Essential Mobile Technology for World Travel

It was another one of those mornings. I woke up thinking that we only have another nine days of work before leaving the country for a year. I know, it’s crazy. We are currently looking for recommendations for a good shrink.

Over the last month, a lot has changed. We are working on the last few items at the end of our planning list. Flights and accommodations have been booked through the first few months of our trip. These get us through Iceland and Eastern Europe, plus from Nairobi all the way to Cape Town overland. We sold our house in the middle of May and have been homeless for the last two weeks. We have been blessed with two amazing couples who have hosted us for the month prior to our departure. We have given up both of our pets to temporary fostering with different friends and relatives. And we have continued to uncover several helpful software programs which are helping with our planning, tracking, safety, and education. These tools will be the topic of this post.

After almost 12 months of reading articles and blogs of world travelers, listening to podcasts, and planning, it’s amazing that we would continue to uncover new relevant tools. In hopes to help others with their plans, we are going to provide a high level overview of some apps and software which are really helping us with our round the world trip. This is not designed as a deep dive of the software, mainly because we are as close to technologically inept as two people can be. We is even particulate bad at spilling and grammar.

Cutting edge technology

Organization – By nature, the RTW trip planning process involves lots of bookings, confirmations and a lengthy itinerary. We were keeping all of our reservations flagged in our email, but needed another method to store them all in one place. I had been avoiding getting another app to help since I recalled that it was a tedious pain in the ass to reenter all of your information for each booking and accommodation. It had been several years since I had used one of these, and apparently technology has come a long way since that time. I hear they have even invented something called an internet? Mind = blown.

I had a friend recommend TripIt. It is an app that stores your travel plans like any other I have used in the past, but with one key difference: you can forward your email confirmations to the company and they automatically show up in the app separated by location and date. It pulls in confirmation numbers, addresses, and check-in / check-out times as well.  Now to be fair, I haven’t looked at any other apps to compare, so there may be several with this feature, but this one provides value for us.  I will say, however, that it isn’t perfect. I think that the operator keeps connecting the wires wrong (maybe she was up late over Memorial Day weekend). For no apparent reason, plans will link to the wrong city despite correct titling or show the wrong dates. I have had to reassign accommodations from one city to another or adjust dates several different times (this appears to affect Airbnb bookings most often). Regardless, it is still a hell of a lot better than manually keying each entry. This app was free on the iPhone.

Some serious organization

Navigation – One of the toughest parts of travel is the disconnection from normal connection signal (e.g carrier data / 4G).  We have gotten so used to being able to check our location or map a destination at will that finding your route the old fashioned with a tourist map or via the location of the North Star can be a challenge.  Fortunately, there are several ways to download mapping software to your phone to be accessed at will and without any phone signal or wifi.  Two that we have used are Google Maps and MAPS.ME, both of which allow your phone access to satellite GPS to be shown on a saved map with a navigation feature.  Google (instructions here) has an option to choose an area to save to your phone while connected to the internet, and then use regularly while offline.  MAPS.ME offers a similar product but with a greater level of detail and usability offline.  We have used this app in both New Zealand and Iceland with a great level of success.  You can download cities or entire countries, search points of interest, and navigate by different modes of transport.  We have had more success with this app than with Google for offline navigation.

State of the art navigation software


Cost Tracking – We have been following a couple who recently returned from their own world trip. This is one of the numerous sources of inspiration and information which has been helping us with our own planning process. They posted about their year trip which cost around $10,000 per person. While I have no idea how they were able to travel that cheaply, the ability to provide the costs for their trip was helpful to other travelers. In hopes to provide you accurate information for all aspects of our own trip, we are keeping detailed records of our expenses. We are doing double accounting to keep each cost in both a total trip column and in a country specific column. This will allow us to track average costs overall for 12 months along with averages per country.

I ran across an app called Trail Wallet which is a cost tracking software. It is very helpful, although it does have some limitations. The free version allowed us to create up to five trips (which for us were the first four separate countries plus the RTW total entry). I somehow missed this limit and was eventually required to upgrade to get more entry capacity.  Unfortunately (very fortunately) we are visiting way more than five areas, so I forked over the $4.99 for the full version (that reminds me that I need to add the cost of this app to our total trip cost). The upsides of this tool are the ease of use and the ability to separate by trip and expense category. It is also visually appealing with a pie chart to show how you are spending the money. The downsides are that the options for expense type are pretty limited and there is not a “create your own” category. It would also be nice if I could have our master trip and create sub-trips which feed costs into the total as opposed to having to add double entries for everything.

There is no wine expense category

Internet Security – This subject is way outside of my area of expertise. All I know is that you don’t want to leave a trail of personal information which can be picked up by people while you access the internet. This isn’t something we have worried too much about in the past since we had our own secure wifi and didn’t need to access very much from other places. Now for the next year, we will be accessing everything from other places which likely will not have the same level of internet security that we are used to. We decided to set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which would add a level of security to our internet usage and keep from leaving a trail of information behind. There is also another major benefit for world travel use which allows your internet access to run through a server location of your choice. This give you the ability to access websites from any location, even countries which censor internet content. We will be in a couple of areas which fit this profile that would block access to Google, Gmail, and other sites important to our travels.

