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Help a non-techie on what to bring along?

Okay, this is sort of embarrassing but I have no cell phone or laptop, etc. If I am planning an extended trip to Europe and Asia, what would be the best technology (phone, etc.) to bring along to look up hotels as I go and perhaps get local guidebook info for the area I'm in? I'm not so interested in pictures or a phone. Thank you. I know nothing about this stuff. :(

Posted by
8889 posts

Jill, I've just looked you up, you have made 109 posts. You have done some serious research.
I am old enough to remember have travelled with nothing more than the guidebook and map I purchased before I left. Technology is not essential. Get a good guidebook (and phrasebook) before you leave. If you don't want to reserve hotels in advance, print out hotel lists before you leave home. And if you don't want to decide on dates and places before you leave home, the best resource is local Tourist Offices. Every tourist town has one, and if you turn up on their doorstep reasonably early they will be happy to book you a room.
Tourist Office websites are also good sources of info before you leave. Every tourist town has one, and they all have a hotel list and a booking service.

Finally, HAVE FUN.

Posted by
2229 posts

No need to be embarrassed! I kind of envy you, there are certainly times when I wish I did not have a cell phone, and I agree with Chris that the 'old fashioned' ways are still available and have worked fine for a long time.

Having said that, to look at the question completely, I have to say that an iPhone, with all of its capabilities, offers a whole bunch in a small package: phone, maps online and offline, email, gps, great camera and video, a compass, flashlight, music, passbook, voice recorder, alarm clock, audio books, banking...well of course you get the idea.

As a possible compromise, a small reader-I have the cheapest Kindle-will allow you to have several guide books along, maps (take a look at Maps With Me offline maps), internet, email and other useful stuff. With a basic Kindle you need wi-fi, and with a phone you will want it as much as possible to avoid data charges.

Good luck and have a great trip.

Posted by
4689 posts

A smart phone is still the most practical way to do what you want, even if you rarely use it for calls or pictures. But there are times you might be glad to have a phone - even one you can use on WiFi, without having actual cell phone service. Being able to make a call in an emergency to connect with a hotel when you're arriving five hours later or something is super handy - you can buy a local SIM card in the countries you are visiting to make occasional local phone calls for some things.

And phone cameras are enormously helpful for taking pictures of boarding passes, train schedules posted on walls, etc. even if you aren't taking "vacation pictures."

A tablet is easier to use to look things up and can be used like a phone, but of course it's harder to use that way.

I always travel with a small laptop, but that doesn't work for everyone. I'm a touch typist and don't like trying to find information with a phone or tablet, but most people seem to do just fine with them.

Posted by
4214 posts

I'm just a little ahead of you on the techie front, and I agree with Chris that you can do fine without any devices, just maps and guidebooks. That said, I've found a mini-tablet (without phone) worth bringing along now that we're in the 21st century. Mine is a Samsung Galaxy with 8" screen, lets me do e-mail and internet with wi-fi. And the occasional picture to send people (I also have a small digital camera but don't know how to send pix from it). I have a Kindle app with some guidebooks and other reading, and apps for airlines, home newspapers, Trip Advisor, Rick Steves podcasts, weather, currency conversion, and assorted others. It's very light and compact. The iPad, Fire, and others like it would do equally well, I'm sure.

All that said, I wouldn't get such a device just before a trip if I hadn't been using it for awhile to get familiar with it. You don't want to be learning it while you're traveling. If you don't think you'd use it at home, don't get one just for travel.

Posted by
5013 posts

Jill I agree with Dick - I couldn't justify buying a phone just for looking up restaurants. Even with my iPhone, I prefer asking locals or hotel staff for recommendations, or just go by instinct. Paper copies of guidebooks work fine, but really you can find tons of free info you can pick up at just about any destination. Learning to use the phone (if you don't already have one) is one thing - figuring out the plans, SIMs, etc., is another. I take my phone only for emergency calls and occasionally text message, and sometimes don't turn it on the whole trip.

Posted by
37 posts

My suggestion is dont take any device that you haven't used at home extensively. A ebook reader such as a kindle that can be connected to wifi might be your best option as you can preload guidebooks and if its wifi compatible you could download others on your trip. However technology is very fussy, Devices have to be charged regularly and they have all kinds of features that are not easy to use without lots of practice in a relaxed environment. I have found cell phones helpful but stressful when travelling. Personally if i was you i would rely on advance research and planning, hotel guest computers, paper guidebooks, pens and paper, and the helpfulness of locals and fellow travellers for advice and recommendations.

