Get your voicemail online while traveling

Listening to voice messages left on your mobile phone can be expensive when you’re traveling internationally. This is because carriers require you to dial their messaging system (resulting international roaming charges) — or — if you’re an iPhone user — to download the message using your phone’s data connection (also expensive unless you’re using WiFi).

Instead of using the carrier’s voice messaging system on your mobile phone, switch to Google Voice, which allows you to store and retrieve your messages online, in one central place so you never have to worry about messages being deleted. Plus, the service will convert voicemails into text and send them to you by email or text message (SMS).

Google Voice is completely free and works with all of the major US mobile carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. You can also use this with a landline, as long as your provider allows you to forward unanswered calls to a different number.

Here’s how to set it up:

  1. First, create a Google Voice account. As part of this, select the I want to use my mobile number option.
  2. After completing the verification process, click Settings in the upper right corner, locate your mobile phone, and click Activate Google voicemail on this phone.
  3. Follow the instructions provided to enable voicemail forwarding on your mobile phone. For example, AT&T users will dial *004*xxx-xxx-xxxx# (where xxx-xxx-xxxx is your Google Voice phone number) and press Call.
  4. Lastly, click the Voicemail tab to record your outgoing greeting by using the buttons provided in the Voicemail Greeting section.

To have your messages transcribed to text sent to you by email and/or SMS:

  1. Click Settings in the upper right corner, then click the Voicemail tab.
  2. Under Voicemail Notifications, check Email the message to and select an email address where you’d like to receive your voicemail transcriptions.
  3. To send receive voicemail transcripts via SMS (text message), check Send a text (SMS) message to and selecting your mobile phone from the list provided.
  4. Finally, under Voicemail Transcripts, check Transcribe Voicemails and click Save Changes at the bottom of the page.

Now that you’ve replaced your carrier’s voice messaging system with Google Voice, here’s how to retrieve your messages:

  1. Online through the Google Voice Website or the mobile optimized version of the site at m.google.com/voice.
  2. Through the Google Voice phone system by calling the Google Voicemail number provided with your account.
  3. By email, if you’ve enabled this option.
  4. Using the Google Voice iPhone app.

Don’t worry — you can disable voicemail forwarding to Google Voice at any time by logging into Google Voice, clicking Settings in the upper right corner, clicking Deactivate voicemail, and following the instructions provided.

Now that you have Google Voice fully setup and configured, you’ll no longer have to call in to retrieve your voice messages (saving you international roaming charges), and you’ll the flexiblity of listening to your messages using any computer or phone with internet access.

Thank you to HTT reader, Amy S., for inspiring this topic!

Use SMS affordably while traveling

If you’ve traveled with your mobile phone internationally — or have done any research on this topic — then you already know that international roaming can be crazy expensive. Making and receiving phone calls and accessing the internet both carry hefty charges that add up quickly. Sending and receiving text (SMS) messages can also be expensive, but this cost is a more manageable.

Travel Tip: Use SMS to stay in touch with your friends, family, and colleagues at home while you’re traveling.

For receiving messages, check with your carrier to see if your domestic texting package allows the text messages you receive while traveling international to be deducted from your monthly allotment of messages. This is the case with AT&T in the US. For example, I have a text messaging plan that allows me to send and receive up to 1,000 messages per month while at home. This means I can receive up to 1,000 messages per month while traveling internationally at no extra cost.

For sending messages, first check to see what your carrier will charge you on a per message basis while you’re traveling. For example, AT&T charges $0.50 per SMS that is sent from outside the US. Then, see if your carrier offers an international texting plan. AT&T’s Global Messaging 50 package, which costs $10 per month, allows you to send 50 SMS messages while outside the US, which reduces the per message cost from $0.50 to just $0.20.

Also, if you’ve you gotten used to have an unlimited texting plan at home, then you’ve probably picked up the habit of sending short, one-phrase messages. While this works with an unlimited plan, this will cost you dearly while traveling. So, be sure to use all 160 characters allowed in each message!

12 iPhone travel apps you need to use

If you’re like most iPhone owners, your phone has become an indispensable tool — you use it to map your runs, book restaurant reservations, and hurl birds at green pigs. So don’t leave it behind when you travel, instead check out these 12 iPhone travel apps — most of them are free!


1. TripIt

TripIt organizes your travel plans by turning all of those messy flight, hotel, and car rental confirmation emails into editable itineraries that are easy to manage. All you have to do is forward your confirmation emails to TripIt and the information automagically appears in your account which you can access online or on your iPhone.

