Standard Ebooks

When I travel, I do lots of reading. It fills in time on planes and trains. Although I like paper books, my reading when I travel is all ebooks.

Here is a great discovery—free, classic, out-of-copyright books in high quality ebook format:

Standard Ebooks is a volunteer driven, not-for-profit project that produces lovingly formatted, open source, and free public domain ebooks.

Ebook projects like Project Gutenberg transcribe ebooks and make them available for the widest number of reading devices. Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style guide, lightly modernizes them, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to take advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.

Check out the website.

Apps for travel

Some handy applications to have on your phone when you travel. Part two of our series on using your phone in Europe. Part one is about Taking your phone to Europe.

 

Finding your way

Maps.me A free Android and IOS app that runs completely off-line—unlike Google Maps, Maps.me doesn’t need mobile data or a Wi-Fi connection and it works with your phone’s GPS so you can always see where you are. Before you go, download free maps for the countries you plan to visit. In addition, you can load routes into the app and not only see where you are, but also see if you are on the route. While on your trip you have no worries about mobile phone signal coverage or using up your mobile data allowance.
The free maps used by Maps.me are highly detailed and frequently updated. Like Google Maps, you can zoom in to city block level. The maps.me website gives good documentation on how to use the app.

If you are planning to walk a Camino route, this Dutch Camino organization website explains how to add Camino tracks to Maps.me and provides the track files you need.

Google Maps Does anyone not have Google Maps on their phone? Although we like Maps.me for most purposes, Google Maps offers better place-to-place routing (including by public transit, bicycle and on foot) and is integrated with public transit schedules in many places. However, Google Maps requires Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection.

 

Staying in touch

WhatsApp A free messaging app for Android and IOS. It’s commonly used in Europe, so it can be handy way to stay in touch with people you might meet along the way. Messages sent via WhatsApp do not count against the text or minute count of your mobile phone plan. People you want to connect with must also be on WhatsApp.

Originally WhatsApp was an app for texting only, but can now also be used to:

  • Send pictures
  • Send your location information (handy for planning where to meet for the beer at the end of the day)
  • Make phone calls (phone calls work best with a strong Wi-Fi connection)

Something very useful for a traveler: when you change your SIM card, and hence your phone number, WhatsApp asks if you want your messages sent to your new number. Your friends on WhatsApp don’t need to be informed of your new number. Any messages they send you, even after your return home and change your SIM card again, will automatically reach you. You can’t do that with plain text messaging. Apple’s iMessage works if you change your phone number but it only works between iPhones; WhatsApp brings that to everyone.

 

Skype Most people associate Skype with free video calls, but if you set up an inexpensive prepaid account (Skype calls it buying Skype Credit), you can cheaply send text messages and make phone calls to people anywhere in the world using Wi-Fi or mobile data. This is useful if you need to call or text someone outside Europe as most European cell phone plans charge high rates for calls to numbers outside the EU. It is also useful when you arrive in Europe and don’t have a SIM card yet—just find Wi-Fi in the airport or at a cafe and you’re connected. Don’t use Skype for the fist time to make a phone call or to send a text message when you are away from home; the app is focused on video chatting and it isn’t easy to use for phone calls or text. Call a local phone and send yourself a text message before you leave home.

 

Keeping your documents handy

Dropbox (and other cloud storage services) Storing your travel documents in a free “cloud” service makes them available for quick reference and gives you an emergency backup. Store copies of tickets, reservations, driver’s license, drug prescriptions, optical prescription, travel insurance, etc. While it requires data or Wi-Fi to access a document from the cloud, the Dropbox app, for example, lets you download documents to your phone or tablet for offline access. I usually download my next few tickets and reservations to my phone before I leave home. If there is any confusion or problem with checking in, I can pull out my phone and show the ticket or reservation, even if there is no data or Wi-Fi available. Throughout the trip, to avoid filling my phone with downloads, I remove any tickets and reservations I no longer need handy on the phone (they remain in the cloud) and download upcoming reservations.

TIP: When storing your files in Dropbox, prefix file names with the date of travel or reservation in the format yyyymmdd. That way, when you look at your travel documents they are automatically sorted by date and you can easily work your way down the list.

You can also use Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud Drive

 

Speaking the language

Google Translate A great app for translation to or from almost any language. You can even do tricks such as photograph a sign or menu to see a translation in your language, or write in English and have it speak the translation. Requires mobile data or Wi-Fi.

Offline dictionary apps While Google Translate is cute and convenient, there is no substitute for a dictionary stored on the phone and always available. My favourite apps are from Harper Collins under the brand name Ultralingua. Here, for example, is a link to the English-Spanish IOS app.

Take your mobile phone to Europe

This is part one of two posts on traveling with your phone. (Part two is about Apps for travel.) This post is written from a Canadian perspective for people traveling to Europe, but applies to most travel. Updated March 2018.

What are my options?

  • Cheap: get a SIM card with a European phone number and a prepaid plan from a mobile service provider in Europe. The monthly charge is probably less than you pay for regular mobile service in Canada! Having a European number is an advantage—people in Europe can call and text you without paying high charges to call a North American number.
  • Expensive: get an international roaming plan from your local carrier before you depart on your trip. This can be expensive (e.g. Rogers European roaming plan is $12 for each day you use your phone in Europe, to a maximum of 15 days per billing period), but it is easy and anyone can still reach you on your home phone number.
  • Very expensive: simply take your phone and use it without a roaming plan. Depending on your carrier, you may pay very high “roaming” fees (fees for using your phone outside your own country) for voice calls, data and texting. However, if you plan to use your phone only on Wi-Fi and will call or text only in an emergency, this may be the cheapest option.

