Monday, March 31, 2014

Smart Travel with Smart Phones!

It wasn’t all that long ago that I was traveling with notebooks, a camera, videocam, GPS, and cell phone. It was a LOT to pack and a lot to haul when all was said and done. Especially back in the days when videocams were HUGE! GPS units are not as large, but cost quite a bit when you update maps (I paid $140 for European maps alone!)

Unless you are a photographer or video producer, there is no reason to lug so much equipment with you. It’s all done now with one small unit: the smart phone.

There are some ups and downs with the smartphone overseas, so I wanted to cover them in this article.

Calling, Texting and Data


  • GSM Global Service for Mobile (GSM) use Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Cards. 
  •  Code division multiple access (CDMA) technology, which although popular here in the US, is not as common in Europe, a reason many US phones do not operate there. 

Find out which phone type you have, GSM or CDMA, and discuss with your carrier whether your phone will operate internationally.

Locked or Unlocked

Your phone may also be locked or unlocked. Some cell phone manufacturers designed phones to be locked to just their service. For example, if AT&T paid for the phone, AT&T would lock it so that it could only be used on AT&T and not T Mobile. This lock is called by several names including "Sub Lock" or "SPC Lock" or "Sim Lock". Before travel, ensure your phone is unlocked. Almost any local cell phone carrier has the ability to unlock your phone.


If your phone operates internationally, the next thing you want to ask your carrier is: How much does it cost for voice and text overseas? Typically it is a staggering amount. For two weeks in England I was quoted about $200 for Voice, text, and data. There is a much easier and less expensive way to do this.

First, ensure your destination supports GSM phones and has a stable network. You’d hate to go to all this trouble if you’re in a remote area with little ability to use your phone!

I typically go to the UK and Europe. All you have to do there is go to a cell phone shop and buy a SIM card. This SIM card works on a local carrier and provides you with a local phone number. It allows you to call, text, and use the internet within your destination country for minimal cost. Just replace your current SIM card for the new card you purchased overseas.

But, what if you want to call or text the U.S.? Check with the carrier overseas to see what the cost to the U.S. would be. Some carriers offer International cards that allow you to call overseas for very little. For instance, the O2 in England charges 1 pence a minute for calls to the U.S. with their international card.  

Note: If you are a citizen on the regular O2 network, you can top off the card at any time. If you are an international visitor, you can't. You must buy a new SIM card. Be sure to verify how many minutes, text messages (incoming and outgoing), as well as how much time on the Internet, are included.

Camera and Video 

Research smart phones to determine the resolution and features you want for your camera or video cam overseas. Some phones have two-way (selfie) capability. Some don’t. Features will vary from camera to camera.


If you have Google Maps loaded, you can not only get step by step travel instructions, but also voice response as well as traffic conditions.  

Document Storage 

Download Google drive and upload all travel documents so you have records of:
  • Boarding passes
  • Hotel receipts
  • Car rental receipts
  • Train tickets and passes
  • Travel itinerary
  • Phone numbers and addresses
  • Etc.

Note: TripIt is an application that also records your travel documents. Pick the one that works for you.

Power and Cables

Check your destination country. In general, your car cable *should* work overseas. Plugging into a battery charger in your room may (and probably will) require an adapter and converter.


Smart Phones are a very good way to save yourself extra weight and storage space. There *are* some down sides, though. They won't always work - especially in more remote places. You must have an unlocked GSM phone to be able to use a SIM card purchased overseas. But, with a hoop jump or two, you are set to go on your vacation with much less to carry and more features than you can shake a stick at!