Drop me off at a Balinese coast with a decent paperback and my smartphone, and I’ll enjoy for two weeks.
But fly me to the same place with a Nokia 3310 and a physical card, like the one my dad always carried, and I’ll probably have a nervous breakdown.
Most of us would agree that we are hyper-dependent on technology, especially when navigating to a new place abroad. And the farther or farther you go, the more likely you are to run into technical glitches that could put a damper on your plans to roam freely.
From piling on hidden costs to avoiding embarrassing blunders, here are some of the top tech nightmares when traveling and how to avoid them on your next trip.
Free to roam… Or not
We’ve all experienced it. You forget yourself for a minute and let your data look up something: ‘best restaurants in Tel Aviv’, ‘fastest flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai’ or ‘how to dress for the Scottish weather’.
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Five minutes later you have been charged hefty roaming costs. Ouch.
While some networks let you roam freely, others are not so generous. Before launching his alternative activewear brand, Rusty Martin spent some time skating. And then paid a small fortune for it.
“I landed in Vancouver after an eight-hour flight and met some of the local inline skaters,” says Rusty. “When I got back to my buddy, I got a lot of reports. I had left my data on and was charged about £70 in charges.”
To wait! It gets worse: “I haven’t paid the bill for over a year,” Rusty admits. “I was like fuck the corporations, I don’t owe them anything. I wasn’t even actively using my data, I just left it on. It all felt very unfair. But then they send collection agencies after you and ruin your credit rating.”
Always check your data plan (and your data settings) before catching your flight. Or better yet, invest in a data plan that has your back.
Travel engineering company Holafly eSIM offers eSIMs for people who want a stable and reliable connection without roaming charges. They offer regular data plans in over 130 countries, unlimited data plans in over 45 destinations, and even entire regions like Europe. So if you’re traveling across Europe, instead of buying a subscription for each country, you only have to pay once to get coverage in different countries. And because it’s a digital SIM card, you can activate it in minutes by scanning the QR code sent to your email. Comfortable.
Test local limits
With internet censorship on the rise, don’t be surprised if your beloved apps and websites don’t work in other countries.
Srishti Verma got caught in Vietnam researching reproductive health and rights for an Atlanta-based nonprofit.
“The website loaded first, but didn’t work properly. The navigation was bad, things wouldn’t load and that affected my research,” says Srishti. “Not accessing related websites made me think something was wrong with my internet connection.”
Fortunately, Srishti’s friend reminded her to use a VPN, and all was not lost. But there are plenty of other countries where this solution would have fallen flat on its face. VPN bans and restrictions are widespread in countries such as China, Turkey, and the UAE.
With a smartphone neatly in our hands, it’s easy to forget that not all countries have the same level of tech freedom.
All wifi is good wifi (just kidding!)
WiFi access is so ubiquitous that the thought of being without it is practically unbearable.
Michelle Coulson felt something similar on a recent trip to Portugal. As a digital nomad who helps people get remote jobs, her work was brutally interrupted by a lack of connectivity.
“We had just arrived at a campsite and discovered that there was no WiFi. We also couldn’t find a store open to charge our mobile data — so we ended up driving miles to McDonald’s to use their crappy Wi-Fi!”
At such times, public Wi-Fi is a godsend. But there’s a catch, often in the form of sacrificing a few personal details to log in. We all crave an internet connection, but sometimes a public solution isn’t worth the risk.
Crafty hackers can create duplicate Wi-Fi networks that look just like legitimate networks. So while you’re mindlessly scrolling, they’re clamoring for your account information. It’s an easy way to have your identity – or the contents of your bank account – stolen.
You don’t even have to leave the airport to find trouble. According to a study by Forbes, 40% of respondents had their data compromised while using public Wi-Fi, with airport and restaurant Wi-Fi posing the greatest threat.
If you’re using shared or public Wi-Fi, find someone who can confirm you’re on the right network and turn on your trusted VPN for an extra layer of protection. Keep in mind that if you connect to a Wi-Fi network that you don’t know, you also don’t know how they’re going to use the data collected during the session.
To make sure you have coverage without having to mess with unreliable free Wi-Fi hotspots, visit Holafly’s guide to eSIMs.
Adapters, voltages and avoiding electrocution
No one wants to see the light on their phone screen go out before they get to the hotel. Forget about your travel adapters and this is the reality.
There are 15 types of plugs, so make sure you know which one you need for your destination country. Type C covers most of Europe (apart from the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta). But only in Thailand can you get away with type I plugs.
Crossing multiple countries? Purchase a universal adapter. And try to find grounded ones – this will reduce the risk of getting electrocuted if there is an exposed wire in your gadget.
Most modern appliances are variable voltage, so using them in different countries is unlikely to frustrate you. Gadgets designed to be portable, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, usually have variable voltage. Razors, hair dryers, and electric toothbrushes usually aren’t, so be sure to check the specs of your appliances before packing.
Be prepared to switch off
Was the sun just turned off forever? Or did you get caught in a power outage? I suspect the latter.
Power cuts will increase as the climate crisis worsens. And even paradise isn’t immune to a little lights-out action.
Georgie Darling is a digital nomad and travel writer who spent the first seven months of the pandemic on the small Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan.
Due to the island’s size and location, Gili is prone to earthquakes and power outages. Often at the same time.
“They were such a part of my daily life that the only response to the ground shaking was an ‘earthquake?’ used to be. message in our group chats,” Georgie shares.
“I got caught a few times when the customer calls fell around the same time as the earthquakes and power outages,” Georgie admits. “I quickly learned to keep my laptop and phone fully charged.”
For extra protection, arm yourself with an eSIM (as mentioned above) and a few power banks. The Zendure Supermini is pocket-sized but packs a powerful punch. If you need something a little heavier, grab the ZMI PowerPack 20000 – it will charge your phone and your laptop via a USB-C connection. And be sure to notify customers and loved ones of any outages whenever possible.
“It was a good talking point with customers,” says Georgie. “Especially when I told them that the expression for ‘power cut’ in Bahasa Indonesia is ‘mati lampu’, which directly translates to ‘death to the light’.”
Don’t get lost in translation
Where the risk of embarrassing yourself is small, translation apps can get you out of trouble. Like checking the menu for meat-free options, or deciphering the signs at a train station.
But bad translations can have unpleasant consequences. If you arrive in France and need a lawyer (un avocat), you could ask for an avocado instead (Also a lawyer). oops.
Promising research into the use of Google translate in emergency departments showed this 82.5% of the translations retained their meaning. But the results vary considerably between languages, which is a problem if you want to share sensitive information.
The best way to avoid translation app failure is to use them with caution. Don’t count on them saving your bacon every time – and practice some Duolingo before you go.
So if you’re not quite ready to trade in your smartphone for a map book, don’t forget to pack your virtual suitcase before embarking on your next world travel adventure. Handy technical travel tools such as a international eSimVPNs and portable power banks will make all the difference if you’re stuck in disconnected paradise (your Insta followers and mom will thank you).