Posted by
3 posts

I think ideal is a locally procured phone and a wifi tablet. Toting reading material is so much easier on my smartphone's Kindle app. I still prefer to have hardcopy of Rick's guidebooks, even when I have the e-book version. It's easier to discuss with traveling companions. My husband usually totes smartphone, tablet and notebook computer. He left the notebook home for a 4 week trip August 2014 and only missed the weight. As in the US it depends on how available & quality wifi or cel coverage is in your destination. (Ireland 2013: good connectivity in city, less so between.) Don't assume i-whatever is the only option. We are an Android household (2 adults and 2 teens) and have never been wanting for applications or connectivity. We each took our smartphone with us but only put a SIM in 1 of them. Husband and older daughter brought tablets. Email is easier than on phone. All devices were used with wifi or to access previously downloaded content for personal entertainment (audio or Kindle app) or to read e-guide books, websites for attractions as we planned on the fly. After this second attempt to put a SIM in a Verizon "global ready" Motorola phone, we'll purchase a phone in Europe next time. The phone is convenient when we want to contact friends but we usually use wifi and the web for train tickets, attraction bookings, hotels.

Posted by
2081 posts

Jill,

dont feel bad, i got my first cell phone a couple years ago. I got my phablet late last year.

Just so you know, pictures, phones and the internet are connected on many e devices So, just because you may not be "interested" in pictures or a phone, you're sort of out of luck if you only want something to make reservations.

So, figure out what you want out of your toy.

Also you may as well accept the fact you WILL use the phone and possible the camera on whatever device you buy.

Think about:

  • the size (screen size) of the device you want to use, carry around with you and pack in your luggage.

  • is the size of that screen large enough for you to read those travel book?

  • will you be using it as a map/gps? can you see the info on the map? Will you get a paper map once you're overthere or use your e toy? Or both?

  • battery life. Many e device review sites will have some ratings for the run time of the battery. Do you want a battery that only lasts 4 hours? you won't be able to make it through a day without charging or swapping it out. Can you do with one that will run for 8 hours?

  • Connectivity. Some devices can use the www or wifi. Some just use wi-fi. yes you can find wi-fi "everywhere" but the issue is getting access. Some places you will need a password and some places you won't have access. WWW is the same issue. Sometimes you just cant get a signal. But i think you are better off with both. Its better to have a choice than not, but you may not feel that way.

  • do you want a "laptop" or a "notebook" or a "tablet" or "phone" or a "phablet (phone/tablet)".

what i would do is to have an idea on what you want and head out and go to your local e stores and see what they can offer in terms of your requirements. Pick them up, handle them, work them, ask to see how they work and spend some time playing with them and see what you think. Try the "android" platforms and the "apple" platforms. There are others too, but you will probably come across them, so take a look.

I'm sure you have friends that have e devices. With your needs in mind, ask them to see how theirs work. Ask them what they like or dont and ask them what they would buy if they could do it over again. Ask them to look up or google for hotels and see how it works and what you think of the process. Look at some hotel web sites and see what happens. You can use "booking.com" and choose a city you plan on traveling to and see what comes up. Try to use it just like you would overthere and see what you like. If you want to use it as a reader for guide books, see if they have any to read and try out.

one comment. Once you get your new toy, spend ALOT of time using/playing with it here and now, not after you're over there. Support both by friends and 1-800# is less expensive.

  • figure out how to turn if off/on.

  • how to activate "airplane" mode if it has it.

  • know where your phone number is located.

  • how to turn off things that eats up battery life and what you won't use.

  • how to turn off the phone ringer.

happy trails.

Posted by
20628 posts

What are you currently using since you have made 109 postings? We still manage to travel very well with min to no tech support. Guide books, maps, and local TI has been or mainstay for the past 20 years. On our last two trips and in the future we are taking an ipad for the internet since wifi is everywhere and free. That is all that we feel that we need.

Posted by
2092 posts

As others have posted, a smart phone would be a great thing to have along on any trip. That's all I bring and it keeps me as connected as I want to be and allows me to look up things I need to know as I travel.

Posted by
16769 posts

I agree that the old-fashioned methods work great and paper guidebooks still work better than e-guidebooks for many features. Guidebooks start out heavy, but you toss those you're done with as you go, and in some cases can buy more en-route. If your trip is really extended, like 6 months or more, then maybe you would invest in a small, light, tablet device and maybe you'd use it to carry leisure reading material, as well as travel tools. See also these tips for phone calls without your own cell phone: http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/phones-tech/sans-mobile.

