As a virtual worker for most of my life, today, a certified global nomad, and someone who has a perceptual black belt in working anywhere, the last few weeks on the road have helped me identify a lot of technology-based travel and communications trends that are worth noting.
Your Mobile Phone Planning
For example, in the past, when I went from country to country, the first thing I would do is buy a local SIM card for two phones and an iPad.
Not as much on this trip.
I landed in London and used my 3 SIM there and in France at the very start. I purchased a 30-day package, and it worked out perfectly. I have a few days more in London, so I'll either top up with a smaller bundle for the last 72 hours, or so I'll be there, or I'll go to the other option, my Google Fi SIM. I used the 3 SIM my five days in France, but when I landed in Malta, given how cheap the service is there, for my five days, I opted for a 20 Euro plan and made it data only. Between the low cost and the substantial data bundle, it was a no brainer as I'm capped at 22 gigs on the 3 Plan, and some quick math showed I would run out before back in London. That buy was advantageous as I was firing away with lots of photos on Facebook and Instagram, which chews up data and making a bunch of conference calls. The data only plan also gave me higher speeds than the basic plan, so I was seeing speeds at upwards of 50-80 megabits per second in both directions while on the island. When I got to Lisbon, I grabbed a local SIM from Vodafone, here again, it was knowing that I would be photo intensive and lots of calls via VoIP back to the states around new years. That plus the experience at Lisbon airport is one of the fastest SIM buying you'll ever see.
The key to deciding what and if to buy is knowing your data consumption. After the first week, I saw that I was using about 750 megs of data a day just before the Xmas break. I guessed correctly that at the rate I was going, and where I was going to be, out more than in, that WiFi was really an excellent option, but that the speeds and the connectivity may not be there when I needed it. By purchasing the two SIM cards in Malta and Portugal, I covered the spread, so to speak, and still had gobs of data for three days in London, three in Prague, and now back in London. This is very different than when I'm at home and more of a heavy WiFi user than mobile data-centric.
So what does this mean:
- In the UK, Portugal, and Malta, I was local. This really came in handy, calling friends and restaurants in Portugal and the UK.
- In the Czech Republic and France, I was roaming on 3 and didn't see any speed or performance issues, nor any coverage gaps.
- I never experienced that long lag you experience when you roam using AT&T, Verizon, or T-Mobile.
But here's where it gets fascinating. In my iPad and in my Android, a new One Plus 7T Pro MacLaren, I used only my Google Fi SIMs as part of their new $70 a month plan for all the data you can handle, but again, capped at 22 Gigs. I used it more for work-related activities and noticed that I would use it more for calls back home than calling people where I was. In all situations, there was almost no noticeable difference in call quality or performance. If anything, in Prague, I felt Google Fi was a slight bit better in audio quality than the iPhone on 3 was, but that may also be the Dolby Atmos technology in the One Plus.
The bottom line is I could get by with just Fi, and you could too.
Restaurants and Reservations
Now, let's move on to dining around. For many years I've been a significant user of OpenTable, and the many look-alikes, including The Fork here in the UK and EU. But they're not the only games in town. Just like Resy has become a reliable option in the USA, around the globe, more services are popping up. ResDiary is one I've been using in London. It's more back end to restaurants but fast and easy. Another I found is Design My Night, and while it looks to be something independent restaurants are using to avoid the Open Table "tax," it does tie together the customer to prevent double-booking at the same time of different establishments.
What's this mean? Well, for starters, I'm far less dependent on concierges than I used to be. In Prague, Lisbon, and London, I made almost all of my own bookings-ONLINE. In Malta, I made most of them but had the concierge make some calls to confirm. In Marseille, given my friendship with their stellar team, I picked, but they booked and reconfirmed. This was more due to the French language, and the holiday season where closings can happen, and no one bothers to tell the dinner guests.
The bottom line is you can do more of your own bookings, and if you're without a concierge, getting tables at great places is now no longer a barrier due to language.
Getting Around The Calendar, The Map and the Ride
I've been using Uber since it started. And as I traveled in the past, it rapidly replaced local taxis. But on this trip, Uber has taken a backseat to Bolt. Not only is Bolt cheaper, but it's also available in places Uber isn't. But I've also been a massive user of public transit in London and Lisbon, not only because it's the way to go cheaply, but I'm also somewhat familiar with the two cities. But my familiarity is powered by apps. Google Maps, CityMapper, and a London Tube app speedily get me on my way around. I feel more like a local, and rarely am I ending up in the wrong location or delayed going to where I need to be when I need to be there.
The bottom line--getting around has never been easier. You just need the right apps for that.
You Gotta Have The Power
Power outlets, USB outlets, and battery packs are essential to the traveler. I carry a small cigarette pack size battery pack and iOS Lightning and USB-C cables as well as the local EU or UK power plug. Given how I'm often out of the hotel all day, having the power in your pocket is a significant relief, as the smartphone is really now my guiding light, organizer, flashlight, calling device, and outsourced brain.
The bottom line. Be a boy scout. Plan. Prepare and pack the power.
Thinking back to my first trip abroad in 1981, it was maps, guidebooks, and more. I traveled with a suitcase that required checking before I flew. Now I travel with two bags, and I don't check them. Of course, the one downside with what I carry is you do need to know what to take out and leave in when you go through security, so I allow extra time. Still, instead of being upset when they ask to look at things, I just smile when they ask, "what's that' as carrying cutting edge tech sometimes puts you in a class by yourself.