Staying connected on the road: your tips

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Travel is all about the thrill of the open road, endless possibilities, and leaving behind the day-to-day… but is that a trilling mobile phone we hear? Are you checking in on Facebook before you’ve even checked in at the hotel?

Ok, we admit it: one of the many joys of travel is sharing your adventures with the folks back home, but what are the best ways to plug in, and how do you stay secure? When we asked our Thorn Tree community about staying connected on the road, they were bursting with essential tech tips. (But when it comes to your mum leaving comments underneath your sophisticated black n’ white snaps of Paris - we’re still waiting for a solution.)

1. Switch SIMs for smaller bills

Don’t learn the hard way about the stratospheric costs of international roaming charges on mobile phones - and make sure you switch off data roaming to avoid racking up a bill as your phone strains to collect your emails on foreign networks. A four-month trip to Bulgaria, roaming all the way, led to a jaw-dropping phone bill for Thorn Tree user battybilly. ‘I got a bill each month of over GB£250,’ says battybilly. ‘A total cost - roughly - of a bit over GB£1,100.... Ouch.’

Swap your SIM card if you want to avoid bill-shock. ‘Buy a new SIM locally,’ advises battybilly. ‘They nearly always come with some loaded free instant credit - normally enough to get SMSs to your family and friends with your new (temporary) number. You won't pay to receive calls, whereas on the outside SIM - you will.’

Related article: Tips for travel with an iPad and other tablets

Travellers within the EU can breathe a sigh of relief at the cap on roaming charges, but wherever you travel: check with your phone provider, read the fine print, and keep those calls short. To switch a local SIM card into your mobile, you’ll need to ‘unlock’ your phone, so make sure you do that before hitting the road. Check with the manufacturer whether the phone is compatible with other kinds of SIM. But make sure you look into whether unlocking your phone could invalidate its warranty. Another option is to get an international SIM, particularly for a long trip.

US or Canada-based travellers should get wise to free VOIP calls through magicJack. 'It gives you a US or Canada phone number that follows you anywhere in the would there is a connection to the internet,' says CMBurns, 'Had it for years and just love it, but really only good for those from the US or Canada.'

2. Don’t roam, hunt out free wifi

Free wifi, allowing you to check your emails without roaming or even setting foot near an internet café, is getting more and more common. High-tech cities like Kuala Lumpur are swimming in free wifi spots, more airports are offering it as standard, and plenty of cafes and fast-food chains across Europe offer a serving of internet along with your coffee.

Travellers are often frustrated when their gadgets flag up a wifi spot but fail to connect. Often this is because the signal is too poor for your smartphone to obtain an IP address, and all the swearing in the world won’t fix that. Where you do manage to connect, make sure you only navigate to secure sites if pushing any personal data around. An unsecured wifi point means other people could potentially see your internet traffic.

3. Stay safe in internet cafes

Sometimes you can wave that iPhone high enough to signal down a passing aircraft, but free wifi continues to elude you. Internet cafes are a great, and often very cheap, port of call to stay in touch, but make sure you keep your passwords safe from prying eyes, and delete your history to flummox hackers.

PhiMeow says, ‘For security I always clear all cache/history etc. from the web browser. For financial transactions with my bank I use the 2 factor authentication token issued by the bank which makes keyloggers ineffective. No security breaches so far (fingers crossed).’

Foreign-language internet browsers can complicate things if you’re trying to figure out how to delete your browsing history. Ask the café owner for help if you have difficulty, and try to develop a memory for how to clear your history before you hit the road. PhiMeow adds, ‘We have Microsoft to thank for making standardised menus!’

4. Make the most of maps

A wifi connection plus Google Maps means easy navigation when you’re on the road, but if you’re offline there are tools for you too. Google Maps lose their search functionality offline, but there are plenty of apps out there to make easy work of navigating a new place, like Gaia GPS. Apple fans can try oMaps, Android users have a whole menu of apps and laptop users have Marble.

5. Shelter from the storm

Humidity, rainstorms, boat trips… these can all propel your gadgets towards a watery end. ‘Ruined a couple of phones on boats before I learned to put them away in a dry bag,’ admits Thorn Tree regular nwdiver. ‘I use roll top dry bags used by kayakers all the time when around the water and have an Arc’teryx roll top waterproof pack, it is totally water proof from rain and splashing.’

And how about this great tip for water-damaged gadgets from alwaystwirling? ‘Buy a pack of rice crackers and take out the pack of dessicant. Put the dessicant in a ziplock bag with your iPhone and it will dry it out in a day or so.’ It won’t save a device that’s had a proper dunking, but it could rescue electronics that have been in high humidity for too long. Hold on to mini-packets of Silica gel (you’ll often find them when you buy new electronics) and you’ll have a ready-made first-aid kit for moisture mishaps. Others swear that uncooked rice has the same effect.