Updated: Jul 7, 2019
Traveling to another country can be challenging. Scary, often we found ourselves staring down the barrel of a language we couldn't speak, read or understand.
Thankfully, with modern technology our disposal, and that made the travel life infinitely easier. we do need to plan ahead, though, let share some of the awesome tips for next holiday.
You need to make sure your phone is not only unlocked, but also network-compatible in the country or countries you're visiting. You can get connected to a Wi-Fi network, whether it's at the airport, a hotel or a sidewalk cafe, you're golden! You can check email, update Facebook and use data-powered communication apps such as iMessage, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
However, for standard calls and text messages, to say nothing of using apps when Wi-Fi isn't available, you need access to a cellular network.
Conventional wisdom says that once you reach a foreign country, you should just buy a SIM card and switch over to it while you're there. the moment you land, whether there is a pre-book chauffeur or to summon an Uber or just text family that you've arrived safely. You may be able to find a SIM vendor at the airport. You may inherit a new phone number, which can cause text-messaging complications but reasonable given the convenience and cheaper.
Learn the mysteries of iMessage
If you're an iPhone user, iMessage is pretty great - until you find yourself with a different phone number. Then things get... complicated.
Consider: iMessage relies on data, not SMS, so you'd think that as long as you're connected to the internet (Wi-Fi or data plan), you're fine. But iMessage is still tied to your phone number, and if you change that number (like when you swap SIM cards), things go tilt. At least, that's what happened with the four members of my family.
Tip is to suggest that iPhone users wanting to communicate with other iPhone users should plan ahead. For starters, consider tweaking iMessage so that it uses your email address for sending and receiving texts. (You can do this in the Settings app by tapping Messages > Send & Receive, then selecting your email address in both the "can be reached" and "start new conversations from" sections.)
That's still a messy solution, because existing messaging threads may no longer work, and you'll have to switch everything back when you're back to your home SIM.
Google Translate (Android and iOS). This free app made it a cinch to convert English words and phrases -- either spoken or typed -- into Italian, while the camera mode magically translated printed Italian text (the aforementioned signs and menus) into English.
For a variety of reasons, the success rate of the latter was on the lower side, with occasionally hilarious results. But at the least it helped to decipher key words, which was invaluable.
Google Translate can perform on-the-fly translations when you're online, but it can also work offline if you download translation databases. To save time (and data) while traveling, download languages in advance. Tap the Settings icon, then Offline translation. Tap the plus sign in the upper-left corner, then choose the language to download.
Download Google Maps in advance
Likewise, Google Maps has an offline mode that could really save the day if you're in a signal-challenged location. Because I was traveling from Rome to Florence and back again, I downloaded map data that encompassed both of those cities and everything in between. The resulting file consumed close to 300MB of storage, but it was well worth it.
To use this feature, just open Google Maps and zoom in or out until you see the chunk of map you want to save. Then tap the Menu icon, followed by Offline maps. Now tap Custom map, make your final tweaks to the desired map area and then tap Download. (Note that by default, Maps will download maps only when you're connected to Wi-Fi. If you want to allow this over a mobile network, tap the gear icon and choose that option.)
Take note, too, that offline maps work for driving directions, but not biking, walking or transit directions.
Bring extra power plugs and power bank
So, you bought a universal power adapter - good start. That'll let you plug in exactly one device, which may end up being your spouse's curling iron. One measly travel adapter isn't enough, especially if it gives you just one electrical outlet.
Instead, just as you would for travel at home, pack a country-compatible wall plug that offers not only a pass-through for electrical items, but also two to four USB ports - the kind you need for charging your phone, tablet, Bluetooth earbuds and Bluetooth speaker. Speaking of which...
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