Tip: If you’re traveling internationally, sync TripIt on your iPhone when you have access to low/no-cost data connection (3G at home or WiFi) to avoid roaming charges.


2. Free Wi-Fi Finder

Free Wi-Fi Finder, is exactly what it sounds like. It helps you find free (and also paid) WiFi connections while you’re traveling. Using the GPS function on your iPhone, the app tells you where the closest hotspot is and how to get to it.

Tip: Download the offline database, so you don’t get yourself into a catch-22 like I did!


3. Skype

Skype lets you make and receive voice and video calls over your iPhone’s 3G and WiFi data connections. You probably already know this, but you may not know is that you can place calls to actual phones — both land and mobile — worldwide using Skype credits.

Tip: Purchase an online number so your friends and family don’t have to use Skype to reach you while you’re traveling. Take it one step further by bringing along an unlocked GSM mobile phone and purchasing a local SIM card when you land, then forward your Skype calls to your local mobile phone.


4. HeyTell

HeyTell is a voice messaging app (currently available for the iPhone and Android) that lets you to talk with friends and family. It’s sort of like a walkie-talkie — you just choose a contact, push the button to record, and start talking. Use this as an alternative to expensive voice calls or SMS messages while you’re traveling — or when you want to talk asynchronously.

Tip: Purchase the optional Voice Changer ($1.99) to freak people out.


5. WhatsApp ($0.99)

WhatsApp is another cross platform messaging app (available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Nokia phones) but it’s more like a souped-up alternative to SMS. Use it to send and receive messages, pictures, audio notes, and video messages at no cost.

Tip: Have the your peeps at home install the app before your trip then add then have the app find and add them to your favorites (Settings > Refresh Favorites).


6. Badoo

Badoo lets you search, find, and chat with people nearby making it a perfect way to meet locals and other traveler while you’re on the road. Yes, yes, you can use it for “other” purposes, if you so desire, but think of it as a way to connect you with folks with whom you can practice your language skills or swap travel stories.

Tip: Set up your profile before you leave home to avoid those awful hotel-mirror headshots. Also, read Badoo’s online safety tips!


7. TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor’s iPhone app gives you access to traveler reviews and opinions on hotels, restaurants, and activities that you can use to augment your guidebook. It’s also handy if you feel like eating at a good restaurant that not likely to be overrun by the same set of guidebook travelers.

Tip: Write quick reviews of the places you stay and eat in — easier and quicker to do with the app than than online.


8. OMaps ($1.99)

oMaps lets you save maps and then access them without an data connection. This is important because of the astronomical international data roaming rates the carriers charge.

Tip: You can also cache Google Maps locally on your iPhone using the trick I published in March.


9. Share-a-Bill ($3.99)

Share-a-Bill lets you to split bills and checks among your travel companions. As you travel, you enter expenses and record who paid for them. At the end of your trip the app figures out exactly who owes what to whom. It also supports multiple currencies and emails a final report to everybody involved.

Tip: Use this app along the way to make sure you have everything accounted for and so there’s no confusion at the end of your trip.


10. Google Translate

Google Translate lets you to translate words and phrases between more than 50 languages. For most languages, you can speak your phrases and hear the corresponding translation.

Tip: Translate the phrases you’ll mostly likely need ahead of time using your 3G connection at home or an available WiFi connection on the road — again, so you can avoid data roaming charges.


11. Dropbox

Dropbox lets you store and bring along up to 2GB of your photos, docs, and videos for free. After you install Dropbox on your computer, any file you save to your Dropbox will automatically be synchronized to all your computers, iPhone/iPad, and even the Dropbox website. Use Dropbox to scan and upload important travel documents, such as your passport, drivers license, and copies of your credit cards.

Tip: Mark important files as ‘favorites’ so you can access these offline when you don’t have a data connection.

Bonus: Use this link to create your Dropbox account and you’ll get an extra 250MB of storage!


12. Google Authenticator

Google Authenticator provides an additional layer of security for your Gmail account by generating a unique verification code you enter while logging in. This may not be sexy, but it’ll keep your account from getting hacked when you’re in a sketchy internet cafe. To use Google Authenticator, you’ll need to enable 2-step verification on your Google Account.

Tip: Set this up and test it out before you leave home to make sure you’re comfortable with how it works. You’ll also need to create an “application specific” password for your iPhone and any other devices you may use to access your Gmail account.


