In today’s age, we have technology at our fingertips which allows us to travel much more easily than people have done in the past. Computers, phones, tablets, digital cameras, and other devices can be used as tools for travelers to do everything from keeping in touch with friends and family back home to navigating through an unfamiliar city.
Unfortunately, with all the options out there it is hard to know what to buy or bring with you when you travel. The purpose of this page is to give you an idea of what to expect when traveling with electronic devices, and hopefully help with the hard choice of what to bring along.
A phone is a thing many of us have on us all the time at home, and naturally the first question many people ask is, “will my phone work in other countries?” The answer to this varies. Phones in the United States have two major radio systems that they run on, CDMA and GSM. Phones from Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular, and other carriers that use their networks (e.g. Virgin Mobile) are on the CDMA network. Phones from T-Mobile, AT&T, and other carriers that use their networks (e.g. Straight Talk) are GSM.
So what does this mean for you? Well, it turns out the worldwide standard for phone networks is GSM, and not CDMA. So that means if you have a Verizon or Sprint phone, you are probably out of luck. Why do I say probably? Because some of the newer Verizon and Sprint smartphones have SIM cards and a few GSM bands, so if you are very lucky they may work on other networks outside the US if the phones are unlocked. For the most part though, you are probably stuck paying out the roof for international roaming fees with Verizon, and with the possibility that your phone does not work at all since CDMA coverage outside the US is very limited. Although Sprint recently added free roaming in many countries outside the US, many of their phones will not work well internationally either since they also have limited GSM bands.
If you have T-Mobile or AT&T, then lucky you! If your phone is unlocked it should work well with any other carrier around the world, all you have to do is take out your SIM card and put in the SIM card of the other country’s carrier. If your phone is not unlocked, then you will have to contact your carrier to unlock it, and if you have a contract they usually only unlock phones once your contract is up.
The best US carrier to have for traveling overseas is hands down T-Mobile (although Google’s Project Fi wireless service looks promising if it gets expanded beyond their flagship smartphones). This is because T-Mobile has free texting and data in most countries around the world with their “simple choice” plans. I just use T-Mobile most of the time to avoid having to swap out SIM cards when traveling between countries. I will post more about why T-Mobile is the best choice for travelers in a future blog.
Remember that even if your phone doesn’t work for calling in other countries, you still might want to consider bringing it if you can access the internet on it using WiFi. You can always call friends over WiFi with third party apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Google Hangouts. I also find that bringing my smartphone allows me to avoid packing a flashlight, watch, and camera if I choose.
Computers and Tablets
On shorter trips, I generally don’t bring a computer or tablet since I have a smartphone with a large screen which works fine for browsing the internet (you may want to consider bringing one if you do not have a smartphone, though). I also tend to be out doing things all the time rather than browsing the internet anyways. For longer trips, on the other hand, having a computer or tablet around can be very nice. Here are some things you may want to consider before buying or bringing a computer/tablet with you traveling:
1) The size and weight of the computer or tablet. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. You don’t want to be bogged down because you decided to bring your 17 inch, 6 pound laptop with you traveling. If you choose to bring a computer, I would not recommend anything with a screen above 11 inches (diagonally measured, which is the standard) or anything with a bulky CD drive because they add a lot of weight. Ideally, I have found that a small or medium sized tablet along with a lightweight keyboard works best. I use the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 and pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard that I bought separately on Amazon; combined they weigh less than a pound!
2) Durability. It is hard to tell how durable computers and tablets are, but thinnest might not be best. I lent my tablet to a friend I met in a hostel in Rio, and she dropped it from about 4 feet above the hard floor. Surprisingly, it still works with no issues, but I don’t know if that would have been the case with an even thinner tablet! Also, light protective cases might be something to consider for tablets, especially if they hold the keyboard.
3) Expandable memory. For photographers, this is a must if you want to view pictures from your camera’s SD card on a bigger screen. Just plug in the SD card to the computer/tablet and you are good to go.
4) A front facing webcam. This will allow you to video chat with friends or family. I don’t do much video chatting while traveling, but most other travelers I meet do. Maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned.
5) Cost. Cheaper devices are not as much of a target for thieves. In particular, I have found that Apple devices are stolen most often because they are easily recognized and have a high resale value, but this might be worth the risk for diehard Apple fans.
The additional devices that come to mind here are cameras, e-readers (like the Amazon Kindle) and GPS’s.
Anyone with an interest in photography may find that bringing a camera while traveling greatly enhances the trip. Some people even plan entire trips around getting the perfect shot in a picturesque setting. If photography is one if your hobbies or interests, I would say to go for it! The only downsides of bringing a nice camera are the extra weight and chance that it may get lost or stolen. I find for the most part that I end up using my smartphone for most of my shots anyways since I always have it on me. Nonetheless, on some of my trips I have borrowed DSLR cameras from friends and thoroughly enjoyed using them.
If you like to read and would rather not do it on your phone, tablet, or computer, an e-reader could be worth bringing, especially on longer trips when you will have more downtime. They are nice for long plane rides as well.
In most cases, you will not need to bring a GPS to get around. With today’s technology, Google Maps and built in GPS’s on phones do the trick, or you can ask locals. However, if you are planning on traveling through extremely remote areas or backpacking through the wilderness, they can be a life-saver (literally).
Electricity and Outlets
In most places around the world, electricity voltages and outlets are different from those in the United States. Voltages range from 110 to 240 V with frequencies from 50 to 60 Hz. Fortunately, most modern devices work with any of these voltages and frequencies. However you probably want to check just to be 100% sure, because if you plug in a device that is not compatible with a specific voltage or frequency, it will get fried. Voltage compatibility is listed either on the device itself, or its charger or plug.
Outlet compatibility is completely different than voltage compatibility. Your device will not work in most outlets around the world even if the voltages are compatible. You will need plug adapters for most international travel. There are 15 different types of sockets, designated “A” through “O”, around the world (types “A” and “B” are standard in the United States). Fortunately, you only need 4 different types of adapters since the European plug (type “C”) works in most of the socket types. In addition to a European plug adapter, you will need a UK plug adapter (type “G”) for the UK and Ireland as well as many former British colonies like Malta, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates; an Australian (type “I”) plug adapter for Australia, New Zealand, mainland China, Argentina, some islands in the Southwest Pacific, and a few other areas near Australia; and a South African (type “M”) plug adapter for South Africa and its bordering countries, as well as pockets of India and Nepal. For a more complete listing of every country and its outlet type, click here.
Thanks for reading and if you have any additional questions feel free to ask them below!
Modified photo by aharden