Heading off overseas? Not sure what to do about technology? While this entire site is for you, we thought we’d take the opportunity to boil things down to a few key tips that will make a big difference before, during and after your trip.
Five of them, in fact.
Know What You’re Going to do About Calls and Data Before You Leave Home
If you’d prefer to avoid an unexpected phone bill when you get back from your trip, you need to think about it before you leave home. Check – and double-check – what your cell company’s rates are for calls, SMS and data when you travel overseas. Unless you’re a customer of T-Mobile in the US or one of a very small number of other companies around the world, the rates are likely to be extremely high.
Luckily you’ve got a few other choices:
1. Put your devices in flight mode when you get on the plane, and leave them that way until you get home. You can still turn wi-fi back on and use tools like Skype and WhatsApp to make calls and stay in touch, but standard calls, texts and cell data are off limits.
2. If you paid full price for your device and it has a physical SIM slot, it should be unlocked for use around the world. Even if you didn’t, it may be possible to get it unlocked – either by asking your cell company or less official means. In either case, you can then buy a local SIM card at your destination and pay much-reduced rates. If you’re based in one country for more than a few days, this is a good option.
3. International SIM cards are another option (although you still need an unlocked device to use them) – they’ll work in almost any country, but rates vary widely, so check the fine print carefully.
4. Finally, it’s possible to rent a MiFi that will work in one or several countries. These typically let you connect up to five devices via wi-fi, providing cellular data access to all of them. Costs can mount up (rates typically run at $5-$15 per day), but these may still make sense if you want to connect several gadgets on the go (or avoid paying for expensive hotel wi-fi).
Dealing with all of this stuff can be complicated, but is important to understand if you want to use your devices overseas without spending a fortune. This article has even more detail on the subject.
Use a VPN
There’s no doubt that shared internet connections in hotels, cafes and airports are useful for travellers, especially when they’re free. Unfortunately that convenience comes at a price – security. Using basic tools, anybody connected to the same network can automatically grab many of your login details and other data, saving it to break into your accounts at a later date.
There are various ways to protect yourself, but the easiest and most secure is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). As well as encrypting all of your information as it travels through the network, a good VPN will also let you choose where in the world you’d like to connect through. If you use streaming services like Hulu, Netflix or BBC iPlayer, a VPN will let you watch them even when you’re overseas.
There are many different VPN services available, both free and paid, so try a few out to see which you prefer. Services like CyberGhost and TunnelBear provide a basic, free option, although all come with adverts and/or traffic restrictions. For light use or to try out using a VPN for the first time, though, they’re a good place to start.
For regular, unlimited usage, however, a paid service is well worth the money. They don’t have adverts or bandwidth caps, are usually faster and have a wider range of servers to connect to. The free plans mentioned above can be upgraded, while companies like PureVPN, HideMyAss and Witopia only offer a paid service.
For the greatest coverage, look for a service that uses the OpenVPN protocol and specifically says that it works in China. In essence, if it works there, it will work almost anywhere. More information on VPNs can be found here.
Don’t Forget About Power
It’s easy to forget about power – until you get to a new country and realise none of your plugs fit into the wall socket. Rather than buying a travel adapter for every device, though, just buy one and pack a power strip from home instead (or use a dedicated travel version). Plug the adapter into the wall, the power strip into the adapter and all of your devices into the power strip. Nice and easy, with big savings in money and weight.
Backups Still Matter When You’re On Vacation
It’s easy to take hundreds or thousands of photos when you’re on vacation – and it’s even easier to forget to back them up. SD cards are notoriously fragile and unreliable, and camera phones break as easily as any other model.
If you’re using your smartphone and have a wi-fi connection available, be sure to use Dropbox or iCloud to back up your photos automatically. If you’re using a camera, connect the SD card to a computer or tablet (via an adapter) every night and copy the photos onto it. It only takes a few minutes, and is a lot less hassle than going back to take all of your holiday snaps a second time…
Take Less Of It… and Get Away From It Regularly
Finally, once you think you’ve got all of your technology sorted out – leave most of it behind. You probably don’t need to carry a laptop, tablet, camera, smartphone, e-reader and all the associated cables and chargers on a two week trip. They’ll just weigh you down, increase your insurance costs and distract you from the places you’ve spent so much time and money to visit.
The same applies when you’re at your destination. It’s ok if the folks back home haven’t seen an updated Facebook status from you in the last hour. Switch off, talk to the people around you, go exploring and enjoy your surroundings without having a gadget in your hand. You’ll have a much more enjoyable trip if you do.
Do you have any travel tech tips to share? Let us know in the comments!