Smartphone travel journal - staying connected!
The Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland.
I've put up a couple of articles on travelling with a smartphone already so I thought I'll add this "journal" of my recent trip to Finland and how I made sure I stay connected.
To start things off I planned/decided that I would be getting a local GSM SIM card on a pre-paid "plan" and would be looking at the local data options. I also decided that since I would be travelling, I would prefer not to take or make international calls but be notified if someone calls my "home" number. This is mainly because making and taking international calls will cost you an arm and a leg!
NB: For short trips, less than a week, you could investigate the option of setting yourself up with an International Roaming option with your existing carrier. Just call them up and ask about the roaming charges.
For trips longer than a week it's probably a good to get that local GSM SIM and here are the steps I took before and during my trip of 3 weeks in Finland.
STEP1: Investigate the telecom operators/carriers that are in the country of your destination. For my case I went to wiki and got a list of the operators there.
STEP2: I went to the home pages of each of the operators from STEP1 and MANY THANKS to Google Translate, searched each site until I found the pre-paid options for each and compared them to decide on the offer that best suited my needs.
STEP3: From my search, I found out that one of the mobile carriers - Saunalahti - operates on the GSM frequencies that matches my smartphone - a Samsung Galaxy Nexus GSM unlocked. I found out from the web sight that pre-paid "packages" can be purchased from a chain of kiosks around the city and at the airport. The cost at the time for the pre-paid SIM was 6.70Euro and included 6Euro for talk minutes at 0.066Euro per minute. At the same location you can "re-fill" or add money to the SIM account so I added 20Euro to the account. You simply slip the SIM into your phone and send an SMS message to a preset number and you are activated. Once activated, you have the option to activate the data portion by texting a predefined code to a number start and choosing whether to have a 7 day data plan of 7.99Euro or a 28 day option for there abouts - check the prices before you leave home. Print out the translated pages and take them with you for reference ;-)
STEP4: If you haven't done so already, sign up for a GMail email account and at the same time sign up for a Google Voice account with your home mobile number. Having Google Voice allows you to get your voice messages transcribed and sent to you via your email account. This way you stay connected. As an aside, if before you make your trip you need to call to your country of destination to book hotels or check itinerary or something. Well, you can use Google Voice to do that just by adding some money to the Google Voice account you can use it to call anywhere in the world - it works particularly well if you are using an Android smartphone, because you can use Google Voice directly from your smartphone. Other option is to set yourself up with a Skype account and going thru the same process of adding money to the Skype account you can call to any phone anywhere. With Skype you can easily download the Skype app for either Android or iOS. So two options here to make and take calls once you get activated with data on your pre-paid SIM card. Yes, I had both on my phone.
STEP5: Almost ready to go. If your smartphone is unlocked you have a neat trick up your sleeve while traveling. You can turn your smartphone into a wifi hotspot so that if you are carrying a laptop, netbook or tablet with you on the trip you can have all of them access your personal wifi hotspot. The other option, if the data is charged by the megabyte - in the case of Saunalahti it was unlimited data use - is to find a local free hotspot or an internet cafe or at your hotel and just chill and surf the internet at that location. In Finland and virtually all hotels you can get wifi - most cases you have to be a guest to get access to it though.
So there you have it!
As soon as I landed in Helsinki I purchased a pre-paid GSM SIM card and slipped it into my smartphone. I activated it and added some extra Euros to the account and was set before even stepping outside the airport. Once I got to the hotel I activated the data for 7 days and checked that everything is working i.e. hotspot connection with my laptop etc..
I now have the local GSM mobile number for making local calls and have the data to use for Google Maps, checking email messages, web browsing and whatever else I needed to do online.
Hope this helps and if you have any questions - I'll be happy to answer them!!
PS: Don't forget to bring a multiplug adaptor for charging your smartphone and make sure your phone charger support the 240v that is running in the mains in Europe. Most are international chargers but just be safe and check the fine print.