Posted by
113 posts

Thank you all so much! So interesting to read and some great advice and information. I've been talking for several years about quitting my job and traveling. Gathering info keeps me sane in an insane and stressful job. SOMEDAY SOON I am going to pull the trigger and GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by
2081 posts

Jill,

"Thank you all so much! So interesting to read and some great advice and information. I've been talking for several years about quitting my job and traveling. Gathering info keeps me sane in an insane and stressful job. SOMEDAY SOON I am going to pull the trigger and GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

If your job is portable or something that can be picked up at a later date or someplace else, dont wait too long to travel.

On my first job i would get calls 24/7/365 and i was working 60~70+ hour work weeks. Since i was salaried, working those long weeks, my salary dropped a lot. As they say...all work and no play.

Im now a grunt making as much $$ as before. But no calls 24/7/365 and i can leave my work at work. Someone follows me to pickup where i left off and i do the same for the person before me. Even thought i dont care for my boss, he's full aware of it and steers clear of me and my shift.

Your job is not worth your life or shortening it. I know that you dont want to leave a job for the uncertain future, but you can look for something better. Even if you have to take a slight cut, it maybe worth more (sanity wise) than to spend every day in someplace you dont like.

i can fully understand you working on travel and such to keep your sanity. I only take my vacation time off only for my travels. Unless the company is shutting down for xmas or something else, i will work all the time until my vacation so thats what i work/live for.

happy trails.

Posted by
1761 posts

Get yourself an iPad and learn to use it at home before you go. What do you use to post on here and who maintains it? That person would be a good source of information on what to get since they will probably be helping you learn it. They'll probably tell you to get an iPad. They are the easiest for non-tech types to use.

Posted by
1878 posts

I have an iPad and used to say that it's too fragile to travel with, but after trying it, it actually works quite well. That said, an Android tablet would be a much cheaper bet. If you don't already have a smartphone, an iPod Touch might be a good and much cheaper option. A smartphone is a much bigger commitment and if you don't otherwise need or want one, no way should you go that route for travel purposes. International roaming charges cost a fortune and I have never felt the need to explore buying a local SIM. I like being connected, but not obsessively so. Wi-Fi connectivity, which is widely available, is plenty for me. If anything traveling helps me to get away from the always on Silicon Valley world. I do like having a tablet sized screen. Smartphone or Ipod Touch size is pretty small. Some people who are expert users can do what they need to do with that size, but for me it's too tiny. I have reservations about Android and much prefer iOS/Apple, but for your purpose and Android tablet would be the way to go. I always travel with physical guidebooks because you want to be able to flip between pages quickly. That's harder and slower with an electronic format, and electronic may also have formatting issues. Also I agree with folks who say don't plan to learn a new device on your trip.

Posted by
30968 posts

Jill,

To begin with, could you provide a bit more information on what you have in mind for "an extended trip to Europe and Asia", such as which countries you plan on visiting and the time frame?

Also, what did you have in mind for gadgets to pack along? A Laptop or Tablet to contact hotels and use for E-mail or Blogging, a phone for "emergency use" or to keep in touch with family at home via text messages or calls? As you've already posted here a number of times, I'm assuming you're somewhat familiar with technology and therefore have no difficulties in using it.

With more specific information, it will be easier to offer more specific suggestions.

Posted by
13962 posts

It occurs to me that if you are planning on one long trip to multiple countries, you will not want to carry printed guide books with you, since you'd need so many.

I don't have any suggestions, just some advice. Be sure that whatever you get will be easily visible in broad daylight. I have an iPod Touch, mainly for music and audio books, but is very versatile. I took it with me to Sicily and tried to use it instead of printed material - downloaded a few walking tours with maps and a few pages from a guidebook. In daylight it was extremely hard to see the screen, even on the highest brightness setting.

Posted by
3809 posts

My first trip overseas I just used guidebooks and paper maps (2008). The second, I had bought a netbook, which came in handy for keeping in touch, but was wayyy too heavy to carry day after day (2010). Trip #3 (2012) I had an ipod touch and still with the netbook...the ipod was great for listening to music on planes/trains, emailing and some other stuff, but reading maps on it was fairly useless - screen too small.

Finally in 2013 I got an iPad mini and it has gone with me to California and back over to Europe. Invaluable! The netbook has been collecting dust now since 2013. The mini is a great size - good for reading books (and guidebooks - my RS Rome guidebook was an ebook) and magazines, playing games, watching movies, staying in touch with email and facebook, great for journaling and also reading maps (I love CityMaps2Go - I can download ahead of time and put stars on things I want to see...letting me see the areas where I will go for the day and not miss out on anything...and it is a great locator as well - once you get to a city, you have to connect up thru wifi once, then it keeps track of where you are - until you leave the city, obviously - really handy in Rome and Venice!) It is also a good size - small and light enough to go into our day bag. Hubby also got an iPad air, which comes with us as well, tho not out and about every day.

