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Why I prefer sturdy 'world travel proof' smartphones over iPhones

In this article I will explain why I prefer an affordable but sturdy smartphone over an expensive iPhone, Samsung or Huawei when making a long trip or world trip. I also explain why I always have a fully installed spare phone with me. At least I don't have to do it in front of the camera: last week I wrote an extensive blog with reasons why I DO NOT take pictures with my smartphone during a long trip or world trip, in case you're wondering why I think the smartphone camera is less important.

It made quite a few tongues on our social media channels. People who really like photography, or actually want to do something with their photos (such as printing them out, using them in wallpaper, making photo albums or using them as screensavers on large TV screens), mostly agreed with me. But there was also a large group who just like to record everything with their mobile phone, because they find the quality sufficient.

Whatever your preference for shooting on the go, no one can deny that smartphones are generally very fragile. Especially the large screens break quickly and expensive smartphones are an easy target for theft. When you travel or go on a long trip, damage or loss of your smartphone can cause more problems than you would like. I hope that after reading this article you will be more aware of these risks – and that you will protect yourself against them.

Risk of loss or theft

Besides that there is a big chance that your smartphone will break during your world trip (more on that to, among other things..), there is also an increased chance that your smartphone is stolen during your long journey or world trip. Or that you simply lose or lose it…

Packing and unpacking

Every day you walk hostels, hotels and restaurants in and out. Every day you are packing and unpacking your things several times. You randomly put your stuff in a compartment of your camper, car or backpack. You are planning, navigating, monitoring the environment, photographing, and so on. You just have a lot going on when you travel. Your brain is already busy enough processing all those new impressions. The chance that you forget something is therefore a lot greater, because you miss routine.

Easy target

And then of course you also have the risk of theft. While traveling you often end up in poor areas and you have to deal with people in appalling conditions. People with little future perfective have little to lose.

Your fat smartphone of 1000-1500 euros is therefore an easy – and obvious – target for these people. You also make it very easy for them, because you often just put it open and naked on the table on the terrace, or you are innocently taking a picture of a landmark. They grab your phone and disappear on a scooter on the horizon, hold-do.

Hundreds of recent examples

And make no mistake about how often this happens! As a real world traveler I am in various travel-related facebook groups where I just see weekly calls with travelers whose beautiful, expensive phone has been stolen. With just one search on 'phone' in the Central and South America backpackers group, I actually find hundreds of these kinds of posts. HUNDREDS!

Some recent examples of that can be found below… And the most recent example was just 19 hours ago, I mean…

Theft of a smartphone while traveling
Theft of a smartphone while traveling
Smartphone theft while traveling around the world
Smartphone theft while traveling around the world

And these are just a handful of examples from one search in one facebook group! Everywhere I come across the same messages in all kinds of travel-related facebook groups… Also those from Europe, Asia and Africa. Make sure you're not the next to have to post such a call on Facebook…

Spare phone, SIM card and e-reader

Of course, you can always buy a new phone when you're on the go. But don't underestimate what you do on your phone these days. Internet banking, TAN codes, managing credit cards, trading cryptocurrencies (useful if passive income), mining government, DigiD. All very privacy-sensitive matters, which often also require 'two-factor authentication' as extra security.

Read also: Which (prepaid) credit card is best to travel with? And why?

The fact that someone else may have access to all those sensitive items after theft is of course very annoying, but you can't do anything yourself anymore. So double stress. And that cannot be fixed remotely either.

Sending a new SIM card to Timboektoe can take a while… To activate your internet banking on your new phone, you need your reader. Do you want to use DigiD? Even then you need your old phone. To get to your Google Authentication 2FA keys, you must have your backup data with you, or have access to your old phone. In short: you can enjoy it for days, if not weeks.

You can avoid all this possible misery by simply making sure you have a spare smartphone with you. An old smartphone where everything is already installed and with which you have access to all of the above. Turn it off and put it (charged) at the bottom of your luggage, then it is always ready-to-go when needed.

