When traveling to a foreign country with technology, it's hard to know exactly what you will encounter. What power convertors will I need? Is the Internet there the same as in my home country? Do they use a different Ethernet standard? These are all very important and good questions to ask. This article will serve to provide some helpful tips and help you understand just what to expect when traveling abroad. Scroll to the bottom for the list of tips without all the extra words.
For the most part, countries other than the US have the same Wi-Fi and Internet protocols as you are used to. Some other countries may have additional channels that their wireless access points operate on as the FCC limits the US to channels 1-11. Other countries go as high as 14. For the most part, however, this will have very little effect on you.
So far during my travels in Europe, wireless access and any Internet access for that matter, has been a bit spotty. A fair amount of restaurants do offer free wireless access for its customers and, at least in Italy, they are in no hurry to bring you the bill and rush you out. While it may not be polite to whip out your laptop, I used my iPod Touch to check Facebook and keep in touch with loved ones.
The hostel I stayed at in Rome offered free wireless; however, not all do and you should check ahead before booking. The annoying thing about the wireless offered by my hostel was that you had to have a code from the front desk to log in. Usually not a problem. But, in this case, the code only lasted for 3 hours and then you had to get a new one.
Tip: Check out the wireless offered by the hotel/hostel before booking.
The large majority of the airports I flew through and train stations I have been through so far have not offered any sort of Wi-Fi at all, free or otherwise. One or two offered a few minutes (~15) of free access before payment was needed. Often these airports and train stations have restaurants and clubs in them and I managed to grab internet provided by one of those.
Tip: Snuggle up just outside the nicest lounge in the airport or station and sneak onto their Wi-Fi. If they have a challenge, it can usually be passed using information from your plane or train ticket. A lot of stores use their phone number as the Wi-Fi password, sneaky but true.
As far as power is concerned, it seems more widely offered than Wi-Fi is. As I write this on a train, I'm looking at two power ports for a grouping of four seats. The plane from Los Angeles to Paris had power, albeit in the form of a USB port at each seat. The in-flight entertainment system offered on the Air France A380 I flew on had a USB port to download maps onto a USB drive. This means it had to provide power and was even capable of charging my iPod, something that is often hard to charge due to Apple.
Furthermore, at the bar/toilet booth I was sitting in close proximity to had cabinets that appeared to be designed for laptops. Inside, these cabinets offered a power port for which to charge a device left inside. I believe the nicer first class and business class has AC power available at the seats themselves.
Power ports at some of the airports (read: LAX) were limited and this is where it would be smart to bring a small power strip with you in your carry-on baggage. People will love you if you share a plug with them. It also allows you to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers which helps pass the time of long layovers.
Tip: Bring a small power strip in your carry-on baggage.
Power ports themselves vary continent to continent and even country to country. I don't quite understand why we don't have a standardized electrical plug like we do for Ethernet and the like. But I digress, power convertors are important if you plan to travel to a country that has a different style plug. Furthermore, countries use different voltages for their power. While the US uses 120v/60Hz, Europe (as well as Australia) generally uses 230v/50Hz.
This means that you will additionally need a transformer plug if you want to plug sensitive electronics in. A large majority of laptop chargers can handle a range of voltages, usually 110-240v/50-60Hz, but I don't make any promises that yours will. It is almost always written on the bulky brick portion of the charger. Even still, the converter set I purchased came with a transformer to reduce voltage down to what the US uses so I use that whenever I plug my laptop in.
It is important to purchase a converter in your home country. Generally the converters sold abroad will go the other way, i.e. US to European plug. While I'm sure you can find the correct converter somewhere, you are likely to end up paying a premium as you are out of luck without it. Prepare first and enjoy your vacation.
Tip: Purchase your power converter/transformer before leaving home.
Usually the set will come with plugs for everywhere, not just the place you are traveling. For instance, the one I picked up offered converters for New Zealand, Africa and others. Since they were separate little adapters that were to be used in front of the transformer, I left them at home to save weight and bulk. Some converters/transformers have every plug style built-in. If this is the case, don't worry about this part.
Tip: Leave behind converters that you won't need to save weight and bulk. Usually the converters are labeled with the country they are meant to be used in.
Let's face it, technology is expensive and public transport isn't the safest method of travel. Pickpockets know the routes tourists take and prey upon them. A phrase that I've heard time and time again from people is "Don't take more than you're willing to risk." It gets annoying, but it is very true. If you won't be doing a lot of typing or photo editing, you can most likely leave your laptop at home and make do with a tablet/iPod Touch/smartphone. This has a twofold benefit of saving the weight and bulk of the laptop as well as mitigating the risk of it being stolen, lost or damaged.
Tip: Put technology in your front pockets, along with your wallet or in a backpack. The backpack can be worn on the front of you or locked (or both). Leave behind technology you won't need, such as a laptop, iPod or other device.
Keeping all of your devices charged can also be a hassle while traveling. In a hostel, you probably shouldn't leave your devices laying out to charge as you often share the room with at least three other people. This is another reason not to bring a lot of extra devices that aren't needed. In a hotel, this isn't really a problem.
Due to the issues of charging, I further recommend using a camera that takes regular batteries. You never know when you could run out of power and not be able to find an outlet to charge. Additionally, if you are taking a nice long walk around a city, you don't want to be dependent on running back to the hotel to grab a quick charge. If you bring a camera that uses a rechargeable battery, bring the charger with you in your backpack.
Tip: Bring a camera that uses normal alkaline batteries as opposed to rechargeable ones. Bring at least one extra set with you in your backpack and another in the suitcase back at the hotel. If you bring a camera that uses rechargeable batteries, bring the charger with you in your backpack.
Speaking of cameras, it's always a good idea to bring extra memory cards as well as back up all of the pictures you take. Those darn memory cards keep getting smaller which makes them easier to lose. Back up your pictures by uploading them to cloud storage or even Facebook or put them onto a USB flash drive.
A backup will prevent you from losing the memories of the trip in case the memory card is lost, damaged or stolen. It will also help you to have extras in case you fill the card. I am shooting with a 16GB card and am leaving all pictures on the card as well as uploading them to Facebook. If I do need to clear it, I will download them to the PC or a USB drive. Always have them in at least two places.
Tip: Bring extra memory cards for your camera. Back up photos you take either by downloading them onto a USB drive/computer or by uploading them to a cloud storage or Facebook.
There is sure to be more that you need to know, but for now this will have to suffice. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to shoot me an e-mail and I will try to answer them to the best of my ability based on my recent personal experiences. There will surely be more that I learn as this trip continues and I will write another article like this to convey the information to you. Until then, I wish you happy travels.
Tips (condensed list):
- Check out the wireless offered by the hotel/hostel before booking.
- Snuggle up just outside the nicest lounge in the airport or station and sneak onto their Wi-Fi. If they have a challenge, it can usually be passed using information from your plane or train ticket.
- Bring a small power strip in your carry-on baggage.
- Purchase your power converter/transformer before leaving home.
- Leave behind converters that you won't need to save weight and bulk. Usually the converters are labeled with the country they are meant to be used in.
- Put technology in your front pockets, along with your wallet or in a backpack. The backpack can be worn on the front of you or locked (or both). Leave behind technology you won't need, such as a laptop, iPod or other device.
- Bring a camera that uses normal alkaline batteries as opposed to rechargeable ones. Bring at least one extra set with you in your backpack and another in the suitcase back at the hotel. If you bring a camera that uses rechargeable batteries, bring the charger with you in your backpack.
- Bring extra memory cards for your camera.
- Back up photos you take either by downloading them onto a USB drive/computer or by uploading them to a cloud storage or Facebook.