When traveling with your tech to a place where Internet is slow, very expensive or not available, there are precautions you should take to minimize frustration and expense. No matter if you are going on a cruise or travelling to a foreign country or just off the beaten path, if you are planning to take your tablet, smartphone, laptop or other tech, read this first.
I will be writing more on these topics in future articles. One upcoming story includes tips on avoiding exorbitant cell phone bills when traveling to foreign countries.
While many of these tips for mobile devices refer to Apple products and services, most of the tips also apply to Android, and other systems. Advice for laptops is equally applicable to PCs and Macs.
These tips were tested on an actual two week cruise using a Macbook Air, Windows Laptop, iPad mini, two iPhones, Android tablet and other devices. Additional information was gathered working with passengers on the ship.
There are actually 21 tips, but while this first one may not save you money, it will save you frustration and could just possibly save your life:
If you are purchasing an iPad (or iPad Mini) for traveling, get the one with cellular. Even if you don’t ever use the SIM card, the cellular model also includes full GPS. This is invaluable when traveling. Full GPS does not use data, but it will allow the iPad to operate as a very accurate map anywhere in the world (when combined with an offline map app). Some Android tablets (such as higher Samsung models) do contain actual GPS chips but it is hard to tell which ones do because of often confusing and misleading specs.
Download offline files, maps, trip info, location guides, newsreaders, and magazine apps. Be sure to download the apps, any data or files you need and any magazines or e-books before you leave. For more tips on offline, and information about individual apps, watch for the upcoming post: The Desk Potato Off-line Travel App Guide.
Avoid “free” or “lite” versions of apps. Their functionality in the absence of Internet access can be unpredictable when they can’t talk to their ad network. Once you get on a cruise or in a country where your international SIM doesn’t work, $1 or $2 for an app is a steal if it saves you just 2 minutes of needing to be online.
Disable iCloud and especially Photo Stream. Warning: iOS will delete all data from your device if you simply turn off iCloud features. If you turn off Photo Stream, for example, all pictures in your Photo Stream will be deleted.
Tip: To temporarily disable iCloud without deleting your data, simply change the iCloud password to a wrong one. This will prevent iCloud from connecting and syncing. When you return home (or to a place with abundant high-speed internet), you can simply re-enter the correct password and synchronization will continue.
Turn off all other cloud sync services, such as iTunes Match (use the same tip as iCloud, changing the password to prevent syncing).
Do not add new files into Dropbox on your laptop when you are traveling. If you update the files, it could lock out your internet access for a long time while the update is taking place.
You can (and should) temporarily pause Dropbox synchronization in the settings, as well as other file services such as Box, Onedrive, etc. Check that automatic photo uploading is disabled. This is especially important on laptop computers where the default function is to keep files in sync in the background.
Change your browser home page to blank. This can be done by setting your browser start page to “about:blank” or on some browsers there is an option to start with a “blank page”, depending on the browser and version. This will prevent the browser from loading the home page or search page every time you open it. Use the address bar search of your browser instead of the search page.
If your cruise ship requires a log-off to stop billing you, create a shortcut to the log-off link (and the log-in link) in the favorites bar of the browser for quick access.
Do email offline, using your device. Log-in to the internet, quickly refresh your email (i.e. Send/Receive All), then disconnect. Now you can read, reply, and compose new email at your leisure. Just send it as normal and it will sit in your outbox until you reconnect. Using webmail will cost you a fortune on the ship because you are paying for all of the time you spend reading and typing.
Do not include pictures in emails. Pictures will take a very long time to send. If you can’t resist, send them at the smallest possible size. You can send out larger pictures or share them online when you get home. An email with 3 medium (1024×768) pictures attached will cost you anywhere from $5 to $20 in Internet time to send at shipboard speed.
If practical, use your cell phone (connected to Wi-Fi) for Internet searches. Your cell phone will use the mobile version of search, which uses a lot less data and is therefore faster. When using your laptop, use Google for search and not Bing or a portal, such as Yahoo. At the internet speed of a cruise ship, downloading the background picture on Bing or the clutter of a portal page will cost you dearly.
Don’t stay online when printing documents. If your ship provides a printer for you to use (from their computers) then once you have the page ready to print, log-off from the internet before printing. There is no need to stay connected to the internet and spend another $3 while waiting for your printout.
