Travel Tools, Accessories & Games
Cell Phones & Service
I would recommend having a decent smartphone, like an Apple iPhone, or Samsung Galaxy. This will give you access to apps like Priceline and Google Maps, while you travel and they also have nice built in cameras. You’re going to want to take a ton of pictures. Whether you’re writing a blog, posting your travels to social media or just want the pictures for yourself, a smartphone is a tremendous way to accomplish a lot, with a small tool.
Depending on where you are traveling, make sure to check your phones coverage. You’ll need an international plan if you are planning to leave the U.S. and the current go to provider is T-Mobile. Though this changes almost monthly, so do your homework. It may be smarter to bring an unlocked phone with you and buy a local SIM card for the country you are in. GSM type phones and unlocked phones, is the technology used at a greater frequency outside of the U.S.
A quick word on purchasing a smartphone. If you actually do the math, it is much cheaper to buy the phone outright, rather than rolling it into your monthly bill. You will probably pay at least double, if not triple what the phone cost over the course of the locked in 2 year contract. I know that it is a larger upfront investment, but financially it is a good hack.
And don’t forget good old Skype. It runs on the internet and is free to call from Skype user to Skype user. We use it a lot to meet with homeowners virtually during the house-sit selection process. More on that to follow. Remember even though you may have an international plan, the person you may need to call, may not and Skype is a solid solution.
A must use tool, is Google Maps, a free app that can be used on all smartphones. Google Maps turns your phone into a GPS and will give you multiple routes to choose from. The best part is, it will alert you to traffic issues and even suggest alternative routes to get around the trouble. Unless you have an affinity to using old school methods, like road atlases, then Google Maps is a must.
Another great GPS for your smartphone is Waze. We’ve been using Waze more and more. Mostly because Waze will warn you of police activity, speed traps and cameras on stop lights. Its one short fall, for us, is you can’t put in a destination greater than 900 miles from your current location and we have completed some very long road trips. Waze knows about this and are working to correct the problem. Also, if you are traveling international, you may incur data roaming charges for using the app outside of the U.S.; however you can pre-load your trip on a Wi-Fi connection before setting out on your adventure. Keep in mind though, that you will not receive real time updates, including optimized routes and police activity.
If you have no internet, then this is the GPS app for you. It’s called Here and it works in over 100 countries. You can find nearby dining options, hotels and turn by turn voice guided directions with no data charges. Not a bad solution and one I will be trying out on my next adventure.
Another great app, unrelated to road trips, is TripIt, which takes all of your travel itineraries and organizes it in one view by trip. For instance it will take your air travel, hotel reservations and rental car info for your trip, which you forward your confirmation emails to their server and displays it in a usable way, based on time.
The most used app on our travel team at the moment, is Duolingo! Want to learn a new language fast? Then this is your solution. It’s available on Android and IPhone and get this, it’s free! We have been working on Spanish for about a month now with tremendous success. Just 10 minutes per day and it feels like you are playing a game. You will learn to write, read and speak 20+ languages and look for other learning courses with Duolingo soon.
Wi-Fi selection is going to come down to how often you need to use it and where do you need to use it? You may even want to look at apps like, Wi-Fi Finder, which will show you open Wi-Fi connection in your vicinity and best of all, it’s free. But let’s explore a few current options. Remember that Wi-Fi providers and their solutions change very rapidly, so like cell phone providers, do your homework.
A great solution for folks who don’t need constant internet connection is Skyroam. It works by daily rental. You purchase unlimited internet connection for $9.95 per 24 hours. You can either rent the hotspot from them or you may purchase one from them.
One provider you may want to stay clear of is Xcom Global. They work in much the same way as Skyroam, but tack on additional fees like, $30 shipping and handling on the hotspot, a $30 surcharge for each additional country beyond 2 plus a $50 cancellation fee when you’re done with your service.
Your best bet, much like cell phone coverage, is to buy an unlocked hotspot and buy a local SIM card for it. See the trend here?
A note on Wi-Fi service. It’s getting better. I was actually surprised at the coverage across the U.S., even in some very remote areas, but there is not 100% coverage and in some spots, you may get service, but it could be very slow. Something to keep in mind when the internet is part of your job. I spent a month in the Northern California town of Happy Camp, relying on my Wi-Fi to do my computer consulting gig. I was able to make it work, but it was very frustrating to say the least. Experiment with the placement of the Wi-Fi itself. I found that placing the unit in the kitchen window seemed to get the best signal. Keep this in mind when putting down roots for an extending amount of time.
When you travel with electronics, you need a ton of cables. It’s hard to use Google Maps with a dead phone, Make sure you have a charger. We used standard wall plug chargers in our hotel rooms, and USB/Cigarette lighter chargers for the car. Ours has two USB plugs that connect to a plastic charger which you plug into the cigarette lighter. We also used a 6’ auxiliary cord with a 1/8” plug to connect our phone to the cars audio system to listen to music, podcast and Google Maps.
Depending on where you plan to travel, you may need a travel adapter kit. Many countries power girds run on different voltage than the U.S. grid and the plug end vary greatly from country to country. Some adapters are even sold as an all in one unit, charging multiple devises at once with multiple plug adapters to cover most countries you find yourself exploring. They have built in surge protection and most charge via USB cables.
Sometimes clean cloths can be few and far between, making your vehicle, let’s say, not so fresh. The biggest culprit? Dirty underwear, who wants stinky underwear? That’s right, no one! That’s where antimicrobial underwear come to the rescue. There are a bunch of companies making these underwear these days, just do a quick Google search. These garments are made out of special material and a coating that is breathable, quick drying and odor reducing. They come in a bunch of different styles for men and women, boxers, briefs, thongs and full cut, to point out a few. Believe me, you’ll be comfortable and your family will thank you.
Traveling with kids? Then you’ll need some distractions! We allow our kids to bring tablets with them and we download shows, movies and educational apps on Wi-Fi at out hotel and many of the apps work offline. One non electronic game we have been playing in the Honda is, Travel Scavenger Hunt. Each player selects 7 cards and the first person to find all of their objects on their cards, wins the game. “I see a Post Office” or “a fire hydrant.” It makes the time fly by and occupies the little ones, and the not so little ones for a little while anyway.
Here’s the link to the corresponding podcast: Episode 4 – Travel Tools, Accessories & Games
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