Ask LH: How Should I Sync iPhone Photos When Travelling?

Dear Lifehacker, I am leaving for Europe in just over a week and I wanted to know what is the best way to constantly upload photos/videos to the internet so that the storage in my 16GB iPhone 4 will stay relatively empty. I somehow feel I am going to have end up with more than 16GB of footage (videos and images) and the thought of running out of storage space on my ‘camera’ in a foreign country already frustrates me! Thanks, Storage Stressed

Dear Storage Stressed,

While the iPhone 4 has a good camera, you’ve unearthed its biggest disadvantage: no ability to easily attach additional storage in the form of an extra SD card. On many other smartphone platforms, the solution to this problem would be to upgrade your on-board storage card and carry a spare. For the iPhone, that isn’t really possible. It’s also much harder to connect an iPhone to a PC in a net cafe (assuming you can find one — they’re less common in the smartphone era), a problem which doesn’t affect SD cards to the same degree. We’ve featured various wireless iPhone-syncing solutions in the past, but those generally assume access to your own computer — and if that was the case, you could sync via cable anyway.

That doesn’t mean there are no options, however. The first and most important point: do not rely on your existing phone connection for any kind of uploading, or indeed for offshore data services at all. No matter which carrier you use, accessing data services in Europe is an expensive business. We’ve examined this issue before, and invariably concluded that a mixture of local SIMs and free Wi-Fi are are the best bet. So make sure you switch off data roaming on your phone before you leave the country to avoid nasty shocks down the line. Many hotels and cafes offer free Wi-Fi; McDonald’s remains a pretty useful option in many places when all else fails. (A clearout of unwanted music, videos and apps on your device before travelling is also a wise idea; that maximises the available space.)

Assuming you can find a Wi-Fi signal, where do you send the photos? One basic option is simply to email the ones you want to keep to a high-volume service such as Gmail or Hotmail. Failing that, there are plenty of image-sharing services around (indeed, we ran a Hive Five on them today). Note that if you are trying to store more than 16GB of data, you may end up having to pay additional fees. (The same applies to Dropbox.) Using a sharing service will also make your photos somewhat public. The process of updating any group of photos in this way isn’t particularly automatic, but unless you want to pay that previously-mentioned fortune in roaming charges, you arguably don’t want it to be.

Given the space constraints, you should set aside some time each day to review your photos and get rid of the ones that didn’t work before uploading them. I always think this is a good idea when travelling anyway; it’s much easier to keep your photos under control while on the road than when you get back home (and the high-quality screen on the iPhone makes the task easier). Finally, don’t forget to make sure you’ve got a suitable adaptor for your iPhone to charge in European sockets (and UK ones if you’re hitting Great Britain.)

Any other advice from fellow iPhone-toting Lifehacker readers? We’d love to hear it in the comments.


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  • I think the Dropbox integration with iFile is excellent. Jailbreak away and get this match made in heaven working. Naturally you’ll need a wifi connection to make use of this facility.

  • Lol, Windows Phone will sync photos taken straight to SkyDrive when you have a data connection.

    On the other side, just bite the bullet and just buy a camera. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing people take photos of a sunset or historical buildings on a camera phone, it basically means that you aren’t really there to see what your taking a photo of. I would say, buy a real camera or just don’t take photos

  • get android, they have an app called titanium media sync which automatically (you can set rules when and where i.e. only on wifi and specific folders) gets uploaded to dropbox. fantastic app works a treat, never have to worry about losing my photos etc.

  • I’m using an App called iSMEstorage. It allows me to batch upload photos and also control the resolution. The best bit is that it supports a number of different clouds (about 10 I think), so in my case I’m using it with Google Docs and also SkyDrive.

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