International travel can be tricky since many of us don’t do it all that often. Here are the tech tips and gadgets that saved me time and money on my recent trip to Rome.
Before you leave, use Google Maps to bookmark the restaurants, landmarks and anything else you want to visit. This is the best hidden feature ever on the app.
To find it, open Google Maps and look at the bottom for the “Saved” icon.
Tap it, then create a new list for your upcoming trip.
Next, poll friends and family on social media, research hotspots online and scour top lists to find places you want to go.
Look them up on Google Maps and and you’ll see a “Save” button under the listing.
Tap it to save the place to your list and be sure to give it a note so you can remember why you saved it. For example, if I get a restaurant recommendation from a friend I’ll put “Aunt Ann recommended for amazing lasagna.
The best part about having a saved list is that you can always come back to it at any time while you’re walking around a city and see the closest places you’ve saved. This is handy for finding a great restaurant nearby. You’ll thank me later.
Before you get on the plane, download the app of the airline you’re flying. It’s handy for in-flight entertainment and other flight tools.
While up in the air, connect to the in-flight WiFi even if you’re not going to pay for it. Many airlines offer access to free messaging through apps like iMessage and Telegram. You typically just have to activate the service to make it work.
When it comes to money, I skip the airport exchange stations. They’re overpriced and the exchange rate is never that good.
Instead, hit up the ATM at the airport or before and just carry a bit of backup U.S. currency.
Then, when you arrive to your destination, use the nearest ATM to pull out local currency. You’ll get a much better exchange rate and pay fewer fees.
Just don’t get tricked – be sure to decline the conversion and you’ll save a bundle.
If worse comes to worse and your ATM card won’t work or you can’t find an ATM, you can always exchange your U.S. currency at an airport kiosk at the country you just landed in.
Also, be sure to set up tap to pay on your phone. Nearly every place I visited accepted this simple, secure way to pay. It’s so fast and easy.
When it comes to wireless service, Verizon and AT&T will charge you $10 a day to use your phone overseas. The advantage here is that your phone works just like it does at home. The disadvantage, at least with Verizon, is that your high-speed data is limited to half a gig a day. After that, it slows down.
With T-Mobile, unlimited plans have more data but they charge you 25 cents a minute for phone calls.
Every carrier is slightly different, but these fees can add up fast.
Instead, you can purchase an eSIM right from your phone. Newer Samsung, iPhone and Pixel models support the technology.
I used an app called Airalo to buy a local eSIM card in seconds and got 10 gigs of data for just $16. It was seamless and the data was fast. Plus, the data lasts 30 days.
The only downside is that you’ll want to turn off your primary (U.S.) SIM so you don’t trigger any roaming charges. You can do this from your phone but that means you won’t get phone calls or regular SMS texts while you’re abroad.
This wasn’t an issue for me, I was primarily interested in maximum data for social media, maps and used messaging apps like iMessage to talk to my kids and FaceTime to call them.
Speaking of data, be sure to turn off cellular uploads for any apps that might use it like Dropbox or Google Photos. I learned this lesson the hard way in China. An automatic upload in the background on Dropbox triggered hundreds of dollars in data charges.
As for a power adapter, I used a model from EPICKA. It’s top rated on Amazon and has a standard plug, along with four USB ports and a USB-C port. It costs just $23.
Finally, use Siri or Google Assistant to translate the language, money and more. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to get quick answers.
Also, if you’re going to be walking around a lot during the day I recommend activating low power mode on your smartphone to squeeze the most battery life out of it.
I would also carry an external battery pack.
If you have an Apple Watch, it’s fantastic for walking directions. Just press and hold the crown button and say something like “walk to the Pantheon” and it will show you directions and buzz when it’s time to take a left or right turn.
You might not be a local, but at least you can navigate a new city like one!