Are you headed overseas and need some advice about travel technology? While this entire site is for you, we thought we’d take the opportunity to boil our advice down into a few key tech travel tips that will make a big difference on your next trip.
Have a Connection Plan Before You Arrive
Don’t wait until you arrive to sort out how you’ll stay connected. Using your phone without researching roaming costs can rack up quite a bill before your return home.
If you’re not going to use your cell phone plan while traveling, turn off cellular data so that your phone is only able to access a Wi-Fi connection.
If you do plan to use your phone abroad, check with your phone company before you leave to see if it has any reasonable options for staying connected throughout your trip. Fortunately, even if it doesn’t, there are still several other approaches that won’t break your travel budget.
Increasingly, if your device has a physical SIM slot, it comes unlocked for use around the world. If not, it may be possible to get it unlocked—either by asking your cell company or by less official means. In either case, you can buy a prepaid local SIM card at your destination to stay connected at a much lower rate than using your plan from back home.
You may be able to purchase a prepaid SIM at the airport, or ask your Airbnb host, hostel, or hotel where you can find one. We have dozens of detailed articles on how to buy local SIM cards around the world.
Another option is to buy or rent a mobile hotspot like the Glocal G4 that will work in multiple countries. This is useful if you need to be connected the moment you land to pull up travel information, order an Uber, or connect with your Airbnb host.
If you have a recent iPhone, or one of a few different Android models, you also have the option of buying an international eSIM. This is one of the best ways of keeping your home number available for calls and texts while traveling, yet still benefiting from (typically) cheap local data service.
Dig a little deeper into the best way to use your phone overseas before you leave. Whatever you choose, the most important part is having a plan before you arrive at your destination.
Protect Yourself With a VPN
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) provides you with secure and private access to the internet. It ensures no one can see what you are doing online, and helps protect login details and personal information.
A VPN is essential for travelers, especially if you plan on using unsecured Wi-Fi in shared locations like coffee shops and public spaces. Otherwise, using basic tools, anyone connected to the same network can easily grab your login details and other data and use it to break into your accounts.
VPNs also come in handy for accessing streaming services like Netflix and iPlayer that are limited or unavailable in the country you’re traveling in. Finally, a VPN helps you access blocked sites in countries that censor the web, by routing your connection through a server in a different country.
We’re currently using ProtonVPN and have been very impressed by it, but depending on your needs and budget, different services may be a better fit for you. Read more about why VPNs are important on the road, and our other top VPN picks for travelers.
Carry A Portable Battery
A power bank or portable battery is a small but crucial piece of travel tech, giving your gadgets extra battery life when you can’t find a power outlet.
Has your phone ever died after a long flight or bus ride, or while using Google Maps to find your destination? A power bank will save you when you need a quick boost of power for your mobile device.
Even a small candy bar-sized one is enough to get you out of a jam, but if you need something more, check out our recommendations for the best portable batteries for travel.
Convert Power With a Multi-Adapter
If you travel overseas, at some point you’ll encounter a country with different electrical sockets to the ones you use back home. To plug anything in or charge your devices, you’ll need a power adapter. Invest in a good one. since you don’t want it to break and leave you without any power in the middle of your trip.
Save money and space by purchasing a multi-adapter that converts your plug to fit all of the main outlets you’ll come across as you travel the world. Take a look at our favorite travel adapters to help you decide.
Multiply Your Power Outlets
If your destination requires a travel adapter, by default you’ll only be able to use as many power outlets as you have adapters for.
Instead of buying a bunch of expensive adapters, carry only one or two along with a power strip that will multiply your outlets. It’ll also come in handy in coffee shops, hostels, and anywhere else with limited outlets.
As an alternative, look for an adapter that has several of the types of socket you need. Whether you’re after two or three-prong outlets, USB-A or C ports, or a mix of them all, you can find multi-socket travel adapters that cover all but the most tech-heavy travelers.
Don’t Forget the Voltage
Power outlets in different countries may also use a different voltage to what you’re used to. Plugging in a device with the wrong voltage could mean frying the device, blowing a fuse, or both.
Luckily, anything that charges over USB and most travel-friendly devices like laptops are compatible with all voltage types (100-240 volts). Be careful with other appliances from home, though, such as electric razors or hairdryers.
Look at the fine print on the plug or charger, or pull up the product specs to ensure you won’t kill your device.
Turn Your Computer Into a TV
Small and effective, an HDMI cable is a wonderful travel companion that lets you watch anything from your own devices on a television screen. It’s perfect for an Airbnb that has a beautiful big TV filled with nothing you want to watch.
Simply connect the cable between your phone, tablet, or laptop and the TV, pull up YouTube or your favorite streaming service, and start watching on a larger screen. Just be sure to buy a cable or adapter with the right kind of plug on one end — Lightning, USB-C, mini-DP, or whatever type you need for your device.
Alternatively, go for a portable streaming device like a Roku or Amazon Fire stick instead. They plug directly into the TV, and have hundreds or thousands of apps to let you watch everything from Netflix to YouTube directly over the Wi-Fi.
I talked more here about my experience with the Amazon Fire Stick while traveling, and we have a detailed guide to streaming to a TV from your phone and mobile devices.
Back Your Life Up in the Cloud
Backing up your files is essential for travelers. While we all hope nothing bad will happen to our tech, it’s best to prepare for the worst. Don’t put your files at risk. Invest in an online cloud back-up option, so you can back everything up on the go. These are our top picks for cloud backup services.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. You wouldn’t want to lose all of your priceless photos and videos halfway through your trip because of a broken or stolen device. Speaking of broken devices, here’s what you should do if your computer breaks while traveling.
Travel With USB Sticks
USB sticks take up very little space in your luggage, but they’re useful for anything from transferring files between travel companions to backing up important documents, or just as extra storage space for your files.
A USB stick is a security tool, too. If you need to print documents at a hotel, simply hand over the USB stick with the files you need printed to the concierge. It’s a lot safer than logging into your email on an unknown computer.
If you don’t travel with a laptop and need to use a random computer now and then, you can also keep many of your favorite apps on a USB stick. All of your settings, bookmarks, and other preferences travel with you, and no personal data stays on the computer when you’re finished.
When It Comes to Tech, Less Is More
As with many other aspects of travel, less is often more. Ask anyone who’s gone backpacking with a laptop, tablet, camera, lenses, smartphone, e-reader, and all of the associated cables and chargers. Consider the length of your trip and what you’ll be doing when deciding which devices to take.
If you don’t need to work while on your trip, leave the laptop at home. Taking more gear than you need will just weigh you down, increase your insurance costs, and distract you from the places you want to explore.
Main image via David Schwarzenberg, product images via Amazon