How many times have you got off a plan only to find that the wifi in the airport is not working and you can't use your data because it's too expensive? How do you look up your hotel address again? You think, I'll ask around... but what if you don't know the language? Wouldn't you wish that Google Translate was there for you in these times of need? I travel for work and play, and if there's one thing I've found to be crucial when it comes to managing both, it's a strong data connection. Believe it or not, there are affordable plans that have coverage in most countries around the world. Find out what I used on my Expedition to stay in touch with family and always in communication via e-mail.
- Universal Data Plan. With so many cell phone carriers and networks out there, it can be daunting to figure out which one works best for you and your needs while traveling. I've come across a lot of people throughout my travels who got themselves into unfortunate situations because they didn't have a reliable and universal data plan. I understand that many companies don't have coverage in every country around the world, but I managed well with one in particular that covered me in upwards of 150 countries. AT&T's Passport Plan was very effective with managing my data and calls. I traveled for business, meeting with students, and dignitaries, and it was important that I was only a phone call, text or e-mail away from getting in touch with them. Phone calls were expensive, so I kept those to a minimum, but instead used Skype off my data plan, which ended up being very affordable. Gone are the days when I lose a meeting because I couldn't communicate in time, or can't find directions to my hotel from the airport. I wish AT&T had sponsored me, because they were truly a wonderful telecommunications company to have had in my back pocket when traveling to so many countries.
- Local SIM cards. This is the route that many people go when traveling, I used to. But I always found it a hassle as well as time consuming to find stands that sold SIM cards, and sometimes it'd be difficult with the language barrier. With that said, many people find this form of staying in touch a useful one.
- SPOT Satellite GPS. As a woman, I found it important to have my SPOT on me in case my data didn't work or my phone was lost or stolen. The annoying thing about the SPOTGen3 was the fact of how often the batteries would run out. The charge never worked properly (and I went through a few of these devices), so batteries it was. I found myself carrying these batteries everywhere in case I couldn't find AAA in the airport of Ouagadougou Airport (Burkina Faso, for those who might not visit that often). The good thing was, that it did work in remote areas where AT&T might not have data. There's also an "SOS" button. I never tried it, but it was comforting to know that it was there when I needed it. My parents were able to closely monitor my exact location most of the time on the Expedition thanks to SPOT. Surprisingly though, and not good, was that most of Central, Eastern, Western and Northern Africa and some of the more remote islands in the Pacific and Indian Ocean (such as Maldives), was in a "grey" zone, and unable to be picked up by the SPOT satellite. It did, however, work in Afghanistan, should you pay them a visit.
- Smart Phone Location Tracker. For those of you who travel with an iPhone (sorry Android/Samsung users, I haven't yet tested this feature), it's a great option to be able to "Turn On Location Tracking". Through this feature, my parents were also able to keep track of my whereabouts. Dad would e-mail me many mornings saying something like, "Glad to see you've made it to Mogadishu safely!". Of course, you will need data for this feature to work (I believe), in this case, refer to my tip #1 above. This feature is also handy if you lose your phone or it gets stolen.
- WhatsApp. So many people around the world use this app; from locals in the Bolivian Amazon to dignitaries and politicians around the world. I personally do not like the app. I could have been using it improperly, but I would get random messages from people I did not know, despite shifting my privacy settings. Either way, it's the major mode of texting communication around the world. And if you don't have that app installed on your smart phone, you're missing out!