I would think an android tablet would work just as well, or one of the 'phablets' - but a bigger screen - like 6 inches + is probably better for map and book reading. I stuck with the iPads because I had the iPod and wanted to keep everything in the same family. I DO NOT own a smartphone tho - only one of those older flip phones that barely gets used. If I ever did break down and get a smartphone, I'd prob go with the bigger phablet type, as I would be using it more as a tablet than a phone.

Posted by
396 posts

To JLL: You are not alone; don't be embarrassed. I acquired my first cell phone for a trio 2 1/2 years ago that was entirely within the UK. I bought the SIM card in Cambridge and the helpful guy in the shop picked a carrier that was good for that area. But where my sister lives in Wales proved to be a black hole for reception. When I came back I put the phone in a drawer as I have no wish to use it locally. Now I have a complicated trip coming up, and feel I should have something for use in an emergency, to contact a hotel or a tour group leader if I were running late, for example. So I shall probably get the multi-country SIM card from GoSIM before I leave. But your situation would be different as you would need internet access rather than phone calls, so this post is just to offer you solidarity - and refer you back to the more helpful posts above.

Posted by
1406 posts

You will need a cellphone at the least, and some type of tablet/laptop. Get them here, get very comfortable with them, and then fly away!

Posted by
8889 posts

"You will need a cellphone at the least, and some type of tablet/laptop" - Blst. You don't need any technology if you don't want it. It will just give you grief trying to keep it charged up. Leave it at home and get a good guidebook.

Posted by
1406 posts

You know, tech is rarely inherently only good or evil. It's a tool to use to your benefit. Like having a drivers license. It's all how you use it, and it can be very helpful in life. I notice that you're not sending your messages to Rick Steves via carrier pigeon.

Posted by
3263 posts

We got our Android (Moto X) smartphones last spring. Previously we used our old global ready flip-phones in Europe. I have found having a phone essential for our trips. I did travel, and live, in Europe in the late 70's and early 80's. Communication was difficult. I wouldn't go back to those times on a bet.

From 2009 through 2011, when my husband and I started traveling in Europe together, we had the old phones, a small digital camera, lots of printouts, a couple of guidebooks for travel and some other books for entertainment along the way. Too much weight!

In 2012 and 2013 we still had the old phones but by then had added an iPad (husband) and a Kindle (me). All of the entertainment books were on the devices as was most of the travel info. I found the digital travel books very cumbersome to use. We both found using Wi-Fi was great for doing travel research along the way and using email for making/changing/adjusting reservations and otherwise communicating with our lodgings as well as for contacting folks back home

This year, my husband still took his iPad along with the smartphone. I took only my smartphone. No Kindle. No camera. But I did take some travel reading in hard copy: printed off, pulled out and a whole book from which I removed and tossed sections when I was done with them. From a weight and bulk standpoint, this was the best option for me. I was able to do everything with that phone, including downloading entertainment books through the Kindle app and reading them on the phone, just like I do at home.

We do set up with Verizon to be able to use both phones in Europe at a discount. We do not do any data roaming. It is just too expensive. We only use Wi-Fi and we have had very few issues using it in public locations or in most of the places we stay. My husband hasn't adapted to the smartphone as well as he could, but he was resistant to the iPad at first, too. Now he has it sewn to his hip and rarely uses his desk computer.

One of the smartphone advantages for me while traveling was the ability to find things close to our hotel. It probably freaks some people out, but I love having the thing locate me and show me how to get to wherever I'm going. I can save those directions and follow them if needed, but mostly I just look at them and figure out how to walk to where we want to go before we leave the room.

So I think you can get by quite nicely with only a smartphone for everything. You need to be sure that it will work in the places you are going and that you set up discount rates with your provider. Many people do the SIM card switching thing, but it sounds way too complicated to me. I much prefer having a global ready phone that will work anywhere I want to go. Yes, it is more expensive, but it is so much simpler that it is worth it for me. And I think it's fun to get a message from the new provider welcoming us to the new country when we cross a border. Silly, I know.

Although you say you don't plan to take pictures, others have mentioned reasons that you might want to be able to do that. Even my husband has used his phone to do that. I took over 1000 on our last trip (Istanbul and Greece). They are not the quality of a good digital camera, but they are good enough for my purposes.

Also as others have said, you will get stuff on your phone that you may not want. We just ignore it. For example, I have yet to set mine up with voice recognition. I also agree that you should get your phone at least 6 months before you plan to leave and learn all you can about using it at home before you go.