Update apps before you leave. Never do app updates when traveling unless you are at a place with really good internet (and you are feeling lucky). In many airports, Internet cafes, cruise ships, airplanes, and international hot-spots, app downloads are blocked or will fail. If an update fails you may be locked out of that app for the duration of your trip.
AVOID INSTALLING APP UPDATES WHEN TRAVELING. Once an app update starts, the app will be unavailable until the update completes. If your internet connection is slow or unreliable the app could be disabled for a very long time.
Photograph the daily schedule so you have it in your phone and tablet (it might just help you in the scavenger hunt contest too). Your photo library on your device is always available and handy.
Use a wireless repeater (sometimes called a travel router), such as the D-link DIR-505, to connect all your devices to the ship’s Internet at once. When you have all of the devices connected to the router, log-in from any device and they will all have internet, with only ONE per-minute charge for all of them.
Once connected, click send/receive on all devices and pending emails will be sent.
Log-off from any of the devices once the last one is finished.
Pack extension cords, and extra power adapters. Consider a battery pack and solar charger in case of long-term power failure. Most small solar chargers do not have enough output current to charge a tablet or even a larger cell phone. You can use the solar charger to charge a high capacity rechargeable battery pack if it can’t power your tablet directly.
Bring extra cables and cable adapters. Universal cables and USB extension cords can save space and weight. Cables break and get lost. You can’t pop out to the local tech store when you are in the middle of the ocean.
Bring a memory stick or two and back-up your pictures and files as you go. Download pictures to your laptop and back them up to the memory stick then hide the stick. If your camera, phone, tablet, or laptop gets stolen you don’t want to loose your vacation memories too.
If you use apps for taking pictures which do not save to the camera roll, backup your phone using iTunes with a wired connection or using your travel router. iCloud backup will not work while you are traveling and all of your trip pictures could be lost if you drop your phone in the pool.
REMEMBER SCHRÖDINGER’S LAW OF DATA: Data that exists in only one place doesn’t exist. Data recovery, if possible, can cost more than taking the cruise again.
If you don’t have a laptop with you, transfer photos to another device. AppleCare+ might cover water damage, but your vacation pictures will be gone forever.
Bring a camera adapter with you and import at least the most important pictures into your iPad from your camera or iPhone (or any device that acts as a camera). NEVER LET IT DELETE THE PICTURES FROM THE CAMERA – THAT IS YOUR BACKUP.
Test apps offline before you leave, by turning off cellular data and Wi-Fi — not airplane-mode (which turns off other things like GPS). That way you will find out if there are files you still need to download, or if the app will be useless when traveling.
Save all important documents in synced cloud storage like Dropbox. This will give you offline access to your files when using your laptop. Beware: on tablets and phones, files are not saved by default. If you “star” a file in the mobile app it will make a local copy of the file, but it is still problematic in the absence of a connection.
There are a number of similar apps for Android, but I have yet to find one that stands out. File storage on an Android tablet works more like a computer.
Beware of using ISP (Internet Service Provider) email on public hotspots in foreign countries. Many will expose your user name and password to others. Stick with providers that provide secure email services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Zoho, or another provider which supports EAS (Exchange Activesync) or secure IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) connections.
Never use a POP (Post Office Protocol) email when traveling. IF YOUR EMAIL IS SET-UP USING POP ON YOUR PHONE OR LAPTOP IT IS SET-UP WRONG. If your ISP only provides POP access then DO NOT USE YOUR ISP EMAIL (that’s good advice at all times). It is a one-way ticket to identity theft. Watch for an upcoming post on this subject.
IMAP should have a more secure login, but you should never trust a provider that does not provide SSL or TLS security. Some ISP’s bypass IMAP’s login security, leaving you completely vulnerable.
Subscribe to magazines with free trials one month before your trip. You can cancel any time (including right away) and your subscription will continue for the full month (or trial period). Download all of the issues before you leave home. Make sure that you cancel any unwanted subscriptions before you leave home.
Note: you can only do the trial once, but the same trick works with subscriptions. Subscribe on a monthly basis and cancel immediately and your subscription will run for the full month. This is often less expensive than buying individual issues.
*Edit: Off-line files section edited due to the removal of one recommended app from the App Store.*