Firing up the old blog again. I recently went on a roughly 3 week trip to Europe, my first in 10 years, and somethings sure have changed. Others haven't.
Data plans – My cell phone company (AT&T) didn't offer free coverage in Europe. so I bought their plan for 300 MB. I then went through all my apps (except work email) and set them to wi-fi. Made it with flying colors.
And with the plan, I got unlimited texting, which was great for keeping in touch with Cora.
Google Maps – Without data, wasn't I lost? No. Turns out, you can pre-download maps for your destination onto your phone. (Here's how.)With the maps stored on the phone, it just needed GPS to tell me where I was. As a bonus, since I have a GMail account, when logged into Google on my laptop, I could * and save locations I wanted to visit, and they would transfer to my phone over wi-fi.
But, if, hypothetically, you leave the apartment the first day and forget your phone on the charger, if you don't have a good sense of direction, it might not hurt to have a paper map in your bag.
Battery – Using the phone for navigation does really kill the battery. You may want to carry one of those some external battery packs that gives your phone another charge or two.
WI-FI – Look for free wi-fi where ever you can. And leave Facebook alone until you get back to the hotel for the evening or find a good wi-fi signal.
Don't worry about the price of a phone call home. Use Skype. I would text with Cora, and set up a time for the Skype. Love the wifi at the apartment/hotel. It made the distance feel less distant.
Don't be a goof and just use the one on your cell phone. That's not a camera. If these are your memories, make them real, and use a real camera. I took the wife's DSLR and snapped about 2,000 pictures. I took about 20 with my cell phone. And about another 20 with my point-n-shoot.
The DSLR was awesome. Got some great photos. It was a little heavy at times, and not as weather forgiving (which is why some shots were with the other cameras). I tried not to rely on the neck strap, but carried it in my messenger bag when not shooting.
This also saved my phone battery, not relying on it as my camera, too. One co-worker I was with, who only had his phone, and the battery died while we were out. Luckily I was there to shoot for him.
I'm not saying you need to drop $500 on a camera for your trip, but maybe dust off that point-n-shoot that's in the drawer.
This was a fail. I bought it for the trip, and at $49.99, I'm going to get my money's worth: just not on the trip. I loaded it up with season 2 of 24, and it worked fine. But it's region specific, so I couldn't download any more episodes while I was there. And, unlike my phone, I couldn't download a mobile version of Google Maps for even a bigger screen map on the go. And notice, it wasn't even listed in the camera list.
One thing you need when traveling overseas is a plug converter or two. All my devices are multi-voltage, so that was handled by the converters already in the devices. But, you still need to plug them into the wall. At the first place I stayed, they loaned me a pair of converters for £5 each. That worked well. The second place sold me one for €15. It may make sense to buy a pair in advance.
And I NEVER travel without at least one 1-to-3 outlet "T" plugs. That allowed me to maximize my plug converters. And I took a few extra USB cords and plugs.
Speaking of plugs, in London, all the wall outlets had a switch right on the outlet that could turn the individual outlet on/off. The first night, I plugged my cell phone into the outlet next to the bed. Woke up with the phone at 15%. The outlet was turned off! But they did have something cool: right next to the front door was a master switch. Hit it, and all the ceiling lights that were switched on went of/off. When you left, no reason to run around turning off lights. One switch: All off. Return home, one switch: All on. Wish I had that at the condo.
CREDIT CARDS & MONEY
Since I was going to be in London for 2 weeks, before leaving, I want to the bank and got $200 worth of pounds. It was nice to have some folding money, but I did come home with £20. My other destinations were supposed to be 2 or 3 days in Brussels (euros) and 2 or 3 days in Geneva (Swiss francs). So, I figured I would try and just use cards there. I ended up not going to Geneva, so glad I didn't get those francs. My bank doesn't have any ATMs where I was going, and I hate paying ATM fees. The bank suggested doing that deal where you buy something something with the debit card and get cash back. Didn't end up touching a euro. And while I made it, I will admit, having a little paper money would have been nice.
But at least I didn't have to hassle with traveler's checks.
As for the credit card, make sure you have a at least a "chip and signature" card. If you don't have the chip, you're screwed. They are all chip and pin. Most places can deal with the signature part without too much hassle, but keep a pen with you to sign the receipts.
In Europe, don't be a putz, use public transportation or cabs. As a CTA rider, I enjoyed the Tube. I suppose you can Uber, but you're braver than I. Between London & Brussels, I took the Eurostar train. I didn't even realize we were in the Chunnel until they said, "Welcome to France".