I’ll focus on the option of using a prepaid SIM card, but the advice on apps (see part two) and how to prepare apply to all the options.

Will my mobile phone work in Europe?

Modern mobile phones will work on the European GSM system. A very old phone may only work on the old North American CDMA system (now being phased out). If in doubt, check with your carrier or search the Internet with the make and model of your phone.

If you plan to use a European SIM card, your phone must also be unlocked.

  • If you bought your phone directly from Apple or Google without any service plan or contract, it is probably unlocked.
  • If you got your phone from a carrier before December 1, 2017, it will probably be locked and won’t work on any other network. Fortunately, as of December 1, 2017, Canadian carriers cannot charge an unlocking fee, (before December 1, 2017 they typically charged $50), and all new phones must be provided unlocked. If you have a pre-12/17 phone, ask the carrier to unlock it.
  • Caution: many phone repair shops offer unlocking, but it is risky; it will void your warranty, you may be unable to update your phone’s software, and your phone may be susceptible to virus software.

If you can’t figure out if your phone is locked, find a friend using a different carrier and try swapping SIM cards. If your phone works with your friend’s SIM card, it is unlocked.

Getting a European SIM card

With your unlocked GSM phone in hand, you can go to a mobile phone store in any European city to get a European number. The store will put a new SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module) in your phone and give you your Canadian SIM card. Don’t lose your Canadian SIM card—you must put it back in your phone when you get home.

Typically a European prepaid mobile phone plan with with lots of calling minutes, 1 GB or more of mobile data plus texting will cost €15 to €30 per month. In Spain, on the Camino Frances, you will find phone stores in Pamplona. Vodafone and Orange are good carriers. Get the store to set up your phone. Make a test call before you leave the store. Also ask the store to explain how to pay for additional months and how to top up if you exceed your monthly quota. Usually you can do this on the Internet or by purchasing a voucher in any tobacco store.

Roaming in Europe

As of June 15, 2017, you can “roam like at home” within the EU. A SIM card from any EU country will work in any other EU country without any surcharge for voice, text or data. You can, for example, use a Spanish SIM card in Portugal or Italy without any extra charge. A few minor exceptions apply.

Before you go

  • Back up your phone! If your phone is lost, damaged or stolen, you will have your backup of all your data waiting for you at home.
  • If you haven’t already, set up a password for your phone. Set your phone so it requires the password whenever you put it to sleep or stop using it.
  • If you have an Apple iPhone, set up Find My Phone. You’ll be able to locate it if it is lost or stolen. It is a free service. You can even use it to erase and lock your phone if you’ve lost it and think you won’t get it back.

Care and feeding

Keep it charged. You will need a small adapter to make your North American plug fit European outlets. Don’t take a bulky worldwide plug adapter; all of Continental Europe uses the same two-pin outlet. Don’t take a voltage converter; modern phone chargers work anywhere. If you lose your phone charger or plug adapter, ask at the desk of your hotel or hostel. They probably have dozens left behind by other travellers.

If you plan to use your phone heavily (for example by using its GPS function to track your progress), a small battery powered recharger can be handy. If you are planning to hike in remote areas, a recharger can be essential as your hostel may have limited power.

Make your battery last. Your phone battery will last longer if you shut down apps you aren’t using, especially those that use the GPS, and if you turn down the screen brightness. If you aren’t expecting calls or checking email, switch your phone to airplane mode; your GPS will still work, you can view any information stored on your phone, and the battery will last much longer.

Keep it clean and dry. Using your phone outside and in every kind of weather can be hard on it. A simple ziplock bag will keep your phone dry and you can use it without taking it out of the bag. A waterproof protective case is more expensive but lets you use it without worry—you can even take photos in a downpour.

More information

You can find detailed information about prepaid plans for most countries, including prices, on this website: http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Prepaid_SIM_with_data.

Read part 2: Apps for Travel

Some gear notes, Europe 2013

Bicycle
I hope I don’t ruin my luck by mentioning this: so far no punctures! I am using Continental Touring Plus 32 mm tires, new at the start of the trip. The puncture-resistant layer works yet they aren’t too heavy and ride well. Likewise, the wheels are have remained true in spite of rough pavement and potholes. Running the tires at the recommended 70 psi gives a comfortable ride and probably helps the rims. I recommend the Conti tires.

With rough pavement, a few things on the bike need occasional tightening and the headset needed adjustment, but no problems.

Blogging and ebooks
The iPad mini is terrific. I also have a small Logitech keyboard that fits as a cover and functions as a stand. My fingers are now accustomed to the keyboard. The combination gets attention when I use it in a café. Everyone thinks its a cool package. It isn’t quite as convenient as a laptop for blogging, the workflow is a bit clunky, but the savings in weight and size compensate. As I learn ways around the limitations of an iPad, the more I like it. I will not take a laptop computer travelling again if I’m going lightweight. I have even managed to do some website work for the hiking club while on the road; some things I didn’t think possible with iPad turn out to be not too hard.

It is also a good ebook reader, just the right size and not too heavy. I read when travelling but no longer carry paper novels. I have ebook travel guides for the counties I visit. I prefer paper books at home, but on the road I’m an ebook convert.

As claimed, the iPad gets ten hours battery life from a charge and it is more rugged than a laptop. Seems to be all I need.