Monday, May 9, 2011

How do you do that? (Part 1)

Over the years we have had the opportunity to spend long periods of time in other countries.  Most of these trips have been 3 to 8 weeks in length, and we are currently preparing for 5 weeks in China.

Several people have asked me exactly how you go about traveling for such a long period of time.  Since we are in the process of preparing for another trip, I thought I would keep a list of the things we do and tips that I have……

Since I am a HUGE technology geek, lets start with that part of our travels….

Michael and I both travel with a computer.  His is for working (since most of these trips are work related for him).  I carry mine so that I can keep easy contact with my clients and, more importantly, my trip diary, photos, Facebook and Blogs!!!!

Since we are traveling to China this time, I have purchased and installed a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  I dont understand exactly how this all works, but when I sign onto the internet using the VPN, it acts as if my computer is located in Atlanta, GA rather than in a coffee shop in Kunming China.    This is important because China blocks Google, all related Google products (blogspot etc)  and social networking sites such as Facebook.   Also, I pay bills online thru my bank and using the VPN makes it nearly impossible for someone at the coffee shop to steal my personal information.

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We also use our computers for communication with friends and family in the US.  Our favorite feature is SKYPE.  If you have never used it, SKYPE allows you to have a face-to-face video chat for free….no matter where the two of you are located.    It will also allow you to make international phone calls to landlines for only 2.3 cents per minute.  This is the method that I use to contact our Mothers (who do not have computers ) and also to make other necessary phone calls.

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We also set our SKYPE account  to forward to our cell phone (more about that below) so that if someone called my SKYPE account and my computer was not connected, the call was forwarded to my local cell phone. 

Now SKYPE works great if you have internet in a hotel or other quiet place.  The problem comes when you are using it in a crowded internet cafe….you dont want everyone to hear all of your conversations and frankly the other occupants dont WANT to hear your conversation either!!   So, I pulled out the bluetooth headset that I bought for my cell phone, and low and behold, I found that I can sync it to my computer.   Then when I use SKYPE, all of the  incoming conversation goes thru my headset and I can speak quietly into the headset and it is easy for the listener to hear.

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NOW, about phones…….if you use your standard Cell phone in a foreign country, it will normally cost over $1.00 per minute.  We have paid as much as 1.95 per minute!!!!   For a long trip, that is just not acceptable.  So, we have learned to purchase prepaid SIM cards for the country that we are visiting and use those for our phone calls (mostly local since we use SKYPE for international).   In order to do this you need to purchase an “unlocked” phone or get your Cell Carrier to unlock your phone.  (Not all companies will do this and not all phones can be unlocked).   Once you have this unlocked phone, you can put the SIM card in and that phone will now have a local (Italian, Chinese, etc) telephone number.   Michael and I each carry a phone and use this mostly for keeping in contact with each other while we are separated in the countries.  It is also nice for our hosts to be able to reach us using a local number.  You can normally use these phones to make international calls as well, however the rates vary greatly from country to country.   When we were in England, our card allowed us to make calls to the US for 9 cents per minute!!!

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For this trip we are adding two other pieces of technology.   Michael purchased a Kindle so that he doesn’t have to carry 5+ books with him for the month.  So far he has enjoyed reading from it and we are anxious to see how it goes for this trip.

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I also have purchased a Portable Hard Drive to use in backing up my photos.  It is about the size of a small notebook and will hold LOTS of data.  As I take photos, I will download them onto my computer, download them onto Michael’s computer, back them up to the hard drive and then erase them from my camera card.  The only way that we can lose them is if BOTH computers AND the hard drive are stolen or lost….hopefully not a scenario that we have to worry about.

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I obviously carry a camera.  I know that there are tons of smaller ones around, but I LOVE my Olympus SLR!!!!

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I have three batteries for my camera and have labeled them 1, 2 and 3.  I start out with all of them charged and with battery number 1 in the camera.  When it dies, I put battery number 2 in.  When I get back to home base (hotel or apartment) I re-charge Battery number 1 and put it back into my bag.  I found that if I used them in order, I would never have trouble figuring out which one needed to be recharged, and by having three, there is always an extra one floating around for emergencies.  By the way, I bought the two extra batteries online for $8 each!!!

Finally, I carry a Flip Video Camera.  It is wonderful because it is VERY small and VERY inconspicuous when you are trying to surreptitiously video some scene!!  I also like that it plugs straight into your computer and videos are super easy to upload and edit!!

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Last, but not least you have to carry all of the cords for each of these devices.  Many of them can be charged from your computer which means that you dont have to carry a big plug with you as well.

When you travel to foreign countries, you need to carry plug adapters that are appropriate for the countries that you are visiting.  Most of the electronics shown above do not require that the voltage be adjusted (which would require a converter), but simply that the plug be modified to fit into the local sockets.  These are normally purchased in sets that have all needed adapters.  We now have several sets so that we have several plugs for whichever country we are visiting…..

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Next installment……getting around……

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