We had originally downloaded a free VPN app to help secure our internet trail, but later found out that it didn’t offer the protection necessary. I spent all day last Saturday researching other options to protect all of our devices and keep prying eyes from getting our sensitive info. The best sources were numerous review and comparison websites along with user feedback. It appears that there hundreds of VPN companies, and a whole lot of them that apparently suck. I ended up narrowing down to two options, Nord VPN and Express VPN. They seemed almost identical from reviews and comparisons and were both highly recommended, with one small exception. Nord VPN allows for 6 devices to be simultaneously active under the same account while Express VPN allowed 3. Not that we needed 6, but this flexibility drove our final decision. The paid versions offer significantly more coverage and were not terribly expensive if paid in advance. For instance, the month to month cost of Nord was $11.95, but you get a 50%+ discount for paying for a year upfront. We also found a coupon code “70off” which dropped the price to $4.00 per month for a year up front. Here are a few links to review sites and better explanations than our caveman level overview: CNET VPN ReviewNomadic Matt VPN Blog, Secure Thoughts.

The latest security measures

Language – As part of the experience of multi-continent world travel, we will be primarily in countries which speak a different primary language, and several which speak/utilize almost no English. We are doing some language training as we go and will target the closest region where we feel that some basics will be essential above what we can get from a phrase book. We are currently working on the Romania and will then move on to Nepal then India, etc. We are using Duolingo which I originally learned about from a friend, but became fascinated after hearing about it on a TED Talk given by one of the creators, Luis Von Ahn (if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend spending the 17 minutes).  “In this talk, he shares how. . .Duolingo will help millions learn a new language while translating the Web quickly and accurately — all for free.”

Twitter 1.0

Cell Phone Number – Most cell providers allow you to keep your phone number but temporarily suspend service for a period of time for a small fee. This fee can range from $5-$10 per month, but the service suspension typically has a relatively short total available window. For instance, Verizon (which we use) allows us to halt our service for up to 90 days at a reduced rate. This 90 day window appears to be pretty standard amongst most major cell carriers. This is from the Verizon site: “In a 12 month rolling year you are only eligible for 90 days at a reduced rate and the remaining 90 days you will be billed your full monthly amount”. If you are anything like us, you have probably had the same number for many many years. This is the contact number with all friends and virtually every company which you have ever dealt with. We didn’t want to lose our number, but also didn’t want to continue to pay full price for our cell plan while it wasn’t in use.

We were able to find another option with a tip from someone who works for a cell provider. There are companies which offer cell number “parking” services that allow you to hold your unused number until you are ready to port it back to a provider. The services have various levels of features, but the most basic “deep freeze” option will hold your totally unused number for any length of time for as low as $3 per month per number. The two main competitor providers are Park My Phone and NumberGarage. Depending on the plan type you choose, one may be better than the other. We decided to go with a slightly more robust option which provided the ability for our phone numbers to still receive voicemail. The company then sends you an email with the voicemail to be received anywhere in the world. This felt like a valuable feature just in case a company or person who did not know about our travel plans was trying to get in contact. This plan with the extra feature of 100 voicemail minutes costs a total of $5 per month per line.

There are also higher level plans which have even more benefits for an additional price, which did not make sense for our situation. These include call forwarding through VoIP and can be sent to a Skype or traditional number. There are various options for included minutes and voicemail. Lifewire has a good comparison article regarding these services and companies.

Forward your calls anywhere!

Photo storage – For those who take photos while traveling, a year trip provides constant opportunities for saving the experiences. With this volume of pictures, storage can become a problem on your phone, camera or computer. Most devices come with a cloud backup service nowadays such as Apple’s iCloud, which provide a secure and seamlessly automatic way to back up your pictures and other data. iCloud now has an option to Optimize iPhone Storage which removes older and less viewed pictures from your phone when they are saved in the cloud and storage on your device is running low.

While the Apple cloud is certainly a good option to use as a backstop, there are other more universally available options as well. Amazon has a paid service for unlimited photo backup (free with Prime account). Google also has a free photo backup service with unlimited capacity for photos up to 16mp and videos up to 1080p, and a paid option for larger file sizes. These services will automatically backup your photos with wifi. They can provide an additional storage area for pictures, which is more universally accessible/shareable from/to any device.

We have added Google Photos to our arsenal of software to provide a place for the potentially dozens of gigs of pictures for our trip. The main driver in this choice was the extreme ease of use and access.  It also automatically categorizes your files by image, such as mountains, glaciers, people, backpacks, etc.  This can be a great help if you need to sort through thousands of photos to find something random to fit a blog post…

What if your camera gets wet?

Make sure that you check out our other posts on the pre-planning process and packing which supplement this information!  There are other items previously discussed which were not also included in this post.

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