How I used my smartphone during a trip to D.C.

I have traveled occasionally to larger cities — namely New York City and D.C. — since I was a kid. But earlier this week, for the first time in my life, I traveled to a big city with a smartphone (specifically, a Droid Incredible). And I couldn’t have been more satisfied.

Having a smartphone during an adventure to a large, relatively unknown city can be a life-saver or, at the very least, a trip-saver. For example, I used my phone in a few different ways during my two-day trip.

Kevin and I at the Washington Monument in D.C.

1. Looked up the Metro map (and other important maps).

This one is obvious. Having ridden the NYC subway on multiple occasions, the London Underground a few times and the DC. Metro once or twice before the trip, I consider myself familiar with how they operate, although certainly not an expert. But those initial moments in the Metro when we couldn’t find directors or a map are stressful. Luckily, my trusty smartphone was there to help Kevin and I find our way to downtown DC from Arlington!

2. Found addresses for local attractions.

The National Mall is a wonderful place to visit. It’s chock full of history, and visitors can easily access more than 10 intriguing museums for free. However, finding a place to eat in this tourist-y area can pose a challenge. It’s not quite the same as places like Times Square or Buckingham Palace, where there tends to be at least 10 places to eat on each block (or so it feels). So what’s a hungry tourist to do when feet grow tired and stomachs grow ornery? I used FourSquare and Google to find places. That’s not to say we didn’t use a little exploration of our own to find a refreshment stand with hot dogs, but FourSquare’s explore feature made it fairly easy to find restaurants within walking distance.

3. Took quality photos.

Now that it’s all said and done, Kevin and I probably have three sets of pictures: a set he was taking on my point-and-shoot camera, a set I took on my phone and a set he took on his phone. Naturally, we each had common photos we wanted, for which we used the camera. However, photos he wanted he used his camera and photos I wanted I used mine. Then, we uploaded our photos to Facebook and tagged each other. Voila – no way we will forget this trip!

4. Stayed in touch with friends and family.

Sharing photos with folks back home is not enough; smartphones allow you to actually engage with friends and family while on your trip. This

means Kevin’s mom could easily let us know that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial had just opened to the public so we could be among the first to see the newly carved monument. It also meant nearby family I had forgotten to inform of our visit could give me a shout to say, “Hey, what’s the big idea, not calling me when you’re so close?” Whoops!

5. Engaged with local advertisements to receive discounts.

Finally, anyone who has ridden the D.C. Metro has likely seen advertisements for the International Spy Museum. The first  couple times I saw them, I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of neat.” The ads asked passersby to figure out codes and text the clues.  Toward the end of the last day, I caved and texted my answer to them. I had to play with the spacing to get it right, but eventually I received $5 off admission to the Museum. And if we had been there just one more day, we would have used it! Next time Kevin and I venture to the Capital, I’m sure we’ll visit the Museum not because of the $5 off, but because of the impression the interactive advertising left on both of us (me a marketer and he an accountant).

So, I ask: How have you used your smartphone on a recent vacation? Or do you prefer to leave your phone at home and have a true adventure?

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