Q: I’m about to take my first vacation trip to Europe and could use any tech travel tips you have.
A: Traveling to foreign countries has become a lot more complicated with the bevy of electronics that we have become accustomed to in our daily lives. Traveling can be enhanced or degraded by your choices, so think things through before deciding what to bring.
• Leave anything behind that you don’t absolutely need. The most common mistake new travelers make is taking too much with them (clothing, electronics, etc.), which turns into a constant hassle of lugging around excess. Hair dryers, portable DVD and gaming devices and even a laptop (especially if you have a tablet computer) may seem like essential items, but often they can easily be left behind.
• Check the voltage. Most of today’s electronics are worldly and indicated by the 110-240v 50-60 Hz range printed on the power adapters or on the backs of the units themselves. The U.S. uses 120v while Europe’s standard is 220v, which means anything you plug in that isn’t designed for the higher voltage will become an instant puddle of melted goo.
• Learn the plugs. Each country can have it’s own plug configuration, making the simple act of plugging in impossible if you don’t do your homework. A comprehensive list of plug types are listed with pictures at http://electricaloutlet.org.
• Buy a transformer and pack a power strip. The single biggest electronic challenge you will encounter any place you stay is lack of power outlets (not uncommon when traveling within the U.S., either). You will end up with three devices with three fancy adapters that need charging overnight but only one available outlet!
If you include a transformer that steps the voltage down from 220v to 110v (available at any Radio Shack or electronics supply store) and plug any power strip into it, you’ll have six standard U.S. outlets.
WARNING: if you forget the transformer, your power strip will disintegrate, the circuit breaker will kick and the hotel will have to reset your power.
The other option is to buy a cheap power strip once you get to your destination, but you will need to make sure you have an adapter for each device you want to charge simultaneously.
• Install the Skype app on your smartphone and buy Skype credits. Wi-Fi is readily available throughout Europe (most places require you to pay) so you can use Skype to call any cell phone or land line back in the U.S. for a fraction of the cost of using a temporary international plan from your cellular provider, or for free if the person you are calling has a Skype account.
• Install Jwire’s Wi-Fi Finder app on your smartphone and download the offline database before you leave. Finding hotspots as you travel may become a necessity depending upon where you stay, and this is the largest database of public hotspots available — pay and free.
• Use https:// when logging into your accounts. Sidejacking your sessions isn’t exclusive to the U.S., so use the same protection I’ve written about in previous columns on using public Wi-Fi.
• Assume you won’t have Internet access when you need it. Print your hotel confirmations, notes, special instructions, etc. before you leave. Don’t assume you can “look it up” from your smartphone.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the “Computer Corner” radio show, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.