I’m sure many of you do a lot of travel for work and like me, you likely have your own “routine” as to what you take along during your travels. Laptop, phone, headset, cables, and chargers usually fill my backpack, allowing for communications virtually anywhere. Over the holiday break, my family celebrated my wife and my 30th anniversary with a two-week trip to the Galapagos Islands, a remote collection of rocky islands off the coast of Ecuador made famous by Darwin and his scientific observations on evolution. The remoteness of this type of travel brings a whole new challenge to communicating with family, friends, and work.
A few observations and suggestions:
Setting Expectations – Before you leave, let loved ones know where you plan to share your updates. Facebook, Instagram, Blog, email? Should family members expect a phone call? If so, warn them that the caller-id will likely be unusual.
Your Phone is Your Camera – Even though I brought two good cameras, it turns out that most of the snapshots I took were with my phone. Why? It was easier. Easier to carry, easier to shoot the picture, and easier to upload. My SLR requires a cable transfer to a computer and My GoPro can transfer pictures over WiFi, but both are painfully slow. Be sure to clear out some storage on your phone and set up a cloud drive upload. Leaving your phone connected to the hotel WiFi overnight is a great way to upload pictures to Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.
Airplane Mode and WiFi are your Friends – remember that remote locations will kill your battery and empty your wallet. I swear that roaming data is a secret weapon invented by wireless carriers to fleece visitors. In urban areas, most every café will have WiFi for their patrons, just ask your server for the password.
All Internet is not Created Equal – Just because there is a WiFi logo in the café, doesn’t mean that the service will be fast or reliable. Before leaving, download the Speedtest.net application on your mobile – it comes in handy knowing what you are up against. In remote locations it’s not uncommon for satellite-based internet service, with plenty of latency and packet loss that make cloud and web-based applications frustrating and almost impossible to use. Interestingly, the Facebook mobile application was able to reliably muddle through, at least allowing still photos and status updates to be shared.
When you have the chance, Skype – Once in a while you’ll run across good connectivity with low latency and packet loss. Use the chance to make a call to loved ones at home – they’ll appreciate hearing your voice. Don’t forget that Skype Out lets you call landlines, allowing you to check-in with less technically-enabled family members. Facebook Messenger calling seems to work pretty well too, but the recipients should have the app installed and warned that you may be calling. It seems all the hard work in developing good codecs has finally paid off.
Getting Separated – We’ve become so accustomed to using our mobile phones to find each other in public places, texting or calling each other to coordinate a rendezvous. But without using cellular service, this gets a bit sticky. We found that Facebook Messenger over WiFi can fill the gap - as long as you can find WiFi. (Another strategy is to not wonder off.) WhatsApp would be a good alternative too, but few of our party have set it up nor used it.
Hurray for Off-line Maps – That first time you open your phone and try to pull up a map, only to realize you have no or poor data connectivity can leave you feeling lost. Spend a couple minutes before leaving to download the off-line Google maps for the areas you will be traveling.
Outlets can be Scarce – We all know the drill in the airport, trying to secure one of the coveted and rare outlets for charging our various devices. You may find the same problem in remote lodges and hostels – outlets are not ubiquitous elsewhere. Bring along a compact power splitter that allows you to plug in three or more chargers in one outlet – it will get used.
On-board Power – Just because the airline’s seat map says there is power between the seats, doesn’t mean there will be. Checking SeatGuru.com before your departure will help you plan your power usage, but don’t bet on it. When in doubt, charge everything before boarding.
First-aid kit – I always have a small first-aid kit in my travel kit, mostly meant to deal with small cuts, blisters, and upset stomach issues on the road. With our clumsy crew of eight, I was handing out Band-Aids, patching up cuts and dealing with upset stomachs on a daily basis. Trying to communicate to the Pharmacia clerk in my broken Spanish made for some challenges. In hindsight, I should have brought a much larger kit and been more careful about replacing expired medications. We learned that expired Imodium doesn’t work.
Bring a Book – One good thing about printed books is their batteries never die. I had downloaded a Kindle book into my tablet, only to be told on my first flight that to work off-line, the app needed an upgrade. Thankfully, I had a paperback travel guide – no batteries required.
Leave Work at Work – And finally, just because you can connect doesn’t mean you should. Allocating a small amount of time every few days to “peek” at your email is a great way to avoid surprises when you return, but be respectful of other’s time. Realize that because you are connected now, does not mean you’ll get a chance to be connected later today (or tomorrow for that matter). Make your out-of-office message clear about your inability to respond on a timely fashion and give them a name and number of someone covering for you.
Embrace being Disconnected - As much as the first-world invades the remote parts of the world, being prepared to be disconnected for days at a time will make your travels a lot more enjoyable.