Travel Tech – Hardware, Banking and Mail

I’ve been on the road now for almost six months, and I apologize for not writing, but it was nice to have some time off from life and just enjoy the travels.  My classes in statistics are going well and occupying most of my days, and, while it may seem odd to most, they are very interesting and fun.

I spent many months planning my expat departure from the US, and so I will relay some of the technologies that are very useful when traveling especially when travelling for an extended period.  I will try to organize them into coherent groups, and it may take several posts because I’ve learned a lot.

Hardware

  • Google phone.  I bought a Nexus 5x.  This phone is pre-enabled in over one hundred countries, meaning that you can make phone calls and send and receive texts with it when you get off the plane (no euro sim cards required).  This is convenient.  However, some apps (e.g., NavMii) have some problems working on it for undetermined reasons; maybe Google has done what Microsoft used to do with Windows and made their hardware difficult for others to use successfully so that people stick with the Google tools (e.g., GMaps).  Even so, very useful phone for its convenience.  The HDR photos are very good looking, too.
  • Spare phone.  In this case, I brought an older iPhone 5c with me.  In Europe, local sims are cheap (e.g., $5 for a 100 minutes, 1GB data in Bulgaria).  This can allow for convenient and inexpensive walkie talkies with your traveling companion.
  • Tablets.  We brought both wifi-only iPad and Android tablets.  These are very handy around the apartment/hotel, but the most powerful tool is NavMii.  NavMii is a general purpose, open source mapping program, and it’s free (applicationa and maps) on Android though it costs for Apple.  More on that below, but don’t leave home without a tablet running NavMii.
  • Bring a multi-outlet strip.  If you have one converter, you can plug in the the US strip and then plug in your devices.  NOTE!!!: You have to make sure that your devices can handle 240V or you will burn them up.  But, if you do it this way, you can easily plug in your phone, computer, tablet, chargers, etc.

Banking

  • You have to have your security completely squared away as you’ll be logging in from weird places.  For me, this meant that I selected a no-branch electronic bank; since I’m not in the US, I don’t need a local branch anyway.  I have verbal security codes on the bank account for call-in purposes; without a code, they will not talk to you.  I have a debit card, but it draws only upon the checking account, not my savings, and keep only a marginal amount of money in the checking account.  It’s important to segregate the money in the event that the card is stolen to minimize potential damage.  Of course, I prefer to use in-the-bank ATMs rather than street ATMs where bad guys may be hanging around, so you don’t want to minimize the need for personal security.  This bank will also issue, upon request, a security dongle that generates a code to multi-factor authentication.  I wanted old-school, must-have-the-dongle security.  I razored off the markings on the dongle so that there is no bank affiliation in the event that it is lost.  Without it, no online access even if you have the username and password.  I changed my username and password, too.  This bank offers no-cost ATM withdrawals anywhere in the world, so getting cash is easy and cheap.  I use cash to avoid the scams at restaurants and other places of bad guys  swiping your credit card number.  So, I can go online, transfer money to the checking account, issue checks from the checking account, withdraw money from the checking account in a fairly secured set of methods.
  •   RFID pockets.  Apparently bad guys can now have RFID scanning tools to read your credit cards and debit cards.  There are inexpensive metallic envelopes that you can buy and put your cards in them.  This prevents them from being scanned.  They have passport-sized ones to keep your passport safe too.

Mail

  • If you are going abroad for a long time, then postal mail can be a nightmare.  The US postal service options are really awful, and they primarily involve having a post office box (costing $) which then you can pay to have them ship physical mail to your off-shore destination (costing more $).  Of course, receiving mail assumes that you know where you’ll be in advance, and it means that you’ll have to dispose of mail in a secure way in a foreign country.  This is all bad juju.  An alternative, better solution is to have your mail sent to a relative that you trust.  The relative can open it up, screen it, and decide what to do (scan, forward, etc.).  This is asking a lot from the relative.
  • My solution was to purchase commercial service from a company that offers the relative-like service.  I use Virtual Post Mail, and have found it to be superb.  Upon receipt of the mail, they will scan in the face of the envelope and send you an email that says literally “You’ve got mail.”  You can then log in and decide whether to scan it, forward it, etc.  You can easily forward to a relative if you choose to do so.  The cost for this service is less than the cost of the PO Box with international forwarding.  I now have it configured to automatically scan in every piece of mail and forward it to me as attachments, and so I now get my mail faster than I would if I received it at my home, and I’m not bothering a relative.  Also, if the mail is REALLY important, then I can have them forward the mail to a relative.  If not, I can have them shred it.  Now that it is set up with bank statements and other stuff going to that address, I will not change it even when I am stateside.  It allows for complete flexibility for business or personal travel and you always get your mail.  NOTE: I don’t receive a lot of stuff that contains sensitive information, and so I am not concerned if someone at the facility sees a 401K statement or a bill.   Of course, once I have the paper bill, I can then pay it with my online bank per above. The one service that I have not used is their mailing service; apparently you can send them a document (e.g., a tax return) which they will print and mail fo ryou

In my next post, I will talk about computers, privacy, and entertainment.

 

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