Archives for September 2007

What is a SIM card?

There is an easy way to save money on exuberant phone charges while traveling overseas – it’s a tiny memory chip that sits in your cell phone that can eat away at your savings or save you’re a bundle – it’s called a SIM card.

You may know that your SIM card is a life saver when you purchase a new phone because you can simply take out the card and put it in your new phone without losing any of your data. However, there are other ways your SIM card can be useful.

When you travel overseas the roaming charges and international phone rates that you pay on your phone bill will ultimately cost more than your flight (especially if you talk as much as me). If you have an unlocked GSM phone, you can take out your SIM card before traveling and replace it with a temporary card that uses the local roaming of the country you are traveling to.

Let’s say you are taking a two week trip to India. Simply contact an International Cell Phone service company like Brightroam and order an India-based SIM card. Replace your SIM card with the one provided before your trip and you will have local rates and local phone service. This means you can call everyone back home as you stand in awe at the Taj Mahal without paying a fortune.

Stay tuned for my next posting on unlocking your GSM phone.

Get spicy with your travels

We travel for many reasons but one thing we always do when we leave home is discover new things. Something we have all experienced especially when traveling overseas is foreign and unique foods. I’m a bit of a foodie so traveling to exotic places is a thrill for me and my palette. Others aren’t so adventurous and food is the most daunting part of traveling.

I have discovered that the most basic way to learn about foreign tastes is to introduce spices from around the world. Add paprika to discover Hungary; add Cumin or Coriander for a hint of India; try sesame oil to see China or Cilantro for Thailand. If you can moderately incorporate spices and flavors into your diet before traveling then you are less likely to reject foreign foods.

Some steps for preparing yourself for new tastes:

1. Learn about the dishes ahead of time. Know what you will typically be eating so you aren’t in shock when you are served a plate of raw beef.

2. Taste some of the foods you read about. If you have a restaurant in your town that serves that cuisine, check it out.
3. If not, do some research and find out what spices are used in the cooking. Buy the spice and try it out for yourself. Incorporate the flavors into your typical cooking so your palette is used to it. Green beans can go Indian. Steak – Mexican. Give your chicken a French flair. 4. If you are really feeling adventurous, go online to a recipe website such as Epicurious or Recipe Zaar and try one of the country’s traditional dishes.

Internet is changing the way we fly

The internet is changing the way that we fly from planning trips to purchasing tickets and even tracking flights in mid air. Chances are you have been searching for deals and buying tickets online for years but there are more ways to take advantage of what the internet has to offer after prior to, the day of and in flight.

Ticketless travel

Many airlines offer ticketless travel where you can book online and print off your reservation right from home. No waiting for tickets in the mail or picking them up at a local travel agent. While some airlines simply ask for your confirmation number, having the print out is always a good plan in case there are any questions or errors at the airport. Plus, if you are traveling internationally having a print out of your return ticket may be required at immigration to prove length of stay.

The fine print

Ticketless travel and online purchases without any actual contact with a travel agent or airline representative means reading the fine print is extremely important. For example, some chartered airlines have stipulations that require you to be at the airport several hours ahead of time or you are denied boarding. Other airlines offer lower rates if you are willing to have no seat assignment and the possibility of being the first person bumped off the flight. Many online ticket purchases are non refundable or can incur substantial charges for changes to your reservation. No matter how easy it has become to book flights, at the end of the day, travel is still unpredictable and you need to be able to protect yourself. Read the fine print.

At home check-in and seat selection

One of my favourite features that many airlines are taking advantage of is the online check-in and seat selection. For example, on Westjet airlines in Canada, you can check-in 24 hours up to 60 minutes before you fly. You can also select your seat at that time. So when you arrive at the airport, if you are traveling light you can head straight to the gate with your print out and skip the queue. This online check-in feature is wonderful for the frequent traveler who isn’t loaded down with bags and special requests. You can also check-in from your mobile device from 24 hours up to 30 minutes before you fly and print your boarding pass at one of the self serve kiosks – this means you can check in while heading to the airport.

Check flights in real time

Last but certainly not least, is another awesome tool for not the traveler but the unsung hero – the relative or friend who is always there to pick you up. Give them a break by referring them one of the many real-time flight trackers so they know exactly where you are mid flight and can arrange a pick up accordingly. Some great ones include Flight Aware and Flight Arrivals.

Accessing internet while traveling

Finding an internet connection while traveling used to be such a hassle. Typically, your hotel was the only place you could find a connection. You needed an existing dial up account which you could use in various locations plus the proper dial code for the city you were in, and then you would crawl around looking for the phone jack and pray that it worked. And that was if you were in North America! If you were traveling overseas forget about it.

Wireless connections have made it possible for internet connectivity pretty much anywhere you travel. Most hotels offer wired or wireless internet services, usually for an additional fee but there are more ways to get internet access outside of your hotel room.

