Cruise ships and cell phones

In working with Brightroam, it has become very clear to me how much money can be saved by renting international cell phones or purchasing international SIM cards for your phone when you travel. I recently got a $300 phone bill that was a result of three days in Boston with roaming changes. However the question still remains – what if my trip takes me to the middle of the ocean? Cruise ship cell phone costs are still terrifying.

Cruise ship cabins come with phones but just like a typical hotel phone it can cost as much as $10/minute. The fact that passengers want to use their own cell phones have not fallen on deaf ears, many cruise ships are now are equip with cell phone antennae so that you can use your cell phone while at sea. However the costs are still huge because of roaming and long distance charges – expect to pay $5/minute or higher.

I still think your best bet is to get a SIM card for the area you are traveling and making your calls while at port. For example, a Greek Island tour = Greek SIM card or Caribbean Cruise = World SIM card. You can expect to make a few calls while at sea but if you get a local SIM card and schedule your long winded brag-about-the-weather calls for port visits then you’ll save a bundle.

Check out the international SIM cards available at Brightroam and their new World SIM Card that works everywhere you go.

Government travel advisories

How seriously should we take government travel advisories? I think it depends how familiar you are with the places you travel. I am always apt to check advisories for places I have never visited and of those that I know have whacky weather or political strife. Travel advisories offer information on important travel issues such as crime, security, laws, customs, entry requirements and health conditions.

If you aren’t on top of it, entry requirements can change in a heartbeat, like new airport fees or passport restrictions. I was just researching a trip to the Dominican Republic and discovered that upon arrival you are required to purchase a $10 USD tourist card when going through immigration. There is not a bank machine and they don’t take credit, so if you don’t have $10 USD in cash, you’re out of luck. Definitely a tidbit worth knowing.

Health checks are always a must, especially if you are traveling to regions with limited health care or unique diseases that you only hear about on late night TV documentaries. This website, Global Health Map, uses Google Map technology to pinpoint all sorts of health issues. It is very up to date, often more so than the official government sites.

At the end of the day, be smart and safe, don’t throw cash around or eat food off a dirty counter.

Government Travel Advisory Sites

Sharing photos while on the move

Some business trips last just a little too long and you want to send photos home of the awesome places you’ve been or perhaps access photos of something great you missed back at the house. There are many ways to share photos online, through email or your cell phone while on the road.

My husband likes to send me photos by the poolside or at the beach when he travels on business to California. He simply snaps a photo with his camera-enabled BlackBerry and emails it directly to me. I have mixed feelings when I open the email to see an ocean vista – on one hand I’m a little bitter as I sit in snowy Toronto but on the other hand, he wanted me to see the view. There is something amazing about sharing a moment instantly. Camera phones have enabled us to do that no matter where we travel.

Another way to share a series of digital photos from your trip is to create an online photo album. There are hundreds of options on the web:

Flickr: Well known, easy to use and once you have an account set up, you can easily upload new photos and send an email to all your friends and family to come see your latest album. This tool is great for the 2.0 enthused who like to add comments and find related photos.

Shutterbug: This service is geared towards the family looking to share photos on holiday or for the less computer literate. It’s easy to use and prompts you through the process of uploading photos and sending the link to your loved ones.

Wherever they hang out: Seriously, if your kids are always on Facebook then upload the photos to a Facebook account. If your friends use MySpace, then upload the photos to your MySpace page. And if your family prefer to check their email and not go onto social networking sites to share family photos, then upload the photos to your laptop, resize them to a smaller size and email them directly to their inbox. No sense uploading photos somewhere nobody is going to see them.

How to unlock your GSM phone

In order to take advantage of great savings by switching your SIM card when you travel overseas, you will need to have an unlocked GSM phone. This means your phone is GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) compatible and is “unlocked” meaning it doesn’t have any service provider, carrier or operator customization. This enables you to switch the SIM card without any worries of losing service or data. There are a couple of great resources online that take you through the process of unlocking your phone. See the links below.

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.

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.