Technology Tips: 2011
European tourism now comes with a digital divide: those with high tech gadgets and those without. Which fancy new tools are worth the trouble and actually enhance your travels?
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Communication & Navigation
For calls back to the USA and for local calls when at a WIFI hotspot, try using the Vonage or Skype app on your iPhone. I've had Vonage for the last couple of years and it costs 2cents per minute to call local numbers in most western European countries. Calls to the USA are free.
Navigon makes a great GPS map app for the iPhone (I don't know if it's available for others). Full European coverage is about 2GB and is loaded onto your phone, eliminating roaming charges. It has POIs, speed limit info, speed camera warnings and great intersection/lane guidance.
For all your WIFI needs, don't forget that nearly all McDonald's locations have free "weefee". Some are faster than others and most locations don't turn it off when they close. Just stand outside and surf/talk away. Before this, I never visited a McD's in Europe but now I'm buying drinks and snacks to thank them for the WIFI.
Houston, TX USA Tue 11/29/2011
Print without a printer
This is kind of a no-brainer, but if you need to print something like directions on Google Maps and you don't have a printer you can just take a picture of each "page" on the screen with your camera.
We did this several times when we needed detailed directions between between different locations. Most cameras now allow zooming and panning when previewing photos. A very handy trick!
Mount Pleasant, SC USA Sun 11/20/2011
Cell phones in France
I just returned from Paris and Lourmarin, France. My friend and I had both bought Telestial Passport Lite kits with added minutes because it sounded like such a Great Deal. These phones only worked about half the time: sure,I was able to call Pennsylvania quickly and could hear clearly -but not so in France, where I would place one call, then the phone lost the signal. And not just in tiny Lourmarin, this happened in Paris as well. And yes, I did contact their customer service, which advised me how to search for other signals. It didn't help, the phones kept cutting out after 5 seconds no matter what we did. This annoyance and waste of money became crucial when I needed to call a French doctor, whom one cannot visit without calling for an appointment. (Their public phones are as crummy as ours, so that wasn't an option.) Since neither of our phones worked properly and were a constant source of frustration, I would advise others to either take their cell phones with them, having worked out a deal with their carrier, or wait to buy a French cell in a larger city. Just don't bother with Telestial.
Johnstown, PA USA Fri 11/11/2011
Put Travel Documents on Thumb Drive
In addition to taking a folder of all of our flight and hotel reservations (in chronological order), I put all our travel confirmations and documents on a thumb drive as well as on our small notebook computer. If we lose the PC, we still have the thumb drive backup in my money belt.
In Tonga, the airline counter agent would not accept the printout I presented, as it did not contain our e-ticket numbers. I popped open our PC and brought up the document she required. It took a little extra time, but we got our boarding passes with no further problem.
Indianola, wa USA Fri 11/04/2011
Find a suitable bag first where you can place everything - securely. :)
USA Wed 10/19/2011
Cell Phone SIM Cards
Avoid LeFrench Mobile Sim cards. While in France, my LeFrench Mobile phone was unable to call emergency numbers (0800) - they're blocked for LFM. While in France and Spain, I was unable to call two of the main Barcelona area codes because they were blocked in the LFM system.
Earlysvillve, VA USA Wed 10/12/2011
Need an extra SD card in Europe?
Last year we traveled the Baltics. Although I packed 16 gigs of SD cards, I ran out of space. We had walked the Stroget in Copenhagen and I didn't notice a camera shop. There is a game store, however, that sells SD cards. The price was at least as fair as a camera store would have been.
Next time you need extra memory, remember a game store also has what you need.
Gainesville, VA USA Tue 09/20/2011
Be sure to take extra camera battery & memory cards (we traded off the cards every day & started each day with a photo of a scrap of paper saying "start of [date]" and we ended each day with "end of [day]") BRING MEMORY CARDS HOME IN PURSE OR BACKPACK, not a suitcase that might get lost. Although we hand carried our suitcases to Europe, they insisted on checking them on the way home. My suitcase was mis-labeled, which we discovered when we returned home & it was no where to be seen. Fortunately, the memory cards were in our backpacks.
Minneapolis, MN USA Tue 09/13/2011
Cell phones / skype / Wifi
Communication worked out well for us. I brought my smartphone (an HTC Legend) after I made sure it would work on the European frequencies. I called my carrier (Bell) and bought 50 minutes of European roaming minutes in case of emergency and then in addition, bought a Skype package (it was cheap).
Once in Europe I used the hotel Wifi and Skype and only once needed my phone features to make a call when Wifi wasn't available. For some reason Skype was a lot clearer with my headset or on speaker than when I held the phone to my head. In any case we talked to Grandparents and girlfriends etc using Skype. NO PROBLEM!
Kingston, On Can Sun 09/04/2011
Tech Gadget Experience
GPS. We used a Garmin nuvi 1370T and it worked satisfactorily. It came pre-loaded with European maps.
