Download Wikitravel to your smartphone for free

One of the biggest difficulties for the modern traveler in a foreign country is in acquiring smartphone data. Domestic telecom companies, still stuck in the stone age of pricing models charge a ridiculous amount for international data, and horror stories about $85,000 phone bills have flooded the internet.

Without a data plan to download Google Maps or reference the cloud for research, dynamic and engaged travel becomes difficult, and a great deal of planning needs to be done in preparation to avoid connecting.

Of course, a full range of smartphone apps have entered the market that are capable of alleviating part of this problem. Lonely Planet and a variety of other guides for most cities are available to download online. But each of those guides is for a singular city, and in many cases, the guides cost a moderate amount of money.

For a free alternative, Gadling Labs discovered a great set of apps tied to Wikitravel that allow you to download the entire database of destinations to your phone (minus the pictures) and use that as a wireless-data-free reference. For android, use OxygenGuide. All that you have to do is download the database (about 55Mb or 10 songs), put it on your phone and link to it in your browser — there are instructions on the site. The more user-friendly iPhone has an app called iTravelFree that allows users to download data and store it locally.

A recent trip to Seoul brought an excellent opportunity to test out the OxygenGuide. With no internet on the plane, the Seoul Wikitravel page was loaded to research a few different hotel options and learn the layout of the city. During the brief layover in Osaka, a reservation could quickly be made before scrambling over to the Asiana flight bound for Korea.

As far as interface goes, since no pictures are involved (that would take up too much space) the Wikitravel guides are a fairly bulky, word-heavy read, with spartan menus linking directly to each destination and very little search functionality. But on the flip side of the coin, it’s free, it gets rid of the nasty need to rely on international data plans and it’s a public project with good intent.

Consider this the food co-op of travel guides – by the people, for the people and with no frills to distract you.

[flickr image via Mr. T in DC]