Also, be sure to search for apps that are specific to your destinations. For example, Lonely PlanetFrommer’s, and Phaidon all publish city guides. There are also number of transit apps that allow you to search train and bus timetables and, in some cases, purchase tickets, for places like Berlin and Switzerland.

What iPhone travel apps do you use?

Bring along a pint-sized power strip

Philips 3-outlet Travel Power Strip

How many times have you been desperate to recharge your dying gadget only to find the one electrical outlet that does exists is already taken?

Travel Tip: Bring along a mini power strip like the one pictured here:

Philips 3-outlet Travel Power Strip

According to HTT reader, Scott K, he puts the one he bought to good use and simply asks “Do you mind if I plug this in so we both can share the outlet?” to which everyone responds, “I have to get one of those…”

Thanks for the tip Scott!

Receiving calls abroad is cheap and easy

Technology like email and Facebook make staying in touch with friends, family, and business colleagues a breeze and services like Skype make international calling easier and cheaper. Gone are the days of calling cards, special access numbers, and expensive calling rates.

But most people only use Skype to make (free) computer-to-computer calls, which requires both parties be online and connected at the same time. Finding a computer with good connectivity and Skype installed can be challenging in many countries and coordinating a time to talk may not always be easy or convenient. Plus, sometimes you need to receive a call when you’re out and about or your contacts at home need to call you on their own schedule.

There is where Skype comes it. It offers two separate calling features that when used together make it easy and cheap for folks to reach you by phone while you’re traveling.

The first is online number which is an actual phone number your contacts can call you on. They’re currently available from Skype in 24 countries, including the US and most of western Europe. When the number is dialed, the call automatically rings on you on Skype. Call forwarding is the second feature which forwards your Skype calls to an actual phone.

When used together, calls are routed over Skype’s calling network to a local phone in your destination. This means your friends, family, and colleagues don’t have to fuss with the trouble and expense of making an international call (which, at least for many Americans, is still a daunting task), nor do they have to set up or learn how to use Skype. Combine this with the fact that Skype’s international call rates are excellent and most non-US mobile carriers allow you to receive calls free of charge (they make their money when you place calls), means you’ll save a ton of money along the way.

To illustrate how this worked on my recent trip to India:

  • My friend Grace, who lives in Seattle, calls me at (206) 905-92XX, a local Seattle number, so the call is free to her. Skype charged me $18 to set up and use the online number for 3 months, but doesn’t charge me per minute to receive calls placed using the number.
  • The call goes to Skype and they attempt to reach me online. If I’m connected to Skype in an internet cafe, on my netbook, or on my iPhone, then I can take the call there. There’s no per-minute charge for me to receive the call this way.
  • If I’m not online, the call is automatically forwarded to my Indian mobile number +91 73890095XX, where I can answer. Skype charges 9.2¢/minute to forward the call to an Indian mobile but Airtel, my carrier in India, doesn’t charge my anything to receive the call.

Connecting the dots this way makes it super easy for folks back home to get a hold of me, and I can update the number calls are forwarded to as I move between countries, which makes it even more seamless.

Here’s a quick re-cap of how to set up Skype so that your contacts at home can call you:

Don’t get hacked while traveling

In my former life running an IT consulting company, security was a big topic and making sure people were who they said they were (i.e. when they were logging in remotely to check their email) was a key part of securing our clients’ networks. You might think that usernames and passwords would be enough, but entering these on a login page doesn’t prove it’s actually you, it only proves that you know the username and password.

That’s where so-called two factor authentication comes in.  Without geeking out too much, the basic idea is that there are three things you can use to establish your identity: something you know (username/password/PIN), something you have (passport/credit card/security token), and something you are (finger print/face geometry). Two factor security just means using at least two of these to establish your identity.

This may sound complicated, but if you have an ATM card, you’re already using two factor authentication — something you know (PIN) and something you have (ATM card). One doesn’t work without the other and without both there’s no cash for you.

So, what does this all have to do with travel?

Well, it turns out there’s easy-to-install software and hardware that allow an unscrupulous third-party to eavesdrop on your surfing and capture your usernames and passwords as you type them. It’s practice is known as key logging and if you’re not careful, you’ll inadvertently “outsource” the management of your Facebook profile, or worse, your finances to somebody who may have a funny idea or two. (Perhaps you’ve had a friend or two stranded in London, that just needed some cash? I’ve experienced this first hand and so has a former client of mine.)