I saved our driving destinations as Favorites before we traveled to Europe. I strongly recommend this. Some places were found under their English name and others under the name in the local language. Hotels and attractions not in the Garmin database need to be entered manually. It is easier to solve these issues at home instead of while sitting in a car.
The Garmin navigated us through a multitude of roundabouts, giving advance warnings and telling us which exit to take. It worked on rural and urban environments. It saved our marriage.
There are two 'errors' in the Points of Interest data base.
Zugspitze. Garmin routes to the parking lot of the German cable lift. No choice is given for the Austrian lift. The latitude and longitude for the parking lot at the base of the Austrian lift is N47.42741 E010.94170
Pont du Gard. Garmin routed us to the wrong side – the one labeled "don't park here" in the Rick Steves' France book. The latitude and longitude of the preferred parking lot is N43.95224 E004.53621
A GPS is great for determining a driving route and providing turn-by-turn directions. However, paper maps are needed for planning and double checking the GPS device's routes. For example, you may need to add a via or stop point to force the GPS device to take a less-than-fastest route. Paper maps help determine the via or stop points.
I downloaded the Paris City cityXplorerTM map from Garmin, but hardly used it. A pocket paper map was more convenient. Importantly, though, the Garmin could not acquire satellites on the Paris neighborhood streets with five story buildings on each side. It even had problems under the trees along the Champs-Élysées. Lesson learned: bring along paper maps as backups.
One time we used the Paris pedestrian routing when the GPS acquired satellites. It worked as advertised. It gave us choices of walking/metro routes back to our hotel, providing the walking distance to each Metro station.
The 'T' in the model number refers to traffic. The automotive power cord picks up local traffic data over the FM band. In Salzburg, it routed us around a street closed for repairs using this system.
The Garmin really earned its keep when it came time to find a gas station to fill up a rental car before turning it in.
Kindle. Like others on this thread, we took the ETBD books along in a Kindle. It saved weight and space over the paperback versions. The ability to enlarge the font meant we could read it together when it was guiding us on a walk or through a museum. It fit easily in my front pants pocket. I carried it in my Civita pack and used it often. A Belkin Grip Kindle Sleeve provided good protection.
For planning our trip, we used the ETBD paperback books. The Kindle is a reader, and for planning you cannot beat a real book. For example, when choosing hotels, you flip back and forth between the hotel description and the city map showing hotel locations. Our books were full of yellow highlights and sticky notes by the time we departed for Europe.
Some maps are hard to read on the six inch Kindle owing to the screen size. Resolution is excellent, but could not overcome the shrunken size.
Internet tablet. We brought along a 7 inch Archos Internet tablet using Android 2.2 software. It works on Wi-Fi only. It provided access to email and Internet surfing. We used it to check weather forecasts a few days ahead so we could fine tune the timing of indoor and outdoor activities. Weak Wi-Fi signals in some hotels made it impossible to read/send emails.
Backing up photos. I brought along a 16GB memory stick and backed up the photos from our cameras whenever I got access to a hotel PC with two USB ports. An SD-USB adaptor is required. I kept the memory stick in my ankle wallet along with the passports. The cameras could be lost or stolen, but the photos would come home.
Hotel computers. Here are some things to be aware of regarding hotel PCs available for guests:
- Operating systems in local language. The Windows and Mac operating systems are in French, Italian, German, etc. It would be helpful if ETBD would add common operating system words to the dictionaries.
- Local keyboards. The locations of some letters are changed on European keyboards. It varies by country. Ten finger typing degenerates to hunt and peck.
- PC vs. Mac. PC and Mac devotees may find themselves having to use a 'foreign' operating system.
- Web site redirects. When you enter a URL in the browser, be prepared to be redirected to the local country site. For example, in Austria, I typed Avis.com and was redirected to the German language Austria site for Avis. That site had no option for English. I was forced to contact Avis by phone. The redirects happen for Google and Yahoo, too.
- Computer hidden. Some hotels place their computer inside a cabinet or behind a wall. Only the keyboard and screen are accessible. You cannot depend on backing up SD cards at every hotel.
- The only application on the computer is a browser, and maybe Acrobat Reader. Do not count on opening MS Office documents.
Beware of off-brand AA batteries. Chinese AA batteries we purchased at a souvenir stand lasted only 30 photos before the camera died. Stick with name brands.
In conclusion, tech toys can enhance your holiday experience significantly. However, they are not 100% reliable. You still need to bring paper maps, telephone numbers and hard copies of important documents.
Cupertino, CA USA Tue 08/09/2011
In praise of the Kindle 3G
I brought my Kindle 3G with me for 11 days in the UK - no computer. As other users have described, I was able to load my itinerary and booking/reservation information onto the Kindle (in PDF form) before I left, which was terrifically convenient while traveling. I also had a couple of guidebooks on the Kindle-- more than I would have been willing to carry.
Probably the best thing about bringing the Kindle, though, was that I had internet access throughout my trip. Sometimes it had difficulty connecting to the 3G network while on a (moving) train, but other than that I was able to use the experimental browser to look up travel information-- including rudimentary Google maps-- whenever I needed. And with the 3G access, I didn't need to worry about wireless passwords at hotels or waiting to use the computer in the lobby. As a solo female traveler, I was glad to be able to use the Kindle discreetly in public.
