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I have two friends traveling to Paris next month and after giving them both tips on places to stay and eat (of course), I also offered them some tips to save money on credit card usage, cell phones/data usage overseas, and cautionary advice to keep their possessions safe. I’m passing on the information here because I think anyone who reads this blog probably loves to travel (as well as eat) so keep these links and info handy for your next trip:)

Before you leave, you may want to get a chip & PIN credit card (I got one from Bank of America) because many places like train stations and gas stations will not accept a US credit card for payment without a chip. If you are carrying enough cash to cover most transactions and want to only use a credit card for bigger purchases, then get a credit card which doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees before you leave. The fees could amount to 3% OVER the purchase price! Make sure your cards (and passport) are always carried in an RFID safe wallet or simply wrap some foil around them.

Before you can use any of the SIM card options, you must have an unlocked phone, so either go to your cell provider and have them unlock it or buy/borrow an unlocked phone for travel. For cell phones and data, there are two providers of international phones/SIM cards/data plans which I would recommend if traveling to France (or several other countries). Le French Mobile was created in UK for students studying in France so their rates are substantially lower (starting at 20 Euros) than regular retail and their entire website is in English (recommended for longer stays). For most tourists from the US, Telestial has higher rates (about $50 USD) but easy options. If you are able or willing to translate the website info, the local French provider SFR has options for calls, texts, and data on prepaid plans and Simyo has deeply discounted rates (although I can’t vouch for their service).

Since many people are taking their phones and tablets/laptops with them, it’s helpful to have some applications installed in case they get stolen. I recently received a Nexus 7 for Christmas from the generous @John8600 and installed AVG which protects against viruses and theft for free on Android devices. If you have an iPad or iPhone, and plan on taking it with you on a trip, you might want to install an application like gadgettrak.com for $19.95 a year (for phones) or lojackforlaptops.com $19.99 year (for laptops). It gave me peace of mind to know I could remotely lock, erase, track my device, and give the location of my stolen device to local law enforcement!

No matter where you travel, keep copies of your passport, tickets and credit cards somewhere (I have scanned mine and emailed them to myself) because it is always better to be prepared for the worst while expecting the best 🙂

So many of my friends have iPhones and Blackberrys that sometimes I feel as if I am the only one without one or the other. I haven’t leapt into the smartphone revolution partially because I haven’t decided which one I want yet; some applications are made only for one or the other and are so useful that they have become part of the reason to buy a particular brand.

The Red Laser app for iPhone makes your phone a bar code scanner for merchandise so that you can compare prices at the physical store with online prices. It works for everything from groceries to televisions, so next time you see a sale on cookies or a computer in a brick and mortar store, scan the bar code and the app will search all online retailers for prices on the exact same item. It takes comparison shopping to a new level and you literally hold the key in your hand. The laser reading app also allows you to scan items to add to a shopping list, or to see reviews on the product, or scan a DVD in a store and beam the title to you TiVo, so you don’t have to use it only to shop.

Some applications are great because they promote safety and are FREE, like the DriveSafe.ly app for Blackberry. This converts text and email messages so that you can listen to them and respond without having to text back, even through Bluetooth! This helps eliminate the drivers who are constantly looking at their phones reading text messages and then trying to text back while driving (which is illegal in some states). They are working on a version that will work with the iPhone but for now it’s only available for Blackberry and Android phones.

If MACs and PCs can now translate (most) applications written on one or the other, phones should be able to do the same thing one day. Now if we could get an application that would make people understand each other as well as machines do…..

>By now everyone owns a cell phone and could not imagine living without one (some of my friends no longer have a land line); but what if you don’t have a cell phone that works overseas, and you are traveling outside the US?

Only AT&T and T-Mobile offer phones that work outside the US, but if you don’t want to get one of the ones that include GSM (the standard for most other countries except the US and Japan), you can rent one or buy one from Mobal. The company has already gotten good reviews from Time, Inc, and Frommer’s, so they are (hopefully) going to be around for awhile. The nice thing about renting or buying a cell phone for your international use is that you don’t have to upgrade your phone or service contract on your US cell phone to include international calling.