One of the ways two factor authentication protects you against eavesdropping is through the use of one-time passwords (OTP). Just like it sounds, a OTP is an additional code created by a device or system only you have access to and can only be used once. So, even if it’s captured through key logging, it can’t be used again after you click the login button.

If you’re wondering whether this is a theoretical threat, let me assure you that it’s not. First, you should know that I’m not an alarmist by nature. I don’t think fear mongering is ever the right answer and I find almost all security risks can be mitigated through practical/pragmatic solutions. Second, I’ve been in way too many internet cafes (in places like India) where the keyboards barely worked, the operating system was bootlegged, and the electricity would cut in and out. The idea of properly securing these systems to ensure a safe internet surfing experience would have surely been considered a luxury only a westerner could have dreamed up and demanded.

The good news is that financial institutions, like Bank of AmericaCitibank, and Paypal (and as a result eBay), have taken notice and are starting to provide more secure ways for accessing their sites. Other companies are stepping up too. Google has incorporated two factor authentication into its Gmail service and Facebook provides a number of opt-in security features, including login notifications and one-time passwords. There are also products that allow small businesses to secure their networks using two factor authentication.

If the thought of yet another security “enhancement” leaves you pining for the simplicity of yesteryears, keep in mind that ALL security measures have felt annoying when they were first introduced, but with ubiquity comes improvements in usability. Eventually we’ll carry one universal security access token or card that allows us to securely login in to all sensitive websites and systems.

In the meantime, get prepared.  Before your next trip, give some thought to what sites and services you’ll need to access online while you’re traveling. Investigate whether these companies provide any additional layers of security that can help ensure a safer internet experience (try googling the company’s name + “two factor authentication”). This might involve using your mobile phone to receive a special code by text message (SMS) that you can use to log in or using a specialized app on your iPhone to generate a one-time password.

Here’s a re-cap of the companies I’ve mentioned above that currently provide additional layers of security:

What other precautions do you take online to protect yourself?

Scan your important travel documents

Losing your wallet – or even worse, your passport – while traveling can be a major headache and having copies of the original documents or cards can make them a lot easier to replace.

Travel Tip: Before your trip, scan all of your important documents, including your passport, birth certificate, driver license, credit cards (front and back), health insurance card, medicine / eye glass prescriptions, any travel/medical evacuation policies, and, if you’re a diver, your certification card. Then store all these online, as PDFs, so you’re able to access them while you’re traveling. If you have a Gmail or Hotmail account, an easy way to do this is to simply email yourself the documents.

Use the iPhone Maps app abroad for free

Map of Berlin

One of the things I love about my iPhone is the Maps app combined with the phone’s GPS capabilities. Together, these two help me locate myself and find my destination with ease. Because I have national coverage with AT&T in the US, my iPhone has become an indispensible domestic travel companion, but the cost of international data coverage can be prohibitive, so I’ve been reluctant to use the phone for this purpose while traveling outside the US.

Travel Tip: When you arrive in your foreign destination and before you head out for the day, find and connect your iPhone to an available WiFi connection (e.g. in your hotel or in an internet café). Make sure that Airplane Mode is Off and Locations Services (Settings > General > Location Services) are turned On. Both of these are required for you to use the GPS capabilities of your iPhone. You’ll also want to disable Data Roaming (Settings > General > Network) to avoid the hefty costs associated with international data roaming.

Then, launch the Maps app and cache the map for your current city or the part of the city you’re planning to visit. To do this, just zoom in to the level(s) of detail you’ll need for the day, wait for the map to download and become clear, and then move around in each of the four cardinal directions to download each tile of the map.

Now you’ll be set to use maps on your iPhone for the day – and without paying for international data coverage!

Use your mobile or camera as a scanner

I often need to print, sign, and return documents. When I’m at home in the US, this is an easy and routine task – I’m simply scan the document to PDF using my multi-function printer/scanner/copier and then email the PDF. But when I travel internationally and rely on internet cafés, I don’t want to take the risk that a copy of the PDF (containing my signature and often other sensitive information like a social security number) might end up sticking around after I’ve departed. A more secure alternative is faxing (secure, as long as the fax machine you’re using doesn’t capture a copy of the page, which some do), but this can be a challenge in certain countries with poor quality phone lines, which often result in failed transmissions.

Travel Tip: Print the document at an internet café, then use the camera in your mobile phone or a digital camera to take a picture of the document once you’ve signed it. Then you can email the picture of the document to its recipient. It may not be as clean as a PDF created by scanning the actual page, but it will often suffice when the recipient just needs proof that a document has been reviewed and signed.

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