Wendy and I are still quite exhausted from our week long vacation and car buying excursion to Scandinavia. A six hour time change has left us pretty jet lagged. There you go, that's my excuse for a bit of a light weight post today.
Rather than try to post something about house work that isn't happening, I figure we can share a few tips on what worked particularly well for us on our trip. We'll focus primarily on products and services hat we found very useful and would benefit almost anyone travelling abroad.
Planning for an international trip pretty much anywhere can be a stressful undertaking, let alone planning for a trip to multiple countries that you've never visited, don't speak the native languages, and plan on moving frequently from place to place. We don't travel to other countries incredibly frequently, probably because we're constantly going to Napa Valley, but we have gone abroad enough to have a few tips and tricks that we can pass along to you that will hopefully make your next trip a little easier. We'd also love to hear some tips and tricks from you if you have a better way to tackle anything we outline.
We tend to take a lot of gadgets on trips. Ok, ok, maybe "we" isn't the right word, perhaps I should have said "I" take a lot of gadgets on trips. In today's world we have cameras, cell phones, laptops, and various other chargers and necessary plugin items. All of these items may work just find stateside, but you may run into an issue or two if you go to a location with a different plug and prong format. For our trip we brought along two adapters that were able to easily meet all of our needs.
The first is an all in one Belkin converter that I bought from Amazon. It's a smallish device that has various slide out and flip up configurations to accept and plug into an outlet in almost any nation. It's quite small, handy, and works well in all of the outlets we tried it on.
The second adapter is a more specific type, and only necessary if you have a more limited set of things you are trying to power. It's the Apple World Adapter Kit. Built as Apple always does, it allows your various apple adapters, such as laptop MagSafe chargers and iPhone or iPod USB chargers to work in various outlet types.
Since all of the items we needed to power for we're based on DC power chargers, these adapters worked for us. But remember, if you need to power something like a hair dryer, light, or another line voltage item, you'll possibly need a power converter that will step the 220 volt down to 110. Best bet is to leave the hair dryer at home and just make sure the hotel you are staying at has one.
iPhone Data Roaming with iPhoneTrip.com
Wendy and I both have iPhones and we tend to use them extensively. Whether we're taking photos, checking email, updating Facebook, getting directions, calculating currency conversion, making dinner reservations, figuring out tour or location details, listening to music, or just about any other the other travel related options you have with the hundreds of thousands of apps, it has become an almost indispensable device for a great trip. But the major problem with an iPhone is the fact that most are not carrier unlocked, which means you are stuck with your carrier (in our case, AT&T). If you turn on international roaming, you will be hit with massive ($3000 is not unheard of) charges for even the most basic data usage
In comes iPhoneTrip.com. iPhoneTrip is a website that offers sim cards that work or various iPhones, both locked and unlocked, at a very reasonable price. I was initially really skeptical of the outfit because I couldn't find any unsponsored reviews or testimonials online. I was concerned I would order it, get to Sweden, and be stuck with a non working sim card and useless iPhone. We were depending on our iPhone for GPS, so this was a serious concern. I decided to suck it up and order the sim card about three weeks before our trip. This ended up being one of the smartest pre-trip things I did.
When I ordered I selected a delivery date for the sim cards. They arrived on schedule three days before we left. The company actually sent two sim cards, one as a backup just in case the first one had a problem. When we got into Copenhagen I popped open my new iPhone 4S and inserted the new sim card, but was met with an activation screen. It seems iOS 5 has a different mechanism for activation of a sim card, so I was having no luck. I started to panic a bit, but I had also planned for this possibility.
Wendy has an iPhone 4, and I decided to hold off on upgrading to iOS 5 just in case. When I inserted the iPhone trip sim card in Wendy's phone and it activated the new sim card right away.
One of the keys for using the iPhoneTrip service is turning on 3G Data Roaming. This made me nervous given the possible charges that can happen, but this is how the service was designed. We purchased a sim card that would work throughout Europe, since we would be in three countries. Within a few seconds the phone had connected to Telenor. In each city and even while driving all through Sweden and Norway, the iPhone never had much trouble finding a strong signal. Throughout both Sweden and Norway, the signal was always 3G, but in Copenhagen it was consistently just their Edge network. Still worked just fine.
Now, I'm aware we could have jailbroken and unlocked our phones, and purchased pre paid cards in each country we were traveling in, but this was a headache I wanted to avoid. The iPhoneTrip sim card worked almost perfectly (except for the iOS 5 thing, but that should get resolved). We used the phone for everything we had hoped for and didn't have to search around for hotspots or open wifi. We even used it to tether our laptop through the phone (I was a lucky early purchaser of Handy Light before it was pulled from the app store). The total cost was $121 for the whole eight days of unlimited data, and it was honestly some of the best money we spent on the trip. If you're considering iPhoneTrip, I'd go for it. And this is a completely unsponsored testimonial on a site that has no affiliation or interest in the company.
One other thing about this, it's a United States based company, so you aren't sending your money to an unknown country.
Wendy and I have a CapitalOne rewards card that we got it years ago before a trip to the UK because of the great conversion rate they offer on international purchases. We try to use credit for almost everything we can, but there are always situations, especially when you first get into a country, where you may not be able to. In these situations we like to have a few dollars in local currency for meals, taxis, or whatever else. We figure we can use it at some point, and it's better to have than to not. However, I hate the fees and headache associated with exchanging money at the airport or a local exchange.
For our trip to Scandinavia we used a service we hadn't used before. About one week before the trip I ordered the currency we needed from Travelex Currency Exchange. You can order the type and amount of money you need and they will ship it directly to your house. The exchange rates are some of the best you will find, and the service is fast and reliable. The only caveat is that you need to order at least $250 in currency. Since we were travelling to three different countries, we were able to split it up pretty evenly.
I think we came back with a total of about $3 in foreign currency we didn't use. Not too shabby.
Food On The Go
Our travel food situation is a little thing Wendy likes to do that I can't be bothered with, but am so thankful for once we are actually on the plane or at our destination. To cut down on the costs associated with buying food, and to make sure our trip is as convenient and enjoyable as possible, Wendy always packs a handful of quick and easy snacks that we can easily throw in our carry on. Granola bars, nuts, fruit strips, crackers, cereal, oat meal, and other easily portable snacks are common on any journey of ours. They are quick and easy and always hit the spot when you have a cranky traveler or two on your hands.
This is something I've really gotten good at. I pack so many charger cords, headphones, extensions, splitters, etc, that there is no way we will be left without entertainment. I try to think of everything that we may need. Camera charger (ok, so maybe I forgot the memory card this trip), car adapter for iPhone, extra headphones for when Wendy forgets hers, headphones adapter for aux input (great for rental cars), extra iPhone USB cords in case one breaks, etc. These all go together to ensure we aren't left with a device that either won't function or won't charge. Best of all, it doesn't take up much space in your bag at all.
And there you have it. These are the major things that people don't always think of or know of when planning their international travel. So, what have I left out? What are the things you do when you are getting ready to leave the states?