If you buy a phone with Mobal, they allow you to keep an international number and the phone for life with no monthly fees; it is literally a pay as you go plan unlike some of the prepaid phone plans offered here which require minimum monthly fees. The charges are reasonable too; to buy a phone, you have a choice of phones ranging in price from $49-$179 and rates for calls are anywhere from $0.99 cents a minute within the foreign country to $3.95 calling outside the country, (this is the highest price I found for calls to the US from India) and $0.80 text messages. All this is very good value considering that I use AT&T, and my calls from France to the US cost me $1.95 a minute using my US cell phone. If you don’t want to buy a phone, Mobal also offer rentals for places like Japan for only $7 a day (calling the US from Japan costs $1.79 a minute, but text messages are only $0.80 each). Mobal is a UK company so the SIM card they provide with your phone is UK based.

It’s a great option to have a local cell phone when you are traveling abroad, and with Mobal you can leave your US cell phone at home.

By now everyone owns a cell phone and could not imagine living without one (some of my friends no longer have a land line); but what if you don’t have a cell phone that works overseas, and you are traveling outside the US?

Only AT&T and T-Mobile offer phones that work outside the US, but if you don’t want to get one of the ones that include GSM (the standard for most other countries except the US and Japan), you can rent one or buy one from Mobal. The company has already gotten good reviews from Time, Inc, and Frommer’s, so they are (hopefully) going to be around for awhile. The nice thing about renting or buying a cell phone for your international use is that you don’t have to upgrade your phone or service contract on your US cell phone to include international calling.

If you buy a phone with Mobal, they allow you to keep an international number and the phone for life with no monthly fees; it is literally a pay as you go plan unlike some of the prepaid phone plans offered here which require minimum monthly fees. The charges are reasonable too; to buy a phone, you have a choice of phones ranging in price from $49-$179 and rates for calls are anywhere from $0.99 cents a minute within the foreign country to $3.95 calling outside the country, (this is the highest price I found for calls to the US from India) and $0.80 text messages. All this is very good value considering that I use AT&T, and my calls from France to the US cost me $1.95 a minute using my US cell phone. If you don’t want to buy a phone, Mobal also offer rentals for places like Japan for only $7 a day (calling the US from Japan costs $1.79 a minute, but text messages are only $0.80 each). Mobal is a UK company so the SIM card they provide with your phone is UK based.

It’s a great option to have a local cell phone when you are traveling abroad, and with Mobal you can leave your US cell phone at home.

Los Angeles traffic can be a nightmare, especially if you are stuck in it and have no way of knowing if the traffic continues for another few minutes or an hour. Whenever I am on my way out, I check the traffic on my computer before I drive by going to the sigalert website on ABC7. It shows the flow of traffic; red is SLOW, orange is moving, yellow is almost freeway speed, and green is traffic actually going freeway speed! There are also triangles showing road hazards or accidents along with the time of each occurrence. With maps for all the counties in and around around L.A., you can click on all the areas you plan to travel through, or just keep it on your home or work destinations. It always helps to see if an alternate route would be better before you find out by getting stuck on the road.

What if you are already on the road and are nowhere near a computer? Do you have an internet enabled wireless phone? One of the other local Los Angeles TV stations has a new free download for your internet enabled phone (for almost all phones except the iphone, which will be available this summer) that shows you LIVE traffic on your route from over 270 cameras while you are in your car! Just go to KNBC’s website, put in your cell phone number, and they will send you the download. It’s easy and it actually works! And if you live in NY or CT, they offer the same service at the Third Dimension website.

If your route is finally clear but now you can’t find the address you were heading to, then just use your phone to text GOOGLE and text in the name or subject of your destination. This is free, so it’s like using a 411 service only in text (which is actually more convenient when you are on the road because then you don’t have to write it down). Remember with the new law effective July 1, 2008 in California, you MUST use a hands free device if you are driving while using your cell phone, so PULL OVER to use this service (or have someone else in your car do it if you are driving).

Traffic is a fact of life in Los Angeles, but with a little bit of planning and some good connections, you can make it easier, just like life.

>Los Angeles traffic can be a nightmare, especially if you are stuck in it and have no way of knowing if the traffic continues for another few minutes or an hour. Whenever I am on my way out, I check the traffic on my computer before I drive by going to the sigalert website on ABC7. It shows the flow of traffic; red is SLOW, orange is moving, yellow is almost freeway speed, and green is traffic actually going freeway speed! There are also triangles showing road hazards or accidents along with the time of each occurrence. With maps for all the counties in and around around L.A., you can click on all the areas you plan to travel through, or just keep it on your home or work destinations. It always helps to see if an alternate route would be better before you find out by getting stuck on the road.