Hotspots: Almost all major cities are now equipped with hotspots – public spaces that are equipped with wireless internet access. Simply bring your laptop with Wi-Fi and log onto the hotspot’s wireless service. Some places may charge a small fee, others will be free. Hotspots are typically in locations like coffee shops; trains stations, libraries, airports etc.

Click here to learn how to connect to a hotspot

Internet Cafes: If you don’t travel with a laptop but still need to check your email or get online, you can visit an internet café. Not just for backpackers anymore, internet cafes have popped up all over the globe and offer a simple way to log on to a computer and pay by the minute or hour.

Find an internet café here.

BlackBerry: And for those who need to check their email at least fifty times a day and don’t want to be in a café, a hotel room or desperately seeking a hotspot there is yet another solution. You and now rent a Blackberry for international travel.

The conversation divide, basic language must haves

One of the biggest challenges with International travel is the language divide. While it may seem no matter where you travel someone will speak English, it’s that one moment when you’re in the back of taxi cab, a crowded restaurant or negotiating the price of a trinket that you really wish you’d bought that pocket sized dictionary.

No one can become a language expert for every country they visit but we can all take the time to learn a few key phrases ahead of time. While traveling on business, there seems to be three keys things you do – get somewhere, meet with someone, eat (and sleep). So really, the key phrases you need to ensure you have learned or at least are in your back pocket are A. Directions B. Meet and introduce yourself and C. Ordering and understanding food.

Directions: When you travel overseas, you will get lost at some point whether you admit it or not. Learn the correct words for Right. Left. Stop. Straight. Taxi. Your Hotel Name. And of course – Where is the tourist centre? These small words will help you find you way on foot, in a taxi, to the local tourist centre or when all else fails, back to your hotel.

Meeting and Introducing Yourself: First and foremost, learn the greeting etiquette of where you are traveling. Learn the customs. For example, do you hand shake (if so which hand) or do you bow, smile or remain stoic. Know what name to use – your first then last, last then first, only your last name? Once you have learned the basics of how to introduce yourself then the words will be quite simple. They are typically, “My name is” “It is nice to meet you” “My title is” etc.

Ordering and understanding food: If you are like me it doesn’t really matter what food words you use because you’ll eat anything put in front of you but for those who travel with allergies or have intense dislikes, learn the words for what you want and what you don’t. Spicy. Vegetarian. Peanuts. Know your wants/dislikes and learn the words.

Check out some free online tools like Free Translation or Word2Word for simple words. Don’t be afraid to Google the language and customs you are curious about as there is a wealth of information specific to each language and culture on the web. Last but not least, pick up a basic language lesson book or dictionary from a store like Chapters or Amazon – having it in your briefcase could mean the difference between getting to the hotel and getting a ride.

What tech gadgets are in your suitcase?

There are some pretty amazing things that you can pack in your suitcase when you travel. My husband swears by his inflatable neck rest, it might be nothing more than a moon-shaped balloon that he puts under his neck while sleeping on a plane but for someone who does a lot of red eyes €“it’s indispensable. My father swears by his electric shaver, it’€™s fast, it’s simple and you can get a quick shave anywhere you happen to wake up. Each of us have something that makes travel more comfortable and convenient but in the world of gadgets and computer dependencies, there are certain tech tools we simply cannot travel without.

When I think about tech gadgets, I think about types of travel. There are three types that come to mind:

Friends / Family Visits: When I planned a weekend in North Carolina to visit some old high school friends, my gadget packing was focused on entertainment and sharing. I packed my iPod and my iTrip FM transmitter from Griffen so I could play music through the stereo. I uploaded all my favorite photos to a USB memory key so I could share them on the hosts PC. Also remember to pack your digital camera plus the charger!

Adventure: When I traveled to Central America, my entire gadget planning was focused on indestructible, waterproof devices. I looked into tough cell phone cases like the ones made by Pelican to ensure my phone would stay dry. I purchased a mesh suitcase cover by Pacsafe so that my knapsack could be left in the room or tied to a tree and not be stolen. I even spent time considering all of the crazy cooling gadgets to battle the humid weather like cooling hats, wrist fans, sweat proof socks -€“ you name it.

Business: Business travel may not be the most important travel you will do but it does require a lot of gadgets and devices. Items I never leave at home include a good pair of noise canceling headphones, they are good for planes, trains and even loud hotel rooms. Plug adapters that cover the globe are always in my bag along with a USB key that has copies of all of my important travel information, passport, credit card numbers etc so that if disaster occurs I have everything I need in my pocket. For business travelers who are heading overseas, try an International Cell phone like the ones offered by Brightroam so you don€’t pay a fortune in roaming charges.

The important thing to remember is whatever is important to you at home will still be important to you on the road. Be it a good shave, relaxing music, classic movies or instant access to family photos – if it’s a priority at home, it will be on the road.