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9 technical tips that I learned on trips abroad


Andrew Hoyle / CNET

If you do not do it often (or never), can be a challenge to travel to another country . Scary, even. During a recent trip to Italy, I stared at the cask of a language I could not speak, read or understand.

Luckily, modern technology was available to me, and that facilitated travel life infinitely. However, you have to plan ahead, so allow me to share what I learned during my summer vacation.

Know Your Phone

First things first: Will your phone work abroad? Everything depends on how you use it.

For example, if you are connected to a Wi-Fi network, be it at the airport, in a hotel or in a sidewalk café, you are golden: you can check emails and update Facebook, and use data-driven communication apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. (iMessage is a special case, see below.)

However, for standard and text messaging, not to mention the use of apps when Wi-Fi is not available, you need access to a mobile network. just like you here.

But! You need to make sure that your phone is not only unlocked, but also networkable in the country or countries you visit. Here in the US AT & T and T-Mobile operate GSM networks, while Sprint and Verizon use CDMA. Overseas, most countries use GSM. (China and the Ukraine are among the few that support CDMA.)

Many phones, including the latest generations of Apple, Google, Motorola, and Samsung models, support both types of networks. Even if you use a CDMA network here, you should be able to easily switch to GSM. However, if your phone is only CDMA-enabled and you only travel to a GSM country, you may be limited to activities based solely on Wi-Fi. If that's the case, it might be worth buying a low-cost GSM-compatible Android phone to use it only while traveling.

SIM in advance

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Traveling Abroad? Tap a KnowRoaming sticker on your SIM card and it will automatically connect to a local network as soon as you arrive.

know Roaming

It is commonly believed that as soon as you reach a foreign country, you should simply purchase and SIM card while you're there.

I do not agree with that. For starters, you need service the moment you land, be it an Uber or just a text family, that you've arrived safely. You can find a SIM provider at the airport but do you really want to rely on it? What if there is a language barrier or you need technical assistance?

My advice: get your SIM card in advance. You can pay slightly higher overall rates, but you'll be fine as soon as the plane touches down.

I recommend KnowRoaming, which is available in two variants: a simple replacement for your existing SIM card and a sticker that permanently attaches to your existing card – effectively bringing two SIMs into your phone at the same time.

I had the opportunity to test both in Italy and they worked very well for the most part. The big challenge – as with virtually every SIM swap – is that you inherit a new phone number that can lead to text messaging. More on that below.

KnowRoaming call and messaging rates are cheap, and you can buy an unlimited $ 8 per day data package. Local pay-as-you-go prices may well be cheaper, but I think $ 8 is very cheap given the convenience.

Beat Two Factor Authentication

Because of the whole new number, I discovered to Midvacation that I could not reset a Twitter password, which I had to do for reasons and therefore could not access this account anymore. That's because it uses two-factor authentication, which means I need to check the receipt of a text message to verify my identity. But I could not do that because my primary number was unavailable while I was using the foreign SIM. Hmmm.

The solution: Plan ahead. Before leaving, make sure all critical accounts – Bank, Email, Work, Facebook, Twitter – check your identity with a different method. This can be a secondary email account or an app like Authy or Google Authenticator. (In fact, Matt Elliott of CNET recommends a full-time authentication app .)

Learn the secrets of iMessage

If you're an iPhone user, iMessage is pretty good – until you get it find you with a different phone number. Then things get … complicated …

Keep in mind: iMessage is based on data, not SMS, so you'd think, as long as you're connected to the Internet (Wi-Fi or data plan), you're fine , But iMessage is still tied to your phone number, and if you change that number (like when you swap SIM cards), things will tip over. At least that happened to the four members of my family.

I will not bore you with the details, except to recommend that iPhone users who want to communicate with other iPhone users should plan ahead. First, make sure you customize iMessage to use your e-mail address to send and receive text. (You can do this in the Settings app by tapping Messaging> Send and Receive and then in the sections "Can be reached" and "New conversations start from" your email address

This is still a chaotic solution because existing messaging threads may not work anymore and you'll need to switch everything back to your home SIM.

So I have the same recommendation for iPhone users for whom I do all …

Use a third-party messaging app

SMS overseas is a problem, no matter how you cut it, partially because of the cost and partly because of your new phone number. A much better bet: some other messaging app.

Take Facebook Messenger. It only needs data and is not tied to your phone number. Using it abroad is exactly the same experience as at home. It also lets you make voice or video calls, again with data only. The catch is, of course, that you can only call or forward to other Facebook Messenger users.

The same goes for many other messaging apps, including the venerable WhatsApp, which is why I consider TextNow a good choice for overseas travelers. It assigns you a phone number that stays the same regardless of your SIM dialing, and can send messages to non-TextNow users. (Incoming messages can also be sent by e-mail, which is a helpful backup of the type.)

However, TextNow can handle only a few short code messages, meaning that you may receive flight notifications from your airline. In fact, any new number you use while traveling can crimp text-based notifications, another reason to plan in advance and ensure that you can receive notifications in other ways, such as: B. by e-mail.

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Look at this:

3 ways to use Google Translate while traveling


Google Translate FTW

I have French language skills, but I do not speak Italian. That meant I could not read menus, ask for the nearest bathroom, or figure out how gas pumps work.

Luckily, I was lucky enough to have Google Translator (Android and iOS). This free app made it easy to convert English words and sentences – either spoken or typed – to Italian, while the camera mode translated the printed Italian text (the above characters and menus) into English.

For a variety of reasons, the success rate of the latter was on the lower side, with occasionally funny results. But at least it helped to decipher key words, which was invaluable.

Google Translate can perform on-the-fly translations when you are online, but it can also work offline when you download translation databases. To save time (and data) while traveling, download languages ​​in advance. Tap the Settings icon then Offline translation . Tap the plus sign in the upper left corner and select the language you want to download.

Download Google Maps in Advance

Similarly, may have an offline mode that could really save tag if you are in a signal-laden location. As I traveled from Rome to Florence and back, I downloaded map data that included these two cities and everything in between. The resulting file consumed nearly 300 MB of space, but it was worth it.

To use this feature, just open Google Maps and zoom in or out until you see the part of the map you want to save. Then tap the icon followed by Offline Maps . Now tap Custom map make the last changes to the map area you want, and then tap Download . (Note that by default Maps Maps downloads only when you're connected to Wi-Fi.) If you want to allow this over a cellular network, tap the gear icon and select this option.)

Also note, this offline Maps work for directions, but not for bicycle, pedestrian or traffic directions.

Attach additional power plugs

So you bought a universal power adapter – good start. This allows you to connect exactly one device, which in the end can be the curling iron of your partner. A miserable travel adapter is not enough, especially if you only have one outlet.

Instead, like home, pack a country-compatible wall plug that offers not only an electrical lead-through item, but also two to four USB ports – the way you charge your phone, tablet, Bluetooth earphones, and Bluetooth Speakers need. Speaking of …

Bring a speaker

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OK, that applies to travel everywhere, not just to other countries. But I can not tell you much, we enjoyed listening to Spotify's favorite Italian playlist at breakfast in the morning; it only added to the taste of the experience.

A good travel speaker should of course be compact and light, but with enough momentum to carry it. For example, the Tribit XSound Go (currently $ 36 on Amazon) will not add much more to your carry-on luggage, but will run for up to 24 hours for a fee and even features an IPX7 waterproof design. It is a CNET favorite but only one option of many.

And that's it! Do you have your own international travel tips?

Originally posted on January 5, 2017.
Update, July 10, 2018 : New tips and links added.

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