The Apple Watch is a really good fitness tracker and companion for an iPhone, but is it a good travel watch?
The short answer: it depends on what you want it to do and what you have when you travel. It can be really good, but having internet connectivity is key.
I have taken my Apple Watch on a southern Caribbean cruise, on a couple of quick road trips and on an eight day trip to Italy.
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I have a Space Grey Aluminum Body 42mm Apple Watch Series 2 with a Black Woven Nylon Band. Apple offers several other color and band choices. I chose the Apple Watch over other travel and fitness watches (check out the article here) and it has done quite well.
The watch tracks my active calorie burn and keeps an eye on my heart rate, both of which are very valuable to me. I have used a Fitbit in the past for this task, and while I liked it, the Apple Watch is a much more robust device.
There are several airline apps which will provide up-to-date gate and departure information, as well baggage tracking updates, to your watch. This is great for when you are sitting in the airport lounge, enjoying a refreshing beverage before a flight.
My Hilton Honors app will let me know if it is time to check in for my hotel and can be used as a room key at hotels enabled with that feature. Pretty handy! I know, bad pun.
I use both the native weather app and Dark Sky to give me up-to-date weather forecasts. This is great, but it requires a little work unless you want to turn GPS on all the time.
For the native weather app, the trick is to load all of the cities you will be visiting ahead of time, in order. It’s a little tedious, but you will need to do that for sunrise/sunset info, too. As you go, delete the cities you have visited and it automatically updates the weather and sunrise/sunset info.
For Dark Sky, you have to open the app and have it find your current city to get fresh info.
Both of these apps require data connection at some point. This can be a real issue if you are traveling without an unlocked phone or hotspot.
This is one of the best feature of the watch, in my opinion. Knowing when sunrise and sunset are, wherever you are, is a huge advantage to a traveler, especially if you are a photographer.
You can plan your day so much easier if you know when it will be light and dark.
The watch can also tell you the moon cycle, another important piece of information for a photographer or anyone staying on the coast, since the moon affects tides. There are some great apps just for tides if that is your thing.
One of the complications I used while in Italy was a world clock to help me keep track of time back in Atlanta. Since our blog posts are timed with Atlanta, it helped me keep in sync with our publication schedule.
My “Time Face”
One of the cool features of the Apple Watch is the ability to set multiple watch faces to suit different days and needs. For example, I have an international travel watch face. I also have what I call my “Time Face.”
The Time Face has all of my “clock” related complications, including timer, stopwatch, alarm and world clock. This gives me one swipe access to those important utilities, without taking up space on my normal watch face.
Wow, this one feature is worth the price of admission. The ability to input walking directions on the phone and use the watch to navigate the directions is awesome.
In the past, we have used our iPhones or a paper map to navigate the streets. It’s awkward, and in the case of the phone, battery-draining. The watch is great in this regard. It tells you how far to the next turn, vibrates to tell you to turn right or left and all it requires is a quick glance.
One of the cooler new features of the Apple Watch is Nightstand Mode. When the watch is on a charger sideways, it brings up a clock feature which allows you to see the time while the watch is charging.
I have one gripe about Nightstand Mode: the clock is not always on. I would really like that as an option, but perhaps that would wear out the display too fast. That said, if you want to see your watch, just tap the nightstand or the watch and it will turn on.
I hope, in the future, Apple gives us a few more options for this display, but it is very useful as it is.
As long as you are not using it all the time, the watch will easily last a couple of days. When flying to Italy and back, it still had plenty of juice, despite the long travel days without a charge. Mine had about 30% battery when I finally went to sleep after flying from Atlanta to Milan, going to Verona for lunch and then arriving outside of Venice.
A few weeks ago, when we went to Historic Banning Mills, I decided to try out the battery to see how long it would last. I woke up Saturday morning with a full charge and ran it all day Saturday and all day Sunday. When I went to sleep on Sunday night, the Apple Watch still had 15% of its battery remaining.
I did not run GPS while doing this test, but it does show an Apple Watch can survive two days of traveling without a charge. Still, I charge mine every night and never worry about the charge.
Requiring constant Internet is the watch’s biggest Achilles’ Heel. Without Internet, apps like Dark Sky become useless. If you have Internet at the hotel and can update it once a day, the basic weather app will give you the basic forecast for the day, which is useful.
Final Thoughts on the Apple Watch as a Travel Watch
The Apple Watch is a great fitness tracker with plenty of good travel apps and functionality. While its battery life is not perfect, it does a lot and you can customize it for your needs and create different watch faces for different trips.
For someone who doesn’t need that kind of functionality, I recommend something simpler, like this Citizen Field Watch with Eco Drive. I wore it before I got a fitness tracker and, as long as it is exposed to sunlight, the battery won’t die on you. It’s a simple, functional watch.