These days, nearly every adult travels with a smartphone.
From capturing photos and videos to managing the travel journey while on the go, smartphones have become indispensable for road warriors, myself included.
But while everyone might carry a smartphone, smartwatches are far less ubiquitous. These wearable devices are designed to be a companion to your phone, giving you easy access to the most important notifications and content on your wrist.
Personally, I wasn’t initially sold on the smartwatch concept. I liked the look and feel of my mechanical Swiss watch, but my thinking has changed over the years.
As a longtime iPhone user, I have been intrigued with the Apple Watch ever since its unveiling. I skipped out on the first few generations, but I eventually decided to take the plunge and get my first Apple Watch when Series 4 was released in 2018.
At first, I found the Apple Watch to be more like a toy than a powerful device on my wrist. But as the Apple Watch keeps getting better (with more travel-focused upgrades coming this fall), it’s become a fixture in my wardrobe — here’s why.
The flight experience is much easier
As a frequent traveler — I took over 100 flights and flew more than 175,000 miles last year — I am always looking to streamline my travel journey. Anything that can save me a few minutes will undoubtedly add up to hours over the course of a year.
That’s one of the biggest reasons why the Apple Watch has become an appendage on my wrist.
For one, the watch helps simplify the airport experience with seamless access to my boarding passes. I always check in via the airline app when the 24-hour window opens. I save my boarding pass directly into my Apple Wallet, and I love that it’s automatically displayed on my iPhone lock screen when I’m in the airport.
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But with the Apple Watch, it gets even simpler.
Boarding passes are wirelessly synced across devices, so my watch is always ready to display the boarding pass QR code at just the tap of a button. Instead of fumbling around for my phone at the check-in counter or gate, I simply tap the boarding pass on my watch and show it to the agent.
I don’t need to worry about where my phone is or possibly spilling the drink I just bought from the (overpriced) coffee shop. With just a flick of the wrist, I’m ready to go.
Moreover, my Apple Watch helps me be one of the first to know about timely flight (and train) status updates. From boarding notifications to gate change announcements, all the important information requires just a glance at the watch — there’s no need to pause to open an app on my phone.
Most major airlines offer Apple Watch apps, which deliver important information in an easily digestible format, and many even include bite-size widgets (or complications) that can be displayed directly on a customizable watch face — a big time-saver for me.
For my friends and family, navigating airports, complicated boarding processes and airline apps can be a challenge, especially when they’re totting around luggage (and possibly kids, too). Yet the Apple Watch has helped remove much of this stress for me.
Payments are seamless
Traveling around with an Apple Watch also makes it much easier for me to pay for goods and services when I’m jogging around a city or running a quick errand.
I store all my most-used credit cards in my digital Apple Watch wallet. That way, I don’t need the physical card or my phone to check out at merchants with tap-to-pay technology.
With just a flick of my wrist on the payment terminal, I’m ready to go.
When traveling internationally, I usually leave some of my credit cards at home or in the hotel safe, but being able to access all of them on my watch without safety or security concerns is certainly helpful for my points-maximizing strategy.
Furthermore, many major cities have introduced tap-to-pay payments for mass transit. Back at home in New York City, I regularly use my watch to tap for subway rides — a feature that makes getting around much simpler.
There’s a built-in workout tracker
Staying healthy when I’m on the go is a must. Given my hectic travel schedule, I always try to work out whenever I land in a new city, whether it’s a short jog near the hotel, a quick stop in the hotel gym or a longer hike on the outskirts of town.
The Apple Watch makes tracking my fitness goals significantly easier and more fun, and I love looking back at my workout history and progress every few weeks.
Another useful fitness feature is the ability to pair my Apple Watch directly with gym equipment. I’ve found that many new and recently renovated hotel gyms feature machines that support this technology, and being able to sync real-time stats and heart rate measurements means that I’m getting a more accurate look at my metrics.
I’m also a big recreational hiker, and I recently wore the watch on a hike in New York’s Hudson Valley. Aside from tracking my workout metrics, I appreciated that the watch can connect to a cellular network so I don’t need to worry about being off the grid while hiking both at home and abroad (international cellular roaming is a feature available on Apple Watch Series 5 and later; Apple Watch SE and later; and Apple Watch Ultra).
Better yet, even more powerful connectivity upgrades are coming this fall — more on that below.
I can control my content with little effort
With just a small display, I didn’t originally think that the Apple Watch could help me enjoy content while I’m on the go.
But while it has its limitations (notably the screen size and the 32-gigabyte storage), the Apple Watch does make it easier to listen to and control my music when I’m traveling.
For one, I keep a few playlists saved locally on my watch so that I can play some tunes without my phone nearby. This is especially useful when I’m jogging with just my watch and second-generation AirPods Pro.
Additionally, I appreciate that when I listen to music with my phone nearby, the watch offers a “Now Playing” screen that allows me to control the volume, skip a track or even switch audio sources with just a tap.
The watches are bigger, better and safer
Around the holidays, I started wearing this year’s Series 8 watch, which starts at $399. (There’s also an entry-level Apple Watch SE that offers a smaller case with fewer sensors, and it starts at $249.)
While you can enjoy all of the aforementioned features across the entire Apple Watch lineup, I’ve found that the tech giant has made the watch an even more powerful travel companion this year with the introduction of the Ultra model, which I recently upgraded to.
It offers a 49-millimeter case (Apple’s largest) in an incredibly durable titanium design that survived being banged against airplane seats, subway poles and airport security bins.
Though the watch is primarily designed for off-road adventurers and high-achieving athletes (with features tailored for hikers, divers and runners), it also doubles as an incredible travel smartwatch, in my experience. Thanks to the larger screen, a bigger battery (I recently managed to go nearly 50 hours between charges) and an extremely accurate built-in GPS, the Ultra might make the most sense for a super frequent traveler who’s looking for the best of the best.
Whichever model you pick, you’ll likely be reassured that all of this year’s watches feature Crash Detection. This new potentially life-saving feature can automatically call emergency services if the watch detects that you’ve been in a severe car crash.
From the airport and the plane to what I do when I arrive at my destination, my Apple Watch has allowed me to get on my way even faster and more efficiently than ever before.
Being able to scan my boarding pass or pay for a coffee at the flick of my wrist, while also tracking my workouts and enjoying my music, make the Apple Watch my go-to smartphone companion.
As smartwatch technology has progressed over the past few years, we’ve seen travel brands debut Apple Watch apps and install more Bluetooth-friendly devices on planes and in hotel rooms — and even more innovation is coming.
At this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple unveiled the new WatchOS 10. Once it debuts this fall, I’m confident that my Apple Watch will become an even more essential travel companion.
That’s because the new software features a host of travel-focused updates, including a redesigned widget experience for even easier access to boarding passes and flight status, compass improvements to track when you last had cellular service, offline maps to help you navigate around town without an internet connection and much more.
But for now, you’ll need to excuse me. My watch just buzzed because it’s time to board my flight home.