Here comes part two of our Traveling with Technology Tips series. In the last part, we covered what to expect from Wi-Fi, power and tips for cameras. This part will cover several more important considerations. Namely, cell phones, communicating with home and keeping track of the time difference will all be dealt with in this article. There is also a follow-up to a Wi-Fi issue I have discovered. Again, a consolidated list of tips can be found at the bottom.
There are two competing cell phone standards in the US and the world. In the United States, Verizon and Sprint use a CDMA network whereas T-Mobile and AT&T use GSM. There are some benefits and drawbacks, but that's not for this article. What is important to note is that your phone may not work in the foreign country due to these differences.
Generally, the rest of the world uses the GSM standard. GSM phones are typically the ones that require a SIM card, such as AT&T or T-Mobile. If you're like me and have a CDMA-based phone, it will only work in a few other countries. Furthermore, there are different frequencies that GSM operates on, so it really is important to check ahead to see if your phone is compatible. Additionally, if you take your phone abroad, it is advisable to check with your carrier about roaming and the cost of using it internationally.
Tip: Check ahead to see if your phone is compatible with the local country's cellular networks.
If you have a GSM phone, it's usually better to have the company unlock it so it works with any carrier's SIM card. If you don't do this, you won't be able to buy a local carrier's SIM card which can then be placed in the phone to make local calls cheaply. This is a common thing to do and there are stores all over Europe that will sell you a local SIM with money on it, just like the prepaid companies do in the US.
The best part about just purchasing a SIM card is that you get to keep using your phone. This has several benefits. First, you don't have to learn a new phone. Not a problem for everyone, but definitely for some. Second, you will have all of your contacts, games, apps and other features of your current phone.
Tip: Buy a local SIM card for your unlocked phone.
One guy that I met during my travels was using an unlocked iPhone. He had purchased 10 euros worth of credit and had been using iMessage to "text" his wife back in Canada. He was onto day three and still hadn't used up all of his credit. iMessage works through the Internet so he wasn't getting charged exorbitant international texting fees.
There are other ways than just iMessage to text for free or cheap. Google Voice has a service which can use an Internet connection to text. I believe it currently is free for the US and a small charge everywhere else. I have the app installed on my iPod Touch and am texting my friends from a local number so nobody gets charged.
Tip: Use iMessage, Google Voice or something similar to text home for cheap or free.
Continuing along the lines of communicating home, I spent days trying to figure out how to call home for free and I finally found a way. While Skype is great for video calls, they charge you to call landlines or cellphones. Not every person is always at a computer and logged into Skype, so calling normal phones is important.
International calls can cost a lot of money, if placed in the traditional method. However, if you are looking to call a number located in the United States, Google, again, has your back. From Gmail, on the left hand side under "Chat" there is an option to "Call Phone." Clicking on that brings up a dial pad which also shows your credit it the top right-hand corner.
Don't fear because if you are calling a US number, it will change to say "Free!" after the call is placed. The call quality has some issues sometimes, but if you have a good Internet connection, it is usually pretty good. And how can you complain? It's a free service. This can also be used to call foreign numbers, but for that you will have to pay.
Tip: Use Google Gmail Chat to make free calls to the United States, cell phones and landlines both.
Now let's teach you how to keep track of the time difference so that you aren't trying to call home in the middle of the night. There's a couple of different ways to do this. Personally, I have my iPod set to local time and my computer has remained on the time it is back where I live and want to communicate.
Another way to keep track of the difference in time is to set up multiple clocks on your Windows PC. On Windows 7- click on the clock and select "Change Time and Date Settings." In this new window, select the tab at the top called "Additional Clocks." From this panel, you can tick the box "Show this Clock" and then enter settings for the clock.
Tip: Keep track of the time back at home so you don't try calling or texting in the middle of the night. Your friends will thank you later.
Free Wi-Fi hotspots can also be a bit deceiving. I just walked into a McDonalds and purchased a burger because they offered "free" Wi-Fi. Turns out, to take advantage of the deal you have to have a local number to receive an SMS at. This is the same issue I had getting onto the Wi-Fi that was provided in some cities by the government - you had to have a cell phone!
I found another place nearby and spent about double what I should have on a drink to get the code to log in. It will end up paying off for me, but it still irks me that many places have hotel style logins that require users to have a cell phone as many travelers, such as myself, won't have a local phone.
Tip: Ask about the free Wi-Fi before purchasing anything to get the code.
These are just a few more important considerations to use when traveling with technology. I'm still learning and as I figure out more tips, I will be sure to share them with you. Until then, a consolidated list of the tips is below for your convenience. Happy and Safe travels!
Tips (consolidated list):
- Check ahead to see if your phone is compatible with the local country's cellular networks.
- Buy a local SIM card for your unlocked phone.
- Use iMessage, Google Voice or something similar to text home for cheap or free.
- Use Google Gmail Chat to make free calls to the United States, cell phones and landlines both.
- Keep track of the time back at home so you don't try calling or texting in the middle of the night. Your friends will thank you later.
- Ask about the free Wi-Fi before purchasing anything to get the code.