What if you are already on the road and are nowhere near a computer? Do you have an internet enabled wireless phone? One of the other local Los Angeles TV stations has a new free download for your internet enabled phone (for almost all phones except the iphone, which will be available this summer) that shows you LIVE traffic on your route from over 270 cameras while you are in your car! Just go to KNBC’s website, put in your cell phone number, and they will send you the download. It’s easy and it actually works! And if you live in NY or CT, they offer the same service at the Third Dimension website.

If your route is finally clear but now you can’t find the address you were heading to, then just use your phone to text GOOGLE and text in the name or subject of your destination. This is free, so it’s like using a 411 service only in text (which is actually more convenient when you are on the road because then you don’t have to write it down). Remember with the new law effective July 1, 2008 in California, you MUST use a hands free device if you are driving while using your cell phone, so PULL OVER to use this service (or have someone else in your car do it if you are driving).

Traffic is a fact of life in Los Angeles, but with a little bit of planning and some good connections, you can make it easier, just like life.

Have you ever been frustrated by a lack of cell phone reception in your home or on the road in the middle of a “dead cell phone zone”? If you are willing to take along a 3×5 inch plastic disk (not small, but not obnoxiously big either) that plugs into your phone, you can end your frustration. Freedom Antenna is a lifesaver when you need to make a call or have your call clear and steady. Not all phones have a port for this antenna, but all networks support it, so if you can’t live without a good wireless cell phone connection it may be worth the $31.95 to buy this and keep it with your phone.

OK, now that you have bars on your cell phone, why not call someone to get rid of the clutter in your home or office? What if you didn’t have to order a dumpster, or load any of the stuff yourself? Call 1-800-got-junk and they will literally do all the heavy lifting for you. For those of us who have old refrigerators (too heavy to move alone), soil or construction debris (how would you dispose of a wall?), or mattresses, appliances and old stuff no charity will accept, this is an easy way to get it either recycled or dumped legally and easily. They also pick up from commercial addresses, so if your business has just been remodeled or moved, you can pay professionals to remove the leftover junk effectively, instead of paying your employees for labor they were not hired to perform.

Clear reception and a clear home/office space, now to work on achieving a clear desk:)

>Have you ever been frustrated by a lack of cell phone reception in your home or on the road in the middle of a “dead cell phone zone”? If you are willing to take along a 3×5 inch plastic disk (not small, but not obnoxiously big either) that plugs into your phone, you can end your frustration. Freedom Antenna is a lifesaver when you need to make a call or have your call clear and steady. Not all phones have a port for this antenna, but all networks support it, so if you can’t live without a good wireless cell phone connection it may be worth the $31.95 to buy this and keep it with your phone.

OK, now that you have bars on your cell phone, why not call someone to get rid of the clutter in your home or office? What if you didn’t have to order a dumpster, or load any of the stuff yourself? Call 1-800-got-junk and they will literally do all the heavy lifting for you. For those of us who have old refrigerators (too heavy to move alone), soil or construction debris (how would you dispose of a wall?), or mattresses, appliances and old stuff no charity will accept, this is an easy way to get it either recycled or dumped legally and easily. They also pick up from commercial addresses, so if your business has just been remodeled or moved, you can pay professionals to remove the leftover junk effectively, instead of paying your employees for labor they were not hired to perform.

Clear reception and a clear home/office space, now to work on achieving a clear desk:)

Sometimes emails and IM’s just aren’t enough and you want (or need) to communicate the old fashioned way, via telephone. With all the VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) options, my preferred provider is SKYPE. They have great features like IM, webcam, and voicemail (additional cost), and after 2 years they are so reliable and effective that Ebay decided to do business with them. Oprah uses Skype’s webcam on her show to talk to guests from around the world.

