When we first started traveling abroad, my “technology” consisted of a phone card for calls back to the states, a paper notebook, and a pen. Pay phones were ubiquitous then and it was easy and reasonable to make calls stateside. The notebook held my journal and any important information I might need. Occasionally, we would purchase an International Tribune to catch up on the news. On our most recent trip to Italy, my packing included a smart phone and an iPad 3G.
When we purchased our new iPhones, we kept the old ones to be used as iPod Touches. Ours were ATT which utilizes GSM technology that can be used worldwide. ATT will now “unlock” phones on which the contract has expired, so I had one of our old phones unlocked. Unlocking enables you to use a different SIM card. SIM means Subscriber Identity Module; it contains the information to identify and authenticate the subscriber. That means that I could have purchased a SIM card in Europe for use over there. However, I also needed the phone to be able to call our car service when we returned to the states. Instead, I bought a SIM card from Telestial.com. The per minute charge was more expensive, but it gave me both a UK and US phone number. I did not get a data plan for the phone as I still could use the WIFI in any WIFI hotspot, and for more extensive use, I had my iPad.
Some frequent travelers I know purchase international cell phones for their travel. Mobal is a company many recommend. Infrequent travelers have an option of renting a cell phone or purchasing a relatively inexpensive “pay as you go” one when they arrive at their destination.
In the past, we have been fortunate to have free WIFI in some of our apartments. The apartments wewould be using this trip had WIFI but it was for a fee and the weekly charge was as much as a month service if I purchased my own data plan once I got to Europe. The ATT international plan was significantly more expensive than available European plans. So, when I arrived in Italy, I went to Vodaphone to purchase a SIM card. There were two monthlong options; 5 Gb for 20 Euros or 7 Gb for 25 Euros. I did have to present a copy of my passport when purchasing the card. It turned out that 5GB was way more than I needed and I probably could have purchased a less expensive card/plan.
With my SIM card, we could also use Skype for phone calls and I have a free international texting app that allows us to do just that.
If you are staying in hotels, check ahead of time if they offer free WIFI. Some hotels charge $10 and up a day for WIFI, so a SIM card works out to be much more economical, and no worrying about having to find out new passwords each time you change hotels. Alternatively, there are many internet cafes and each year I seem to see more restaurants and cafes offering free WIFI. This affords a nice way to sit outside, enjoy the atmosphere, and keep in touch. Internet charges on board ships can be hefty; I know a lot of cruisers who enjoy heading to an internet cafe when they get into port to catch up on whatever while enjoying the local color. Many cruise lines offer free internet time as part of their loyalty programs.
Bringing along technology meant, of course, that I had to be thorough in packing, making certain to include all cables and a dual voltage USB charger. Fortunately the chargers that come with Apple products are dualvoltage and all I needed additionally was a plug adaptor. If you don’t have a plug adaptor, Apple sells a World Travel Adapter Kit that features plugs for most any country you might visit. Don’t forget earphones for using your devices either on the plane or if you don’t want to disturb your traveling companion.
Of course, always remember to pack your devices in your carry-on, NEVER in your checked bags. You don’t need to remove your iPad at security checkpoints as you do with laptops.
What about fear of theft? I wasn’t that concerned as I knew our apartments were safe and the iPhone was just a spare. Although I should have, I didn’t check my home owner’s policy about coverage for the iPad. That is something you should do if you are concerned about theft. Alternatively, there are places where you can purchase special travel policies.
I loaded up on books on the iBooks, Kindle, and Google book apps which meant no more lugging those paperbacks or trying to find a reasonably priced English language book worth reading when my husband ran out of books at our destination. If I had wanted, I could have downloaded movies to view either on the plane or during our trip. But, I like to sleep on the plane and have no time for films once I arrive.
I also loaded some PDFs – my camera manual, Itineraries and maps from stay.com. I included copies of our passports and insurances as well as important contact numbers. There are many apps to keep up on the news or check the local weather and if you use an iPad, by now you probably have your favorites installed.
Many sites require passwords and remembering all those different ones can be troublesome. I use 1Password on all my devices with Dropbox syncing which provides seamless entry into password protected portals.I downloaded my photos daily. This gave me a backup should my camera be lost or stolen or the memory card become defective – which has happened.
Other than entertainment, the first use of my iPad was before we landed for our connection in Frankfurt. I had downloaded the airport’s app. Using its directory and map of services, I was able to quickly find an ATM (geldautomat). Technology allowed us to stay in touch with people at home and even send postcards. There are numerous apps to do that – some allow you to send via “snail” mail, others via email.
I used my iPad as my travel journal, with a cloud service backup (something like Dropbox or iCloud) to back it up should there be any problems. I couldn’t do that with my old paper notebook! When we made day trips, I was able to check transportation times. We could set our schedule and know ahead of time where we might have to change trains. We could even order train tickets online. Had we been driving, I could have downloaded travel directions.
A word of caution if you are traveling with your own smartphone and have not purchased an international data plan. Make certain you turn off your cellular data, 3G and roaming in the settings or you may be unpleasantly surprised when you return home and receive your bill. Horror stories abound of thousands of dollars in fees incurred because people neglected to change their settings.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.