Even sending a short e-mail while traveling internationally can cost $10 or more. Below are three ways to keep data costs low while staying connected.
1. Purchase a roaming plan. If you want to use your U.S. phone abroad, get an international plan with discounted by-the-minute rates on phone calls and the ability to use data without extra charges. AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer monthly roaming packages, which are prorated and start at $4.99 for calls and $25 for 100MB of data (most phones will let you monitor the amount you’ve used). Be sure to shut off auto-sync when you are roaming.
2. Maximize your Wi-Fi. Unless you have a roaming plan, put your phone on airplane mode and turn on your Wi-Fi. If free hot spots are scarce, try Boingo Wireless (from $7.95 per month) or a router from FON ($49) to access thousands of free and paid Wi-Fi zones worldwide. JiWire’s WiFi Finder points you to hot spots. You can also buy or rent a portable hot-spot device such as Verizon Jetpack (from $49) and XCom Global (from $14.95 per day).
3. Get a local phone or SIM card. Need a local number so friends don’t have to dial the United States? Buy a SIM card at your destination for about $20 and insert it into an unlocked GSM phone (you can rent one for $40 on cellhut.com). Or buy a simple local phone with prepaid credit (around $30; $3 per day for data plans). You can also rent a phone with a data plan before you go at fonerent.com (starting at $9 per week; $5 per 100MB).
Time to upgrade your mobile device? Here, four state-of-the-art models that will keep you connected, wherever you may roam.
Apple iPhone 4S: The iPhone 4S (and the upcoming iPhone 5) is unbeatable when it comes to apps—more than 675,000 at press time—but international perks vary by carrier. AT&T and Verizon Wireless offer roaming plans, and Sprint and Verizon let you use a local SIM card. $199; AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless.
Samsung Galaxy SIII (pictured): This sleek phone operates on networks at home and abroad (though Sprint and Verizon only work in 48 countries). Its technologies are impressive: one tracks your eye so the screen stays on when you look at it; another switches from text message to call mode when you put the phone to your ear. $199; all major carriers.
HTC One S: Slim, light, and with long-lasting battery power (up to a day and a half), this Android avoids roaming charges by automatically switching to an Internet phone setting when you call from a wireless hot spot. Camera functions include a “burst mode” that can take 99 continuous shots. $149; T-Mobile.
Nokia Lumia 800: Travel apps are a breeze on this tiny phone, which uses the new Windows Phone system. The Lumia 800 also lets you use a locally purchased SIM card abroad. When you include data in your prepaid SIM plan, you’ll have access to your apps on the road. $900; amazon.com.
Priceline’s Name Your Own Price bidding system was once the most novel way to find a discounted hotel room online, but a slew of innovative new booking websites and apps make it easier than ever to prevent buyer’s remorse. The seven-month-old website BackBid turns the Name Your Own Price approach on its head: instead of guests bidding on hotel rooms, hotels bid on guests. After you submit your existing hotel reservation and travel preferences to BackBid, the site invites hotels in the same area to make you offers for less expensive rooms or upgraded ones at the same price. (A five-star hotel was recently offered in place of a three-star property in Washington, D.C.) As long as you have a refundable reservation, you can cancel and book the new room.
Restaurant guidebooks have been around since Grimod de la Reynière’s Almanach des Gourmands was published in Paris in 1803. The 21st-century version: pioneering mobile-phone apps that intuitively lead travelers to restaurants via user-generated feedback. Foodspotting launched two years ago as a way to share epicurean snapshots and search for geo-tagged dining options, but it has since evolved into a Pandora-for-food that uses previous likes and dislikes to suggest what you might want to try next. In addition, Foodspotting has beefed up its editorial content, including redesigned “picture menus” for every restaurant and a new series of Travel + Leisure guides that highlight can’t-miss items in destinations from Las Vegas to Paris.
Backstory: Frustrated by the difficult time he was having finding unique dining experiences such as underground dinner clubs, the 26-year-old former Airbnb developer began to look for a way to make them easier to hunt down. The result? A website that does just that.
His Big Idea: Collins collaborated with now partner Carly Chamberlain, 24, and together they applied a more technological word-of-mouth model to help people navigate secret tables worldwide. They came up with gusta.com, a site that lets travelers find, reserve, and even prepay for pop-up culinary happenings thrown by local chefs around the globe—everything from a beer tasting in Brooklyn to a brunch club in Buenos Aires. “We offer people a chance to discover cities and meet locals, through the lens of food,” Collins says.
ZocDoc lets you enter a zip code to instantly find local medical professionals who take your insurance—plus you can view their immediate availability in the event of an emergency. You can also read user reviews and book appointments online, 24/7. So far, 15 U.S. cities are on board, with plans to roll out across the nation over the next 12–18 months.
Heading to London for the Olympic Games this summer but can’t find a hotel room? No problem. Renting a room, apartment, or entire house has never been easier, thanks to the abundance of vacation-rental sites.
One of the biggest players on the Continent is HomeAway; more than 50 percent of its 300,000-property inventory is in Europe—with a sizable selection both in the countryside and in urban areas. It’s getting competition these days from Airbnb, which started in 2008 as something of a domestic couch-surfing site, but now lists increasingly polished residences across the globe. Today a full 75 percent of its bookings are international, with Paris, London, Milan, Barcelona, and Amsterdam being the most popular cities. What’s more, you can now link up Airbnb with your Facebook profile to view properties listed by friends and friends of friends—taking some of the mystery (and anxiety) out of peer-to-peer rentals.
Innovator Floris Dekker, CPO and Cofounder, Gidsy.com
Backstory: On the hunt “for something new” in 2009, the Amsterdam native moved to Berlin with his brother, Edial, where the two started a design studio. One day they decided they wanted to go mushroom foraging, but couldn’t find anybody to guide them. “By the time we found someone, the season was over,” the 25-year-old entrepreneur recalls.
His Big Idea: The brainchild of Floris, his brother, and friend Philipp Wassibauer, gidsy.com applies Airbnb’s peer-to-peer commerce model to buying experiences. A boon for travelers looking for affordable and personalized activities, it allows local experts in cities across Europe (plus New York and San Francisco) to sell various packages, from nightlife tours of Amsterdam to afternoon rentals of a restored Trabant (the iconic East German car).
Chances are, during your last getaway with the family, you shot a lot of video. Most likely it was taken using a smart phone, but it was probably never edited before it was shared. The recent explosion in video-sharing apps—which promise to do for short clips what picture-sharing apps like Instagram and Path did for still images—means there’s no longer any excuse. These apps let you shoot videos and customize them with a variety of filters to change the clips’ look and feel. Most important, they also allow for one-touch sharing to social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Who He Is: Though he got his start working in the marketing department of Israel’s Isrotel hotel chain and at Expedia, the 39-year-old Cornell MBA now focuses on the restaurant and bar industry with his new website, Bitehunter.
His Big Idea: The Bitehunter site and its iPhone app scour more than 500 online sources including Gilt City, OpenTable, restaurant.com, and even Twitter to locate the best deals in any given area. It’s a Kayak-style approach for dining deals, which Harel acknowledges as inspiration for his food-focused search engine: “Historically, airlines adopt cutting-edge technology first, followed by hotels, then restaurants.” And as foodie deal services such as Groupon and BlackboardEats continue to proliferate, his simple aggregator is a welcome resource.