Excel and PowerPoint to get along in today's business world. Thankfully, there are plenty of other mobile tools and apps that help make your life easier while traveling. Here are some of them:

Check out our Guide to the Best Mobile Travel Apps for even more ideas.

Accessories

If you're really going to make the most out of traveling with only a mobile phone, there are some things you might want to bring along:

  • Bluetooth keyboard - you probably don't want to be doing a great deal of work on your smartphone using the touchscreen keyboard. Bluetooth keyboards are quite inexpensive and come in many different sizes and styles. A quick Amazon search yielded a bunch of different options, but Logitech makes some of the best. 

  • Portable smartphone stand - unless your bluetooth keyboard has a built-in stand, you're going to want to pack one. They're small and they'll fold up and slide into your bag with ease. This is the one that I own

  • Connect your smartphone to a TV - You'll have to make do with that 4" to 6" screen while you're on the plane, but what about when you're at your hotel or in a conference room? Most smartphones will allow you to connect to a TV. Apple offers a Lightning to HDMI connector that will do it. You'll also need an HDMI cable. Many Android phones will allow you to connect via a mini HDMI port or via the micro USB port (charging port). You'll need the appropriate cables for those too. If you want to be really cool, you can throw a device like an Apple TV or a Chromecast into your bag, connect those via HDMI to your TV and connect wirelessly! You'll probably also need a travel router to make that happen.  Just imagine typing on your wireless bluetooth keyboard while looking at your document on your 40" hotel room TV. It's not a bad setup.

Be prepared

The last thing you need to do the day before your trip is scramble to get all this stuff figured out. Here are a few tips to make sure you're prepared for your next trip, whether you decide to bring the laptop along or throw caution to the wind and only travel with your smartphone: 

  • Think through your recent business trips. What did you need to do? What obstacles did you encounter? What apps and tools will you need to handle everything that might come up along the way? Make notes of all of those things and determine the apps and solutions that you will need to address them. 
  • Organize your smartphone. For Android, that may mean creating a separate profile for business travel that has all of the tools, apps and widgets that you'll need. If you have an iPhone, you won't have separate profiles but you can reorganize your pages and folders so you can quickly get to the apps that you need. 
  • Make sure your phone has the latest updates and that your apps are up-to-date a week before you go. That way, if there are any problems, you'll have time to fix them before the plane takes off.
  • Phones are replaceable. It's your software and data that is most important. Back-up your phone before you go, and at every opportunity while traveling. Should you lose your phone, drop it in a river or have some other random phone-killing catastrophe, you can quickly get back up to speed once you get a new phone.
  • Take note of any security concerns that might exist - especially if traveling to a foreign country. Depending on what country you visit, traveling with only a smartphone may be a smarter decision from a privacy and security standpoint. You can find out more about this in our Guide to keeping electronic devices secure during international travel.

What do you think? Is it possible to travel for business using only your smartphone? What tools and apps do you use to make life easier while on the road? Let us know here or on Twitter @TandTNews.

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