It is also useful to always have a spare sim card to have with you and forget you too e-reader not. You never know when you're going to need it.

A sturdy smartphone is nice

Theft of your beautiful smartphone is an increased risk while traveling, I hope that is now clear. Now let's talk about that other big risk: breaking your smartphone. Okay, you really don't have to buy a new phone especially for your trip around the world, that would be crazy. Your high-end iPhone, Samsung or Huawei can travel with you if you have it.

But if you happen to have an expiring subscription, think carefully about the type of phone you are going to buy before you go on a world trip. Consider purchasing a less fancy but sturdy smartphone. First of all, it will save you 500 to 1000 euros if you go for a cheaper model (something I also expanded in the 'save for your world trip in 10 steps' article explained).

And if you do opt for a thick iPhone or Samsung, at least ensure good, very good protection. A little world traveler is coming always in situations where your phone takes a hard time.

Extreme nature vs Smartphones

Imagine what your phone will have to deal with. A sudden torrential rain in the jungle which ensures that you are wet to your buttocks, and your phone in your pocket is also soaking wet. Even the 'waterproof' backpack is suddenly wet inside. Whoops, your phone spent hours soaking in this humid environment and still broke. shit.

It's just great on the road if you don't have to worry about your phone every time
It's just great on the road if you don't have to worry about your phone every time

A moment later you are lying on the stand on a bounty island and your phone has become 70 degrees in the full sun. Poof, battery overheated and broken. And no, you can no longer easily change that battery. Not even talking about the sand that gets in everything.

Activities vs Smartphones

But it doesn't stop at these simple natural phenomena. You will of course also do all kinds of cool activities during your world trip. You rent a quad during your world trip, you go surfing, cycling, climb mountains or volcanoes, ride a scooter, and so on. And of course you need your phone to communicate and navigate.

Just take a picture with your smartphone while driving with 1 hand on the wheel, because that's who you are. Climb that volcanic rock with your smartphone in hand, because you can do it. Until it falls and the beautiful glass retina OLED screen breaks into 25.000 pieces on the rock-hard stones below you.

Crazy Accidents vs Smartphones

And then you also have those silly accidents, for example a water bottle that has started to leak or the juice pack that has broken in your backpack. We even had one time when Malou's nail polish remover started to leak… I didn't take a picture of it at the time, but I can tell you that that mess made my power bank and phone melt like cheese spread, that's how bad the stuff affects plastic a couple of hours. We were really lucky that the phone and power bank had not caught fire, because this happened in the plane?

Fix high-end iPhones, Samsungs and Huaweis

When you make a long journey or world trip, there is a good chance that you will come to places far from civilization. There you are, with your broken fancy phone of 1500 euros, in the middle of nowhere… On a bounty island or in the middle of the jungle.

It is not the case that you can quickly find a repair center somewhere if you are 5 hours away from the first major city… Trust me, I know…

Far removed from civilization | Mangenguey Island, Philippines
Far removed from civilization | Mangenguey Island, Philippines

And then there's another factor: repairing high-end iPhones, Samsungs, and Huaweis is easier said than done. In the western world we have the most expensive variants: the pro versions, the retina screens, OLED, curved screens, etc. etc.

But what is normal for us is definitely not in poorer parts of the world. They may have parts or screens from these brands in repair centers, but often not from the high-end models. This is because the locals simply don't have those devices, they can't afford it. If they already have an iPhone or Samsung, it will usually be a low-budget model. And so are the parts for it at a repair center.

An example: in 2018, after endless phone calls with Samsung customer service for a curved Samsung OLED screen, I was able to visit exactly two cities in the Philippines: Manila and Cebu. And that in a country with 110 million inhabitants spread over 300.000 square kilometers and 7000 islands.

