Eurail day 13: Cesky Krumlov to Nuremberg, and How to Travel with Electronics
Today is a travel day! Taking 3 trains to get from the Czech Republic to Germany, so a long travel day but also a scenic one! I am zooming through snow-capped mountains and little villas! There are rabbits and farmers waving at the trains and ponies running alongside, and a doe! A deer! (A female deer).
So since I have all this free time, time for some of my tips on travelling with iPhones or tablets. Here’s how you can always stay connected whilst on the road without paying high prices.
Avoid Roaming Charges
If you’re from Canada or the USA, your network carrier will try to persuade you to purchase one of their roaming packages for your trip abroad. But if you look at the fine print, you’ll notice that their plans are actually quite outrageous! $5 per gigabyte downloaded. $0.75 per text message sent AND received! And sometimes you can’t even send out messages or calls depending on which country you are in! It is really not worth it. Here’s what you do:
1) If you’re going to be gone for longer than a month, but don’t want to completely deactivate your phone account and lose your phone number, switch your plan into a holding plan. All carriers have an option that lets you hold on to your phone number for about 6 months for a minimal fee, but your phone is essentially deactivated. That way you can’t be charged on your network for roaming or for long distance calls.
2)Turn on airplane mode. iPhones and Androids, and some newer Blackberries, have the airplane mode option. If you turn this on while travelling, you won’t connect to your network carrier but you will still be able to search and connect to wifi sources.
3) Does your phone have SIM card capability? Then buy a SIM card when you arrive at your destination. They are almost always free with whatever finite plan to purchase with it. Get a pay-as-you-go plan of course, that lasts for as long as you’re in the area, for a flat fee, and ideally with unlimited text messages. In the States, AT&T has a $25 plan that lasts for 2 weeks with unlimited texts. In the UK, O2 has a month-long plan for £15.50 with unlimited texts and you can use the plan all over Europe. If you’re in Asia or Africa or South America, ask if the plan you buy is also good in neighbouring countries. Usually when small clusters of countries can share plans and rates. When you need to top up, you can almost always do that online.
4) Don’t have a SIM card-capable smartphone? (aka the Blackberry Curve?) Whip out your old Motorola flip phone that’s collecting dust in your drawer, and buy a local SIM card when you arrive so you are still reachable by your family and can use it in an emergency without paying roaming charges.
5) Another option is to buy a “Global Sim” from an online source. Starting at £29 and increasing from there, they mail you a sim compatible with your phone, or they can include a phone, they assign you a phone number, and your phone is good all over the world. You are charged based on where you are in the world, and who/where you are calling. If you’re doing an RTW, this is the best option rather than buy local SIMs at every stop.
6) Stuck with a stupid flip phone and no wifi capability? Remember that you can send and receive tweets from Twitter via text message! Log into your account and link your phone number to your account. That way you can still converse with the world even when you’re travelling through no-mans-land.
Using North American electronics abroad
Most people are exquisitely annoyed upon their arrival on the other side of the planet and find that the local electrical outlets require different plugs, or that the voltage will blow their hardware right out.
1) Google that shizzle ahead of time! Always always always research ahead of time what kind of plugs are used and what the voltage is in a given country. The Internet has all that information available.
2) Buy plug adapters and/or voltage adapters. All travel shops at home, or even at your destination (best places are airports) will sell these devices which transform your North American plug to a European, UK, Asian, or Australian plug. In North America, all devices are geared for 140 volts, but abroad, they all take 220-240 volts. If you try plugging in your 140volt hair dryer into an outlet in the UK without a voltage adapter, it will blow up in your hands. The good news is that all electronics, like your smartphone, your laptop, your iPad, your camera, etc, are DUAL VOLTAGE, meaning that they automatically can switch the voltage on their own, so all you will need is a plug adapter.
Buying electronics abroad
Did you forget your camera on your desk? Did your laptop break in your luggage? Don’t blow a gasket, you can always buy the exact same products abroad, and sometimes for cheaper without skimping on quality. In 2006, I was in Berlin when my camera just konked out and died. I went and bought another camera for €200, and guess what, I’m still using it today! All the pics you have seen on my blog the past 6 years are from this camera, and long time readers know I take a truckload of pics every day! I’ve dropped that camera countless times, it is scratched and faded, but it still works beautifully. €200 well spent. Bargain, really! But there are even greater bargains to be had if you’re in the right country:
1) Many countries impose taxes on all goods and services bought. Those taxes are then used for a variety of things, from public housing, to the military, to health care. But most governments also recognize that tourists shouldn’t have to pay those taxes since they can’t benefit from them. So they offer refund schemes to tourists. If you buy an iPad in Thailand, for example, from a licensed merchant who also participates in the refund scheme, he will give you the proper documentation you need to claim the tax back. Then when you are leaving the country via the airport, you hand in those documents to the “VAT refund desk” and you get back all the tax you paid on that item. Usually, you are required to have spent a minimum amount on your goods to claim the tax back, and you have to keep all your receipts and the appropriate forms, but it should be rather straightforward. Make sure your merchant participates in the scheme, and if he doesn’t, go elsewhere. Canada also has a refund scheme for tourists. If you’re going to many countries, it is worth googling which one of them also has a scheme. You could end up with some sizeable money in your pocket. But the best part is, you are probably paying less for the exact same device abroad than you would at home.
Don’t double up on electronics
For every expensive piece of hardware you carry, that becomes just one more thing some thief could steal. Carry as few devices as needed. Don’t carry both an iPhone and an iPod! Transfer your mp3s to your phone! Don’t carry your iPhone and your camera! iPhones have excellent cameras on them. Don’t carry both a laptop and an iPad! Are you mad, woman?!
For those of you wondering how I have been able to blog and tweet and Facebook and foursquare and Instagram and email and text and call and google this entire time I have been travelling …. Well…. This is how! Ps follow me on Twitter!
Nuremberg is famous for its Christmas Market and I am arriving right when it’s starting! So excited! I have my mitts, my leg warmers, and my toque! TIME TO PARTY!
On a side note, Czech Republic was my halfway point in this Eurail trip! I can’t believe how far I have come! But still so much more awaits!