This post is part of a multi-part series about tech abroad.
It's summertime and that means that people across the world are taking vacations to faraway places. Many people would be satisfied with checking in on their e-mail every couple of weeks, for five minutes, at an Internet cafe while on vacation. Techies like me, however, crave a higher level of contact with their information online. You may not be as much of a power user as Robert Scoble, however the world keeps moving even though you are abroad.
Everyone knows to bring power adapters to hook up their electronics, but here are some tips that you may not have considered, that I have gathered during my stay in Europe so far.
1. Free Wi-Fi is scarce, take advantage when you can. You may luck out and land at a hotel or hostel where they provide free Internet, but most of the time you are going to have to pay or go without access. Orange is a popular provider of paid W-iFi in Europe, for reasonable prices (15 euros for 10 hours). They have a lot of hotspots, but you are going to want to watch your time and not go overboard there. Some cafes will have free Wi-Fi and usually advertise it on a sticker in their window. For a more casual setting, the McDonald's, on the Champs Elysses in Paris, has free Wi-Fi to go with your Royale with Cheese. Some public places, such as the parks by Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, also provide access.
If and when you find free Wi-Fi access, jump over to Google Reader and download your RSS items with its offline Google Gears functionality. If you take the couple of seconds to do this, you can catch up on your news even when you're not basking in the glow of free Wi-Fi.
2. With that said, bring your Wi-Fi enabled phone. iPhoneusers take note, a quick download of your emails onto your phone saves you a lot of trouble of lugging a laptop around. This helps you to leverage the scarce free Wi-Fi to the best of your ability. While you will benefit greatly from having Wi-Fi on your phone, remember to turn off data roaming, or else you will rack up a massive bill during your trip.
3. Google on your own turf. Navigating to Google.com or searching in Firefox takes you to the localized version of Google, instead of the version that you are used to. I have found that, especially for general searching, this localized version returns far worse results (and often in the local language) than using the US version of Google. Luckily this problem can be remedied. If you go to iGoogle and sign in with your account, you should be able to get to the Google search that we all know and love. If you are still seeing the localized version, make sure that you have your home country set in your user preferences.
4. Spread around your FriendFeed link to those who are interested in your travels. While FriendFeed is popular with the tech crowd and great for conversations, it serves as a great way for people to keep track of what you have been up to. If all of the buzz hasn't already convinced you to make a FriendFeed account, do yourself (and your friends) a favor and do that before you go. Also, make sure to link up your Flickr account to share all of your great photos.
5. Consider a prepaid local SIM card for local calls and Skype for phoning home. If you are going to be in another country for an extended period of time, you might want to consider picking up a prepaid SIM card for your unlocked phone. These can be purchased at most cell phone stores, such as Orange, and are a great and affordable option for calling local numbers. For calling home, Skype easily offers the best rates around and you can talk for extended periods of time without having to worry about racking up huge charges. Make sure you buy a headset for your computer before you go if you are going with Skype.
6. Don't fret too much and enjoy yourself. This doesn't count as an official tip, but it's more of a bonus. Missing the latest Twitter/blogosphere meme isn't going to kill you. I like to keep up on everything that is going on as much as the next person, but when you are on vacation it's nice to step away from all of that for a little bit. If you follow these tips, you should be able to have a nice, connected vacation, without too much additional hassle.