Fireside

A Tech Guide for Travelers & Expats

I miss the Internet.  Is that weird?  Of all the things I thought I’d miss when I moved to Spain nearly two years ago, the Internet was nowhere on that list.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I moved here only to discover that the Internet is practically nonexistent here.  It’s like the early 90s.  No one shops online, people prefer phone calls over emails, and magazines see no point in having online versions, so of course they don’t know what a blog is. ARGH!  I’m of course speaking specifically about Spain, though I understand a lot of Europe follows suit, except the U.K.  What would I do without amazon.co.uk?  I shudder to think.

Travel tech_image

My point is, tech is different across the pond and there are certain survival tools a girl from California has come to depend on for her sanity.  Here’s my tech survival kit for frequent travelers and expats:

MUST-HAVE GADGETS

  • Power adapter – These little gems work for any of your electronics. Don’t plug your portable blender in here though, they aren’t meant for anything with a motor.
    Stick to your phone, laptop, tablet, etc.  I have about a dozen of these floating around my house.
  • Tablets – Smaller, lighter and more portable than a laptop, it’s a great travel companion for travel guides, games for the kids, movies, maps, etc.  I carried an iPad on my last trip to Rome and it was a lifesaver.
  • Solar powered bags – If you’re outdoorsy, or plan to do a lot of walking on your next trip, this might come in handy.  It keeps your gadgets charged too!
  • GRID-IT – This is the best gift ever for the Type A frequent traveler.  Who doesn’t need all of their gadgets, tech accessories and cables organized into one tidy place?

WEB TOOLS

  • VPN – This clever service miraculously tricks the Interwebs into thinking you’re not in a foreign country at all.  In my case, it looks like I’m logging on from New York, so I can still feed my Netflix addiction, for example, or shop at JCREW.com and Anthropologie.com.  Enough said, right?
  • Milanuncios.com – This is Spain’s answer to Craigslist.  I know I just told you that Spain has an Internet deprivation problem.  This is an anomaly, trust me.
  • Squarespace.com – When traveling or overcoming culture shock as an expat, many like to share and record their experiences through a blog.  This is my favorite platform.  It’s elegant, easy to use, and you can build websites quickly and easily too.

APPS, APPS, APPS

  • Kindle – If you don’t have a Kindle, the app is the next best thing.  I have it on my iPad and use it to download my favorite books, magazines and travel guides when wanderlust strikes.
  • iTunes Radio – Pandora doesn’t work over here and though iTunes Radio isn’t as good yet, it’s how I reconnect with good ol’ ‘merikah whenever I get homesick.  I never used to like country music, but now listening to the Taylor Swift channel in the shower makes me feel like I’m back in the States eating corn on the cob at summertime.  Spotify is pretty good too.
  • WhatsApp – This messaging app is all the rage among our friends in Europe and is catching on in the States from what I hear.  It’s a great way to keep those exorbitant mobile costs down while traveling.
  • XE Currency Converter – I’ve been here almost two years and still need to use this for converting euros to dollars and vice versa.
  • Google Translate – An invaluable tool while traveling anywhere you don’t speak the language. As a hint, stick to simple terms and phrases.  Anything more complicated doesn’t translate accurately, as the algorithm is incapable of deciphering idioms.  This little app made it possible for me to fake some Italian on my last trip to Rome.  It also helps me communicate with my little one’s daycare teachers, who speak Catalan.
  • Google Maps – This is an obvious one, but beware. The GPS avatar has an American accent and doesn’t exactly have an ear for languages.  If you want to crack up, listen to her pronunciation on your next trip to Spain.  I swear she’ll get you lost just because you can’t understand what the heck she’s saying.
  • Skype – For keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family, or the occasional international business call for free.
  • Kayak Flight Tracker – This is an important one, especially if your trip involves multiple flights and cities.  And of course, for when you suddenly become more interesting because of your new and exotic address and the visitors begin to fly in.
  • TripIt – A startup I actually used to work with and now owned by Concur, this handy tool helps you organize all of your flight itineraries, car rental and activity info, not to mention restaurant reservations and more, all in one place.  No more multiple emails and pesky printouts.  We’re saved!
  • The Weather Channel – I can’t go out or even get dressed without checking this one out first.
  • Instagram – Add some extra life to those shots on the road.  This is especially useful for someone who’s not exactly professional photography material, like me.
  • Wi-Fi Finder – Whether you’re offline or online, this app helps you find nearby hotspots anywhere in the world.  You can find it in both the Android Marketplace and iTunes App Store.

And of course, a smartphone or phablet.  But that goes without saying.  What tech can’t you live without when away from home?

Happy travels!

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