Traveling today is far different and much improved from the past, and the not very distant past. As of this writing, Wikipedia is only as old a high school sophomore, but with a mobile device can give the history/backstory of everything right now. Thanks to Google & Apple, we can know where we’re going and speak the language when we get there. That same gadget takes all my photos and videos, entertains me with books, music, social media, funny Youtube videos, and provides me a flashlight when I’m exploring some cave somewhere, and as you know, it is a phone (smart, so I don’t have to be)! The key is connectivity.
So here’s my first tip. Until some company games the international market, plan on chipping up in every country you go to. ATT & Verizon have plans, but they’re expensive. T-Mobile has something different, but you can be out of the US for months. So, with an unlocked smart phone you get a new SIM card (often in convenience stores, tabacs, even cafes) and occasionally “top up.” We did ‘3’ in the UK, Lycaphone in France, Orange in Spain, TIM in Italy, and something I can’t remember in Morocco. However, Vodaphone might have been a better choice for a Spain/Italy combo (but the market is in flux).
Being able to use GPS saves money in rental cars and is better than maps (and I love maps!) when you are wandering around some town. Google Translate has not only improved linguistically, it can be an on-site voice activated interpreter, and translates images – in many languages. And while I’m OK in describing the history of the places we’re going, having immediate access to the libraries of Congress & Alexandria (the internet) adds an education to every experience. (If I could just get Siri to sound like Bart Simpson, Deepak Chopra, or Snoop Dogg…?)
Wifi, however, is another issue ‘cause I can’t seem to put a SIM card in this ol’ MacBook Pro. Now, whenever we book an AirBnb or the occasional hotel, wifi is a priority. When we go to a cafe, we might pick the one that has free wifi (but not over ambiance of course). Unfortunately, much of the wifi is weak & slow. Bandwidth seems not a European priority. Mostly it’s not a problem if one is just surfing or emailing, but uploading videos can be a problem. (I now use Ookla to test speeds before bothering to try uploading a big file.) There are probably fixes I’m oblivious to, and certainly the situation will change, but here in early 2016 I’m late in posting blog vids ‘cause this wifi bites – or doesn’t byte enough. While I hate to admit knowing this, McDonald’s has free, passwordless wifi, and is especially good in France (what with the fries and all).
Another tech point is about the kids’ education. As I sit here now in Italy, the kids are with me at the kitchen table doing Khan Academy, officially enrolled in grade-level math courses (which requires a bit of wifi). They also use their iPads for writing reports on books read and countries visited. They use Pages or Keynote and send to us via email and/or Google Drive. Of course they use their iPads for games (after paying school dues), emailing with iCloud, and messaging/Facetiming friends, but they’ve also got into Garage Band, iMovie, Freerice, other apps, and some internet research. Still working on getting them to use iTunesU, and report on all the educational Youtubes I’ve sent them – it’s a process. Additionally, they have our old iPhone 4S’s to take pictures and stay in touch in the rare occasions they’re not with us.
ML uses her iPhone 6+ more than her Air for Facebook which she’s using to document our trip. I use my laptop to compile photos, videoclips, and slideshows for my blog, which is my version of documentation. While I brought a digital video camera with mini-tripod, I haven’t used it once. My 6phone is all that (mentioned above). So keeping everything charged is another consideration. Converters are necessary, but my Apple power cord handles 220 volts – so far. 12 volt plug ins are great in the car and necessary when using GPS on a long trip. We both use both devices for researching, booking, and documenting reservations for transportation, accommodations, and occasional tickets. And as we plan to soon make the jump from Europe to Asia, I’m booking a Genius Bar appointment at the Rome Apple store to make sure batteries, cords, storage, etc. are all up to speed.
There are several more details that are important here. For example, in the UK, ‘3’ gave the kids free SIMS so we could call them and they could have some data, nice. There may be other offers we’re not aware of, and as mentioned the phone business is a rapidly changing landscape. Also, storage is an issue. While ML & both bought extra iCloud storage ($2.99/mo.), I also brought two external hard drives to back stuff up (good, because one of them is giving me problems) and I keep one in my suitcase and the other in my backpack, just to be safe.
Well, that’s enough for one post, but it’s an important topic as it is about our connection to the world, our ability to do all kinds of important research, get/give an education, document everything in words and images, and get around. Just the hardware represents two laptops, two iPads, four iPhones, power cords, connection cords, earbuds, converters, hard drives, and an unused video camera. (Wish I had some Google glass.) Of course, a year from now it will probably all be different…