Travel: To Disconnect or Not Disconnect?

A trip is a great time to disconnect from the connected world and all of its stressful situations. However, there may be times when being disconnected can be extremely stressful. Fortunately, you can customize technology to fit your level of need and comfort.

Although I consider myself a very connected person, there are times when I like to disconnect, such as when I’m on an airplane or traveling in a country with a huge time difference from New Jersey. And, let’s face it, we all need to really take time off from everyday life – and that’s the purpose of getting away.

However, there are times when being connected can keep your travels on schedule and give you peace of mind. Using a Wi-Fi connection on an airplane, for example, can help you make, change or cancel reservations for hotels, rental cars or ground transportation if you run into unexpected delays, especially if you have a flight that makes stops – and requires plane changes – before you reach your destination.

A phone or tablet with Wi-Fi capability makes it really easy to stay connected, and VOIP – voice over internet protocol – which we all use if we have internet telephone service. You can talk through a variety of applications, such as Skype and Viber, to name two, and Facetime on iPhones. Using voice and video through a Wi-Fi network requires a fast internet connection, so make sure you have one before you try. There are many remote locations (we were in one of them on our last trip) that just have slow internet, and their cellular networks may not be all that strong, either.

If you want to be reached by telephone and don’t want to maintain a cellular connection, a Google phone number can give you a variety of options. You can give the number to people who may need to reach you or with whom you want to maintain contact. You can link that number to your cell phone number, but if you are traveling abroad, you’ll need to have a Wi-Fi connection to pick up voicemail or answer a call. If you have a cellular connection abroad, you can be reached directly. Because a Google number is a US number, people calling you will not have to pay international calling rates.

You can keep a cellular connection in a number of ways while abroad:

  • Arrange with your carrier to provide cellular service without roaming charges in the countries you plan to visit. These plans can be costly, and they can have severely limited numbers of phone calls and text messages available as well as highly restricted data use. If you are going to be in several countries on your trip and don’t need to use data-intensive applications such as Waze or Google Maps for driving and walking directions, this may be good for you. The phone can be really good for making or confirming reservations.
  • Get a SIM card for your phone when you arrive in the country you are visiting. As long as your phone is “unlocked,” as most are today, you can turn your phone into a local phone that will give you either an unlimited or large number of phone calls and text messages – including international calls (such as to the US) – and enough data to get directions to a hotel, restaurant or tourist attraction and use Waze or Google Maps to get there. The major carriers in each country usually have kiosks at the airport, and their agents can install and test the SIM card before you go on your merry way. In most cases, the card is good for 30 days. If you are in a major city, you can find stores for most carriers, just as you do in the US, and the carrier store may be better if you need something other than a standard arrangement. When you get home, you can reinstall your US carrier’s SIM card.
  • Rent a local phone. This is really simple, and it doesn’t require any changes to your existing phone. The cost and your allowances for phone calls, texts and data may vary, but you should have all the capabilities you’ll need.

Having cellular service abroad gives you all the conveniences and peace of mind you take for granted at home. If you are not part of a tour, you can make reservations or ask questions on the fly for hotels, restaurants, attractions and other needs. If you are going to be delayed in getting to a destination, you can call ahead. Even with the best navigation applications, you sometimes need someone to “talk you in” to a hotel or restaurant. All you need to do is call – and you can access the internet to get the phone number.

Even if you are on a guided tour, the tour operators sometimes strongly recommend you have a cell phone with local capability. If you become separated from your group at an attraction, for example, you can call and agree on a meeting place, or they can call you to make sure you get to where you’re supposed to be.

And, of course, there’s the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing you can reach somebody. On our last trip, we were part of an English-speaking group on a bus headed to the airport to leave our location. Nobody spoke the local language, and the driver did not speak English. We were caught in horrendous traffic, and we feared not making our flight. In our case, we had to catch a flight that operates once a week, and we were not in a place where we wanted to spend a whole week.

Nobody had a cell phone for the country, so there was no way to call the airline and let them know of our problem. While it had been very relaxing to be disconnected from the rest of the world, we were a busload of stressed people while on our re-entry path. We made our flight, so now it’s just another travel story to tell.

Traveling always has its surprises, but you shouldn’t feel unduly stressed or unsafe. If you are planning to travel abroad, we can help you determine the technology you’ll need to maintain your desired or required level of connection. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.