Cleveland, Ohio USA Mon 08/01/2011
Travel light. Every gadget and gizmo you bring will be one more thing to worry about. Every hotel in Europe has internet access - do you REALLY need that laptop you are carrying round and have in a bag at your feet at the busy bar?? Buy memory cards, cameras etc before coming to Europe; they are cheaper in the US.
Orono, Maine USA Wed 07/20/2011
Do iPhones work in Europe?
Do iPhones work in Europe? I'll be in Britain, Belgium, Germany, Czech. Thanks.
Editor's Note: Please post questions on the Traveler's Helpline at http://www.ricksteves.com/graffiti/helpline/index.cfm.
Sacramento, Ca USA Fri 06/03/2011
pdf documents on Kindle
We are getting ready for a Europe trip. I am creating itinerary documents and downloading manuals for the GPS and my smartphone as PDFs. Then, I just plug my Kindle into the computer and drag the documents on to it.
Issaquah, WA USA Fri 05/06/2011
Just wanted to say my Garmin Nuvi was indispensable in France. I rarely looked at a paper map.
Only hiccups where it directed me to gas stations which seemed to have been demolished a couple weeks before.
I still like my guidebooks to be paper though.
My rented global phone from Verizon was very handy, too.
anywhere, ID USA Fri 05/06/2011
Cell Phone in Italy
Just got a cell phone from Telestial.com with a Passport US Lite SIM Card for $29. Comes with a US and global phone number.
Perfect for if you need to make calls while in country to hotels, etc... while still giving you the peace of mind of a US phone # for emergencies.
San Diego, CA USA Tue 04/26/2011
Download your photos on your iPad
Buy the camera memory card reader from the Apple store and you can download all your photos on to your iPad.
Los Angeles, CA USA Thu 04/07/2011
What if your camera won't connect to your computer?
I had been storing my digital photos on my laptop, but on one trip to England, the connector pins were damaged, and the computer would not recognize my camera. I went to a photo/print shop, and the people there were able to create a CD off the SD card. As a result, I spent several hours on the flight home rearranging and editing my photos.
Minneapolis, MN USA Thu 03/24/2011
Charging multiple devices
Most US devices allow charging with either 110v. (US) or 240v. (EU). Connect your converter plug to an ordinary extension cord to plug into the wall socket, and you can power multiple devices. But don't use computer power strip because the higher voltage will fry the built-in circuit breaker!
J Scott Miller
Spokane, WA USA Sat 01/29/2011
For those who are photographers traveling, storage of said photographs becomes an issue. Sure burnable CDs and DVDs are handy, but, if you are shooting for more than just memories, you are shooting at the highest quality settings or in RAW. And that takes space.
There are some solutions that most professional photographers use, that can be adapted to traveling. The iPad with a right attachment is one solution. But that can be bulky and if you want to pack light, that might not work out that well.
Smaller and portable devices like the Colorspace HDD drives take all sorts of physical media, e.g., compact flash, SD cards. Basically the mainstream memory cards, just stick it in and download it.
That is what I bring along with me when I travel. That way I can leave the laptop home, not have to purchase CD/DVDs [unless I have to] and have a fast and large storage space for my photographs.
Cherry Hill, NJ USA Sun 01/23/2011
Kindle + Netbook = Minimal Paper
I found a combination of technology that really worked for us. I used my Kindle for travel books, as well as the novels I read on my trip. My husband and I each have a Kindle and big reading habits, so I figure it saved about 12 pounds of books on a 3 week trip to Italy! The shortcoming is maps. For example, Rick Steves' has little stylized maps in his books. They get cut up on the Kindle into 4 parts. Hopeless! So I recommend photocopying those from a hardcopy of the book if they are important to you. You can always buy the last years' hardcopy at a big discount (Amazon, Powells.com, your local bookstore) and use that for your maps. In most cases, I paid for books twice: once hard copy and once for my Kindle, but given the thousands of dollars I was spending on the trip, a couple hundred for reference and ease of use was worth it. I really liked being able to highlight items of interest for reference using Kindle's highlighting feature.
The non-tech part: I used a folder for each city and put in my B&B confirmation, other necessary receipts such as museum tickets or prepaid tour reservations, the photocopied maps, pages from specialized books (hikes for example). I also bought a really good map for each city/area and drew my planned walks on it. This amounted to only a few ounces of paper.
I also brought a Netbook because there were frequent times I needed to consult online material: train and bus schedules, Trip Advisor reviews, RS Helpline, etc. I uploaded my photos to the Netbook and to the Web every day or two to preserve them should I lose camera or media card. Plus we stored copies of all reservations and receipts scanned to the Netbook as a back up to the paper mentioned above.
Also had our Ipods for Rick's audio tours, which are great!
Portland, OR USA Sun 01/16/2011