I like them because even after so many people now know about them, they still have such easy set-up, accessible customer support, and fantastic prices (it used to be free, but now they charge about 2 cents). No matter what time or day you call, an international call is 2.1 cents per minute; yes, you read that correctly, 2.1 cents per minute. You can buy an unlimited monthly package for only $2.95 for calls to the US & Canada or $9.95 for calls anywhere in the world. Or pay as you go and buy 10 Euros worth (about 16 USD) which is good for 180 days; the credit only expires if you don’t make at least one call in that time. The connections are steady, clear, and all you need is a good headset with a microphone to use it; if you plan to be on the the phone away from your computer, I would recommend buying a cordless VOIP phone (the jacks are different because it must plug into your computer-or buy an adapter for a regular phone). This is a great way to keep in touch with people who are overseas, like the (other) Elaine who writes the blog Paris for a Year to get her most up to date recommendations for things to do, see, and eat in Paris.

If you are away from a computer and need to make a call, then get a Global Phone calling card and you can use a land line or cell phone to call overseas or long distance 24/7 any day for an average of about 4.4 cents per minute. There are different prices depending on whether you are calling from or to a cell phone; for instance a call to a land line in France is 1 cent but to a cell phone it’s .282 cents a minute. For calls to the continental US it’s only .038 per minute and the most expensive call I found was to Zaire for .605 per minute. You have your calling card linked to a credit card, so you literally pay as you use it or not at all. It is a nice card to have when you are traveling (it works worldwide, so you can use it to call home). Since the company has been around since 1995, is privately held, provides phone services to over 500,000 customers in 130 countries, and is debt-free, they will probably still be in business when you need to make a call.

Even with talk this cheap, there are still some people you really do NOT want to talk to, and for those people give them your Rejection Hotline telephone number. Better than giving out a wrong number and disturbing someone you don’t know. This is an easy and funny way to tell people you never want to talk to them again. They have local numbers for many cities, the message is unisex, and it will leave the caller laughing even through their rejection. They even have specific numbers for a specific topic, like a one night stand that you want to keep a one night stand.

To talk or not to talk, that is the question; now you have some options no matter what you answer.

>Sometimes emails and IM’s just aren’t enough and you want (or need) to communicate the old fashioned way, via telephone. With all the VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) options, my preferred provider is SKYPE. They have great features like IM, webcam, and voicemail (additional cost), and after 2 years they are so reliable and effective that Ebay decided to do business with them. Oprah uses Skype’s webcam on her show to talk to guests from around the world.

I like them because even after so many people now know about them, they still have such easy set-up, accessible customer support, and fantastic prices (it used to be free, but now they charge about 2 cents). No matter what time or day you call, an international call is 2.1 cents per minute; yes, you read that correctly, 2.1 cents per minute. You can buy an unlimited monthly package for only $2.95 for calls to the US & Canada or $9.95 for calls anywhere in the world. Or pay as you go and buy 10 Euros worth (about 16 USD) which is good for 180 days; the credit only expires if you don’t make at least one call in that time. The connections are steady, clear, and all you need is a good headset with a microphone to use it; if you plan to be on the the phone away from your computer, I would recommend buying a cordless VOIP phone (the jacks are different because it must plug into your computer-or buy an adapter for a regular phone). This is a great way to keep in touch with people who are overseas, like the (other) Elaine who writes the blog Paris for a Year to get her most up to date recommendations for things to do, see, and eat in Paris.

If you are away from a computer and need to make a call, then get a Global Phone calling card and you can use a land line or cell phone to call overseas or long distance 24/7 any day for an average of about 4.4 cents per minute. There are different prices depending on whether you are calling from or to a cell phone; for instance a call to a land line in France is 1 cent but to a cell phone it’s .282 cents a minute. For calls to the continental US it’s only .038 per minute and the most expensive call I found was to Zaire for .605 per minute. You have your calling card linked to a credit card, so you literally pay as you use it or not at all. It is a nice card to have when you are traveling (it works worldwide, so you can use it to call home). Since the company has been around since 1995, is privately held, provides phone services to over 500,000 customers in 130 countries, and is debt-free, they will probably still be in business when you need to make a call.

Even with talk this cheap, there are still some people you really do NOT want to talk to, and for those people give them your Rejection Hotline telephone number. Better than giving out a wrong number and disturbing someone you don’t know. This is an easy and funny way to tell people you never want to talk to them again. They have local numbers for many cities, the message is unisex, and it will leave the caller laughing even through their rejection. They even have specific numbers for a specific topic, like a one night stand that you want to keep a one night stand.

To talk or not to talk, that is the question; now you have some options no matter what you answer.

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