Most travelers have a symbiotic relationship with their smartphones. We use them to find directions, translate foreign languages, reserve cars, flights, and rooms, and to capture the images that will preserve our travels for posterity.
As dependent as I am on my iPhone, I sometimes forget to make sure it’s fully charged before I begin a day of travel adventure. During a trip to Paris in October, I learned a valuable lesson.
In my eagerness to visit the Jardin des Plantes and the nearby museums of Geologie, Histoire Naturelle, and the Gallerie of Paleontologie, I foolishly left my rented flat with a half-charged phone.
Our flat was in the 3rd arrondissement, about 2 miles from the Jardin and museums. As we walked, we passed the Place de la Bastille and the Bassin de l’Arsenal. I couldn’t stop snapping photos and recording videos. Everywhere we looked was a postcard perfect scene.
By the time we reached the Jardin de Plantes, my battery was approaching 30%. I hadn’t thought to bring a charger. I was about to enter the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in the Muséum Nationel d’Histoire Naturelle with a dying phone after yearning for years to visit there. It was a grim prospect.
When I said that I rely on my iPhone for a lot of things, it was an understatement. It’s my travel essential, and I’m quite literally lost without it.
My Rosetta Stone French is weak, at best. But with Word Lens on my iPhone, I can read anything in any language. Without it, I’m flying blind.
And, although I’m ashamed to admit it, I could probably use a pair of reading glasses. With my iPhone, I use the magnifying app to increase text size so I can read it comfortably. Without it, I can read headlines, but not much else.
Fortunately, the day did not spiral downward into the disaster that I feared it would. By using my power-saving mode, I managed to coax my dying phone into translating the most interesting plaques and information sheets. And I snapped over one hundred additional photos of some of the most amazing exhibits I’ve ever seen. The phone’s battery lasted until just after 5:00 when the Gallerie of Paleontologie closed for the day. It was a big relief.
Unfortunately, I had a new problem. We were over 2 miles from our flat, with a smartphone that was no longer smart and only a vague notion of how to get home. I had planned to use the City Mapper* app to chart our course home but with my phone in dumb mode, we were more or less screwed.
Thankfully, we were in luck. At least, we were in Paris, and while Parisians may not think of everything, they have thought of some useful conveniences.
While walking in what we hoped was the general direction of our flat in the third arrondissement, I noticed a young Parisian girl sitting at a streetside bus stop with a charging cable running from her phone to a USB port that was built into the bus stop marquis. Bus stops are everywhere in Paris, so we soon found another, plugged in my phone, and voila! We made it back at our flat before 6 with a little battery power to spare.
The ports are located on the side of the marquis behind the bus stop benches.
The City of Lights has some powerful conveniences. Paris’ bus stop USB ports are just one of many friendly gestures that Parisians offer to visitors.
If there are morals to this story, they include:
- Always carry a phone charger and/or a backup power supply when you’re traveling.
- Even if you forget your charger, don’t forget your USB cable or you won’t be able to use the bus stop charging stations.
- Paris is cool.
Everyone knows this, but it bears emphasis: Paris is a photogenic city. Every block has some intriguing sight that you’ll want to preserve. Carry your camera or smart phone at the ready, and make sure you have lots of available storage.
- The City Mapper app is indispensable for navigating Paris. With a couple of taps, it gives you the shortest, quickest, or cheapest route between any two points by foot, Metro, bus, car or bike. It’s free and works on IOS or Android.