My take is you really don't need a cell phone while traveling. In fact, while bouncing around the world it's more fun to not have a phone where people back home can bother you. But, if a phone is what you want look no further than the Nokia E71. It is an Unlocked Cell Phone with 3.2 MP Camera, 3G, Media Player, GPS. This is the U.S. Version (Americans, do not get Asia versions, you will regret it when you come home.).
This smart phone has it all, and is pretty sleek and stylish in my opinion. It's also very thin, so it fits nicely in your pocket. It comes with a mp3 player, a video player (will play flash youtube videos too), a built in GPS, 3.2 megapixel camera, can record video, check your email and surf the web via WIFI or your data plan. It has a super nice qwerty keyboard which really makes typing emails and sending text messages very nice. I really love the keyboard, think it's totally superior than any touch screen or regular phone pad. I should also say that I am very pleased with the battery life. With normal usage, including taking pictures and using wifi, it will last me about 2 days. With heavy usage I can still last the whole day before having to recharge. With minimal usage it will last me at about 3 days.
No carrier picked up this phone in the United States so it is only sold as an unlocked phone (this is good!). That means you never have to be tied down in a contract. It uses a sim card, which unlike the USA, Asia has taken by storm. This means once you get to the new country you could simply buy one of their prepaid sim cards, pop it in your phone and have a local number!
You could of course also just use your carriers plan, but both ATT and T-Mobile (US carriers that use sim cards) require you to be tied down in a contract to be able to roam. Boooooo. I suspended my account with T-Mobile while travling because the sales person told me otherwise. Anyway, roaming is obviously very expensive, so it wasn't a big loss for me. Also don't forget... you can get a local number via pre-paid sim card cheap cheap abroad. =) Just pop it in and go!
It has a GPS that is integrated into the phone! Nokia provides an application called Nokia Maps on your E71 for no additional cost which lets you use the GPS. You can either download all the maps of the areas you need at once and install it on your phone or download as needed with your data connection (either wifi or data plan). This would be great if you're lost... and while backpacking you WILL get lost.. but keep in mind getting lost is half the fun and half the adventure. =) If you decide to use Nokia Maps you need to make sure Assisted GPS is checked because Nokia Maps is useless without it (Tools->Settings->General->Positioning->Positioning methods). I didn't have an unlimited data plan (unless I'm connected via wifi) so I decided to use the Garmin Mobile XT for smartphones instead. It totally kicks Nokia Maps' ass bad. Quite frankly there is no reason to use Nokia's crappy Maps that need Assisted GPS (ie more of your money) when you can use Garmin's App and download the maps you need straight to your phone. More on the Garmin below.
The camera comes with a pretty decent flash actually. The pictures won't ever be as great as your new digital camera, but they're not bad at all. The videos come out pretty well too. A little note since I didn't figure this out until way after I had already had my phone.... press the 't' button to focus. =)
The built in media players work well. The mp3 player plays your mp3s beautifully, and uses the mp3's ID3 data for navigation like ipods. The video player will play a variety of formats including flash videos (which you can download from youtube and save to your phone), real media, etc. Currently it does not play mp4 files... too bad. It also does not play divx files but you can install divx player to remedy that (see below). If I find an update or a 3rd party video player I will update this post.
The only down sides to this phone are that the headphone jacks don't use the standard 3.5mm size and it does not allow for usb charging (LAME Nokia!). Still, with everything else it provides I was willing to overlook these faults.
Now for some software I think you should install on your phone to make it even more pimp:
$85-$100: Garmin Mobile Xt For Smartphones. Really, if you want to use your GPS this is the only way to go. My stupid Nokia Maps would sometimes take 30 minutes to get a satellite signal with out assisted gps. The Garmin Mobile XT does NOT use my assisted GPS, it uses only my internal GPS and locks on in maybe 3 minutes; that means it doesn't use additional data so no extra data costs for you! Once you have a satellie signal it actually keeps up with you as you travel around (unlike nokia's app). I cannot recommend this product highly enough if you want to use your GPS. Get it, get, get it. It comes with a basic world map with country boarders so you can see where you are. You can purchase maps, for North America, Europe, China, Southeast Asia (including Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, etc) and more! Search on the intertubes to unlock it's full potential. The only bad thing about the mobile xt is that there is no text to speech for street names, but seriously, for being able to pack a powerful GPS in your phone it's a tradeoff I can live with.
FREE: fring. Since you can use wifi with this phone I recommend you go out and install a program for your E71 called fring. fring lets you use your skype account on your mobile phone to make skype voice calls! I used it, it works great and it can save you a ton of money in phone bills. You can either makes free skype to skype calls, or you can call phone numbers if you put money in your skype account. fring also lets you chat with people using skype, yahoo messenger, gtalk, aim, and ms messenger accounts!
FREE: Opera Mini is the way to go for web browing. It's hands down the best mobile browser out there with the ability to resize the webpage to the exact size of your screen. You can zoom in on the parts you like or zoom back out.
FREE: Divx Player. Play divx movies on your E71! Do I need to say anymore? I didn't think so.
Free: Google Maps Mobile. With your garmin you really don't need google maps but it's free and it's fun. You will require a data connection to use google maps. If you don't have a data plan you will need wifi. Without data it's useless. Navigate to http://www.google.com/gmm/ via your E71 to download and install it.
Free: Gmail. If you use gmail get it, it's free and you can check your emails easily... though you can also use the built in mail app from Nokia or use your Opera web browser to log into gmail.com. Navigate to http://www.google.com/mobile/gmail/ via your E71 to download and install it.
Free: putty for Symbian OS. This one's for computer geeks that want to ssh to their computers while traveling abroad. How great is that? I was so stoked when I found it! This app seriously made my day! If this entry didn't make sense to you then don't bother getting it, you really will not need it. Just think of it as a computer geek thing.