Back To The Future: How to Make the Most of Mobile Technology as a Traveller

In Stories
Mobile technology has gone from zero to hero over the past two decades. Back in 1994 cell phones were barely portable, with their huge antennae, and postcards, with their pretty pictures and clever one-liners, were among the best ways to stay in touch while travelling. Fast forward to 2014 and postcards are simply novelties now as travellers instead turn to their smart phones, tablets and high-speed internet connections to keep in touch. But if you’re not a full time road warrior and aren’t too sure how to stay connected on your next adventure, you’re not alone. We took a closer look at the ins and outs of mobile technology to keep you up to date with the status quo.

The Internet

The internet was more of an idea than a revolution back in 1994. Phonebooks were more than just doorstops, the newspaper was actually on paper, and most people knew how to find a book in the library. Today, many travellers struggle to remember life before email and Twitter feeds. But it’s not quite as easy to jump online and update your Facebook status while you’re travelling abroad. Here are a few tips to see you through:

  • Depending on where you’re travelling, most hotels offer wireless internet, but it’s often grindingly slow and it isn’t always free. Your best bet is to hunt for a connection, and that often involves following the smell of coffee. Coffee shops and cafes typically offer free wireless, and many retailers will let you log on for free.
  • If you can’t find a freebie, you can always try a hotspot database like WeFi. This clever site lists over 100 million wireless hotspots around the world, including rural areas you might not expect. It also has apps for iPhone and Android so you won’t struggle to find a connection.
  • If you’re nowhere near a designated hotspot, try and sniff one out. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find an open network that will allow you to log on. Just be wary that open networks are not secure, so avoid doing your internet banking online.
  • If you’re out of luck, you can avoid paying through the nose for wireless by purchasing a bundle package before you jet off. Most phone providers offer wireless packages so you can jump online without receiving a nasty bill when you return home.

Travelling with a Cell Phone

Global cell phone subscriptions have exploded since the early ’90s, increasing from 12.4 million to over 6 billion in 2014. Mobile technology has also progressed so fast that modern cell phones do just about everything but clean the kitchen sink. Cell phones are also becoming increasingly travel friendly, but don’t be a sucker for hidden fees, and do your homework before heading abroad.

  • If you take one tip away from this blog post, let it be this one – avoid using your existing cell phone plan overseas (unless someone else is picking up the bill). International roaming costs a premium, as your phone provider has to pay local companies to use their networks. Fees can jump into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars before you know it.
  • The easiest way to avoid roaming charges is to ditch your standard mobile number while travelling abroad and pick up a pre-paid SIM. Switching to a local cell company can save you a small fortune. All you need is an unlocked phone, and you’re off.
  • If you can’t unlock your phone, turn off the data connection and use your phone only as a mini-tablet at wifi hotspots.
  • The beauty of smart phones is that they act as mini computers, meaning you can download apps and programs that will make travelling easier. Viber and Skype are great tools that will keep you connected and TripIt is a handy app that helps you keep track of all your travel bookings.
  • Roaming can be affordable if you plan ahead of time and set up a package with your cell provider. Also be sure to configure your device before you hit the road.


The word tablet has adopted a new meaning since ’94 – in fact, back then the word would have made people think of stone slabs that people carved words into. Today, electronic tablets cover all bases for travellers; they’re portable, sleek, and can hold your music, photos, apps and entertainment. And you don’t have to squint to see the screen easily, unlike some cell phones. Here are a few reasons why non-tablet users should convert, and a few things to know:

  • Tablets have a couple of bonuses over laptops; they’re smaller, lighter, cheaper and have more battery life. If your main use is consumption (reading books, emails and movies) tablets are a great alternative. But if you’re using them for content creation (editing video and writing) they can be a pain – best to stick with a laptop in those cases.
  • If your main focus is backing up your travel pictures, a tablet could be all you need. Both Apple and Android devices let you plug in an external SD card reader so you won’t have to carry extra devices in your travel kit. Tablets are also equipped with cameras so you can take photos on your device: but be warned that holding a tablet up to take pics does do a lot for your sex appeal.
  • For all the Facebook aficionados out there, a tablet is an ideal platform for you to update your status, upload brag-worthy travel shots and see what your pals are doing back home. But you’ve got to find a wireless connection to make it happen.
  • Travelling with a tablet can lighten your load on the road, but it can also make your trip more efficient and stress free. It’s all in the apps. There are apps for dining, weather and shopping; you name it, you can probably get it on a tablet. Language and translation apps like Google Translate are also worthwhile, and you can download a number of navigation applications like Google Earth.


The humble computer has come a long way in the past 20 years, evolving from colossal household giants to tiny laptops with keypads so small you need nimble fingers just to write a sentence. Their also more affordable than ever, making it an ideal travel companion if you want to stay connected while you’re on the road. With the slow disappearance of internet cafés in favour of wireless hotspots, a laptop is a valuable asset if you want to stay in touch. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • If you’re travelling extensively with your computer, it’s best to go with something durable and lightweight. Netbooks are a great option if you’re after something small and transportable, but they can be tough work if you’re planning to use them for a big project.
  • You want your battery to go that extra mile when you’re on the road. Shoot for 5-6 hours as the minimum, but 8+ hours is preferable if you’re moving around.
  • Don’t skimp on storage space. Pictures and movie downloads take up more memory than you think, and you’ll kick yourself if you pull up short. 128Gb is the minimum, but the more the merrier.
  • Insurance is not something you’ll regret if your computer takes a tumble or gets lost or stolen. Also, back up everything on a cloud-based service so whatever the world throws at your laptop, you won’t be pining for the pictures left behind.

Handy Add-ons for your Travel Kit

No matter how flash your computer is, no travel kit would be complete without a charger and a decent set of headphones. There are a few pieces of hardware that are so handy it’s hard to remember how travellers managed before they came along. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • Don’t waste your time looking for power devices for each piece of hardware. Grab an all-in-one plug adapter, which will only set you back about $30 and it’ll cover most destinations around the globe. Piece of cake!
  • If your phone runs out of juice, your camera needs charging or your computer is running near empty, a portable battery can come in handy. You can grab these in all shapes and sizes with iPhone ports, USB and everything in between.
  •  If you’re planning to use Skype or talk to your pals back home, a Bluetooth headset is a handy tool for any travel kit. There are dozens on the market, so you won’t struggle to find one that suits your style.
  • If you don’t want to miss any moments, be sure to carry an extra SD card on your travels. It will save you the hassle of trying to find another one if you max out your other card.
  • An E-reader is a great travel companion that will burn through waiting time in airports and lighten your load so you don’t have to cart around a bag of books. Upload all your favourite novels without having to add 2 kilos to your travel allowances.
  • A final word of advice; pay attention to the voltage of your destination country. Australia and many Euro nations are on 220 or 240 volt power, which will fry your device if you try to plug it in. Check out the voltage before you go and ensure you have the right adapter when you arrive.

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