Maybe the "Do it the old way" folks have a point. I planned my recent round-the-world trip to include tests of four new-technology options for travelers, and the results were less than stellar. In fact, I suffered two outright failures, one severe limitation, and one disappointment.
The least devastating disappointment was a replacement SIM card for my iPhone that provided low-cost outgoing calls and free incoming calls. I tried the "Passport" card from Telestial, starting at $19 for the card plus $10 worth of call time, which you can replenish online as often as you wish. The card works in 185 countries, including all that I visited, and it provides outgoing rates starting at $0.49 a minute, which is less than half of what my regular U.S. wireless company would charge. I had previously "unlocked" my iPhone, so switching out the SIM cards was easy. The only minor annoyance involved having to search for a local wireless carrier and reenter my PIN in each new country.
The card worked as advertised, with service everywhere I tried. The main drawback was very poor voice quality on most calls. I'm not sure why, but I know the card routed all outgoing calls through a switchboard in the U.K. Still, if you're traveling overseas and want to keep in touch by voice, I can recommend this approach. Next time, I'll try a different technology: a "VOIP" application that routes calls over the Internet.
The severe limitation was a major failure of my notebook computer: a light and compact Acer with Windows 7 installed. I planned to keep up with email and writing my columns throughout the trip, and, accordingly, had reserved all accommodations in hotels offering no-charge Wi-Fi. Sadly, that approach worked as planned for only a few days. Then, for some reason, Windows suffered a major breakdown and would not load either Windows Live Mail or Microsoft Word. Fortunately, I was able to limp through the rest of the trip using the computer in "safe" mode, which allowed Internet access, handling email through the rudimentary "client" capability provided by my ISP, and using the bare-minimum word-processing capability of WordPad. The upside was that I'm enough of a geek to figure out these workarounds, but facing similar problems, many travelers would have had to give up completely.
As my primary source of both reference and recreational reading materials, I loaded up my Kindle with guidebooks to the places I was visiting plus a half dozen of what the British so aptly describe as "penny dreadful" mysteries. But five days into the trip, the Kindle reported "empty battery" and would not recharge. In case the problem was with the charger, I bought a replacement along the way, but that didn't work; the fault was in the Kindle unit. Amazon agreed to replace the unit—and has done so—but not until I returned home. So I had no choice but to buy maps, guides, and paperbacks along the way—an expensive fix, to be sure, but at least a fix. Still, I suspect that the failure was unusual, and that Kindle or some other e-reader is the best way to schlep reading materials on a trip.
The second complete failure was the chip-and-pin debit card, in euros, I bought from Travelex. I've written extensively about the problems some American travelers encounter trying to use our old-technology credit and debit stripe cards in Europe, and I wanted to be prepared to make payments in unattended locations. The failure was that no payment machine I encountered would accept the card, but the offsetting upside was that I was able to use my old stripe cards almost everywhere, including highway toll booths and unattended gas dispensers. So far, Travelex has not responded to my emails asking for an explanation, but I'll keep trying. Until I hear more, I can't recommend it to anyone.
The overall lesson is simple: Tech gadgets and systems are great for travel, but always have a "Plan B" in mind.
You Might Also Like:
- Why Your Credit Card May Not Work Outside the U.S.
- Finally! A Chip-and-Pin Option for U.S. Cardholders
- Travel Smarter with a Smartphone
Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.