Travelling through Europe – mobile phones, internet & photography

There are a lot of articles over the internet that give recommendations about what you should buy or what you need when travelling Europe and the world when it comes to mobile phones, laptops, tablets, cameras and other devices.

Firstly for USA readers when I refer to a mobile or mobile phone I’m referring to a cell phone.

Most of these articles are inevitably about selling a certain product but really don’t give a lot of information other than, this is really good product and you should buy this one. This is a little different, I will include a bunch of different links to different products that you can buy if you want and I would like you to, because the sales of these products are what will keep this blog going in the future, but if you don’t, you will get a lot of information that will help you make a decision even if you don’t buy from me.

Firstly, I’ve worked for the past 12 years in different Telco companies in Australia when I started Nokia 5110 ruled supreme over the world, the Finnish telco with a phone that would not break. Then Blackberry had a bit of time in the sun and now the unstoppable juggernaut that is Apple. Scientologist leadership would look at this cult and say “how do they do it”. I’ve also travelled a lot over the years, first trip a 1 year journey around the world followed by another 5 years in Europe and since I’ve been home, another 10 or so visits to Asia. I know what it is to travel long term.

Now to the nitty gritty and if there is one thing to take from this article it’s this.

THERE IS NO PRODUCT MIX THAT IS GOING TO BE RIGHT FOR EVERYONE.

So every person is going to be different in what they might need and will want to take with them when they travel. This will come down to a bunch of questions that you should ask yourself.

  1. Are you travelling alone or as a couple or are there a group of you travelling together.

If there is more than one person you’ll be able to carry more things between you, chances are you’ll want to use the internet at the same time and you’ll have multiple devices between you. It will also mean that you will be able to share the cost of calls and data.

Solution

If there are a group of you travelling together you should buy a mini modem so you can all access the internet through the mobile phone system when you don’t have access to affordable wi-fi. If you are travelling alone a USB Mobile Broadband modem will be a more cost effective option.

2. Are you going to see a large number of countries in a small time frame?

Reason for this is if you are only going to spend a small time in each country it will make it unfeasible to get a new SIM in each country that you visit. This is generally the cheapest way to be able to buy calls and data.

Solution

There are SIM cards you can buy that cover multiple countries in Europe and around the world which provide better rates than roaming with your current Telco provider.

3. How long is your trip?

If you are travelling for a short time you may find that using Skype from a free wi-fi spot backed up with global roaming from your home telco will be sufficient. In my opinion if you are travelling for more than 4 weeks global roaming will not be a cost efficient option for you. The longer you’re away the higher the likelihood that you will either find a hotel with very high wi-fi rates, you can’t find a cafe with free wi-fi or you want to access a website that requires security ie banking.

Also the longer you are travelling its more likely that you will be taking more and bigger devices with you such as a tablet or laptop.

Solution

Having you own mobile broadband provides you with flexibility, security of your valuable data and coupled with cloud facilities gives you a large storage capacity available almost anywhere you have mobile phone coverage.

4. What will you be using your devices for.

A person who is running a blog will need different devices to someone who is backpacking Europe and is carrying their life on their back. This comes down to a few different device types Mobile Phone, Tablet, Laptop, Camera, Kindle, GPS, or wearables. How much do you need, do you want to watch the football match on bigger screen or speak to you family on Skype on your mobile. These are the questions.

Solution

No solution here just a decision that needs to be made and that’s how much do you need to take Weight vs Usability.

5. What devices do I already have and what am I prepared to buy new.

It’s given that most people will have a mobile phone but if you’re in USA or Brazil, Japan or Korea will that phone work in Europe? Most phones will but you need to check that your phone will work on 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. While phones in the USA use 850MHz and 1900MHz.

So if your current mobile phone doesn’t use those frequencies then you either need to get another phone or rethink your strategy.

Then there is Apple vs Android and Windows (only added because I use Windows). If you use Apple products you will have inevitable issues if you use try to use any non-Apple device, product or App.

If you have a wi-fi tablet is it worth taking because you can only use it where there is wi-fi however by getting mobile broadband it is then usable anywhere where there is a mobile phone signal.

Solution

Do you need a mobile phone? Everything you can do on a mobile phone you can do on a tablet. And then you only need to purchase data not voice calls. In my opinion it would be harder travelling with just a mobile but not a tablet rather than travelling with a tablet and no mobile. The only reason I carry a mobile phone while travelling is that it’s a light weight camera and its easier to upload the photos to Instagram. Making calls is secondary. I can keep in touch with home on my laptop with Skype. I don’t use many apps so I don’t really need a tablet. I have one but I pretty much use it as a Kindle.

6. Are you into photography?

This question opens a pandoras box because there are so many questions after this. SLR or Compact? One lense or multiple? But your choice of camera or no camera will influence your other hardware choices. Because of this. If you take an SLR camera you’ll need a card reader and an OTG cable then upload an app to hold the pictures. Another more expensive option is to buy a tablet that accepts a USB port. If not you can use a laptop. But a lot of this will depend on what hardware you currently have and what you can carry.

Here are 3 tablets that do have a 2.0 USB port

Acer Iconia Tab A200

Toshiba Thrive

Microsoft Surface

Solution

No solutions here because there are so many questions. My mobile phone of choice is a Nokia 1020 because of one reason, a 39 megapixel camera with a Zeiss lenses. I’m happy to tolerate a Windows operating system to get those superior photos.

7. Are you going to travel through Europe in a campervan, caravan or camping with a car?

If you are going to have a vehicle you have the ability to bring devices that weigh more such as a larger camera, laptop and you will use a GPS. There will be at least 2 people more than likely so you can share the cost and mobile broadband modems can handle multiple devices connecting to them.

Solution

If you are travelling by vehicle for a longer time period I would highly recommend getting a mobile broadband wi-fi modem. It will give you broadband while you’re travelling allow you to book your next campsite make telephone calls by Skype and will make your trip more enjoyable.

So here are some summary points to conclude

  1. Do not use global roaming unless its a short trip – Skype is your friend.
  2. You can get moderately priced data only SIM cards in Europe
  3. You will not find free wi-fi everywhere in Europe mobile broadband is a great backup
  4. You will need data more than voice calls so think data first and you can make your voice calls using data.
  5. If you are a group travelling together a mini-modem is a better option than everyone buying USB mobile broadband modems.
  6. If you are heavily into photography think about how you can upload and store the photos do you need cloud access and how do you get the photos from camera to storage.
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