Another example: In 2021 I was traveling in Uganda with my beautiful Huawei P30 pro with a curved OLED screen. You guessed it, I made it bounce. Right on the piece of concrete in front of my hotel room. Screen broken. Touchscreen gave problems and fingerprint scanner no longer worked. I have tried for 3 weeks to get this screen repaired somewhere, to no avail. Even in the big shopping centers of the capital (Kampala), they didn't have these screens. They could order these, but then I had to wait a week. Of course I didn't have that time.

Fortunately, I still had my sturdy Nokia XR-20 with me as a backup. I can't put into words how happy I was with myself that I had foreseen this. And knowing that this Nokia would be my spare phone, I was happy to know that this phone can at least take a beating.

Which sturdy smartphones?

A smartphone that you can simply drop while cycling, which can withstand extreme temperatures and is simply 100% adolescent-proof. In the photo above that saves you two days of traveling with boats, tuk-tuks and planes to have your screen repaired in a big city… Which in the end still doesn't work, as was the case with me.

Then you might think: those super-sturdy smartphones don't exist, do they? Yes indeed, they do exist! How about the CAT telephones, which are designed for people who work on construction or farms, for example? Nokia also makes various sturdy smartphones and even Samsung is now jumping in on this market for construction workers with beards.

The CAT S52 Smartphone

These phones are truly vandal-proof and are able to withstand many blows and extreme conditions. Ideal for a trip around the world hotseknotsewegen, extreme temperatures and unforeseen circumstances. We have had the CAT S52 for some time (about 250 euros, here for sale) in use and it does exactly what it promises: not to break.

Our sturdy CAT S52 smartphone
Our sturdy CAT S52 smartphone

The CAT S52 is not too big, fits nicely in your pocket and looks 'normal', like any other smartphone. But make no mistake, the Cat S52 can handle the toughest conditions. It is guaranteed to survive drops of 1,8 feet on hard surfaces and is sand, dust and waterproof.

The phone is designed to withstand extremely high and low temperatures. Shocks, vibrations and salt water are no problem either. The screen has been designed to be extra bastard-proof. The standard sturdy smartphone housing deliberately falls a few millimeters over the screen for extra fall protection on hard surfaces. And if the screen unexpectedly breaks, it is also covered by the warranty with CAT phones.

Don't worry, it's waterproof!

The Nokia XR-20 Smartphone

Nokia, you know that brand of those indestructible 3310, which you used to be able to smash windows with. They also still make sturdy phones with the aim and appeal of being extra sturdy. I myself have been using the Nokia XR-20 as a spare phone on the road for some time (about 450 euros, here for sale). The XR-20 is a vandal-proof smartphone of the latest generation with a huge and clear screen, so you can watch movies and series on the go.

But against all odds, this large, clear screen survives a drop of 1,5 meters onto rock-hard tiles or concrete, without a cover or extra protection! Nokia also guarantees this. If you somehow scrap the phone, Nokia will give you a new one for free for the first year. They have so much confidence in their product.

Our sturdy Nokia XR-20 smartphone in Uganda
Our sturdy Nokia XR-20 smartphone in Uganda
Our sturdy Nokia XR-20 smartphone in Uganda (2)
Our sturdy Nokia XR-20 smartphone in Uganda (2)

The Nokia XR20 is designed for the longer term. A phone that can handle whatever life throws at it. Scratch resistant, drop resistant, temperature resistant, water resistant and resistant to children and animals. A wonderful bastard-proof phone for a trip around the world!

Other 'rugged smartphones'

Nowadays there are more and more brands that offer so-called bastard-proof smartphones. Motorola, Oppo and even Samsung now have smartphones that are aimed at the vulnerable market such as construction. You can also always choose to put a mega-strong cover on your phone. This will never work as well as a phone that's actually designed to be tough, but it can be just enough to save your smartphone in certain situations. If you are looking for a sturdy smartphone or extra sturdy smartphone cover for his or her phone, you can here take another look.

Until the next blog!

Read also: Why you should NOT take pictures with your smartphone during a world trip


Owner or Wereldreizigers.nl | Discover the world!
– Travel 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
– 10 months USA & Canada in 2022
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Stubborn & decisive world traveller
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