The Internet and mobile devices have made a huge contribution to the convenience of the modern traveller. Whether you travel for business or pleasure, the ability to make, confirm and change reservations and other arrangements, check routes on Google Maps and keep in touch with folks (and banks) back home all leave you with more time to be productive and enjoy your time away.
: Losing a passport or other identification and cards is probably right up there with most travellers’ worst nightmares. Having photos of the front and back of everything – both paper copies and also saved on a tablet or phone – will not likely allow you to stroll right through security, but they certainly will help while you are jumping through the hoops and making the frantic phone calls.
: Hands up real quickly everyone who has all of their passwords memorized! Most of us have some sort of system, whether it’s online, notebook, scraps of paper or fatalistic hoping-for-the-best, but you can be 100% sure that when you are far from home is the very moment that you will urgently need the password for your bank, credit card, or some other vital website. How you make that information available while you are away will depend on your personal system; just make sure you have something that you can rely on. Allowing the browser on your laptop to save the password for a site is certainly dangerous, but it sure is handy.
: Most airlines allow for a “personal bag” in addition to a carry-on suitcase. In our case, that bag has nothing but electronics. Our personal criterion for what must be kept at hand and in sight at all times is simply how expensive and time-consuming it would be to have to replace something quickly and conveniently, if it didn’t survive the trip. A camera is a no-brainer; nobody wants to have to be without their camera or go out and buy a replacement for the one that was stolen from a checked bag. What might not seem like such an obvious example is that it is probably going to be impossible to buy the charger for your specific camera batteries if yours goes walkabout, and so chargers go into the backpack too. All too soon that backpack gets pretty heavy but fortunately, airlines don’t usually weigh that personal bag.
: Install the Skype app on your laptop, tablet or smartphone, with your User ID and Password easily available. A nifty feature of Skype is that you can purchase “Skypeout” credit, which allows you to call from your computer to telephone numbers anywhere in the world for pennies. (A call from Canada to Thailand costs less than 5 cents per minute.) You can Skypeout from the Internet available in hotels, restaurants, airports or even trains and in the end this may mean that you do not need a roaming package for your phone if you are traveling in a country with widespread wifi hotspots. (Unexpectedly, lots of other countries seem to be better than the USA and Canada, for some reason. You simply hand your phone to a waiter in any hole-in-the-wall café and ask him to get you onto the network.)
: If you are going to rent a car, do that in advance from home using one of the sites that compares rates and choices, whenever possible. Even then, check extremely carefully what will and will not be included. If you can choose and stick with the loss leader, you will save a huge pot of money; add-ons will quickly at least double the charges. Call your own auto insurance broker before leaving, to nail down whether or not you need the rental company’s insurance.
: Take your own GPS, if you intend to rent a car. This will allow you to update in advance the GPS maps for the area where you will be driving. A rental GPS is very expensive and may not be updated, especially if it is one of the models built into the dashboard.
: An external (USB) wireless adapter, with an extra-long USB cable can be a big help, at a very modest cost. Sometimes it’s simply not possible to position your laptop or tablet in a location to “see” the wifi router in a resort, hotel or apartment. It is usually a simple matter to disable the internal wireless antenna and substitute the external one, which you can then dangle from a window, around a corner, or find another strategic location. An adapter with extended range because it has a foldout antenna will cost about $30.00.
: A “Mobile Wifi Dongle” might be a consideration for travel to some places. In Canada we are familiar with devices that provide Internet over the cellular network like Rogers’ “Rocket Stick” and Bell’s “Turbo Stick”. These are pretty expensive and usually available only on contract and so they tend to be attractive only when you urgently need to be connected from a cottage or some other location where traditional Internet is not available. On the other hand, in lots of countries you can drop into a store on the street or an airport kiosk and pick up an equivalent device at a very attractive short-term price that gives you quite good speed and coverage, and pretty decent download capacity, and no contract. Furthermore, if you exceed your original plan you can very easily “top up” your device at a reasonable rate. https://www.uswitch.com/broadband/mobile_broadband/ is a British site that compares some of the companies and plans for mobile dongles in England, and service and prices are quite similar in the rest of Europe.
: A USB adapter (or the proprietary equivalent for iPads) allows you to upload the day’s photos from your camera card. First, it is fun to see the results of the day’s excursions on a full-sized screen. Second, seeing a blown-up version of recent shots will help you to notice that piece of lint on the camera lens that will ruin all of your photos for the rest of your holiday, unless you clean it.
: A spare battery for your camera doesn’t take up much room in a pocket, and an extra memory card can be quickly swapped in if the one you are using is full, and not having to make room on the card by deleting photos means that you always have a backup.
: Check your devices and chargers to see their range of voltages. (If you’re over 20, you will probably need a magnifying glass for this job.) It may surprise you to find how many of them will work in both 120V and 240V countries, which means that you will be able to get away with just the adapter for the plug and you won’t need a heavy and expensive voltage transformer.
: So far, we have not yet taken the time to learn how to display tickets and reservations on a phone or tablet, but we sure envy the people who can flash a screen at a conductor or a ticket counter, without having to fumble through endless piles of paper. Mastering that is our next project.
: Signing up for an account with Expedia.ca, Hotwire.ca, TripAdvisor.ca and maybe some other travel sites costs nothing, and offers quite a few advantages. First is the obvious fact that they quickly collect a lot of information for you and allow you to make choices based on price, location, availability, features and so on, in the language of your choice. Booking can be as simple as a couple of clicks, and cancellation policies are clearly spelled out, and are the best you are going to get. Next is the uniformity of how transactions are recorded and displayed when they are emailed to you. Everything can be dragged to a folder and the information is quickly available later. So far we have never accumulated enough points at any of the sites to earn us some goodies, but maybe someday. . .