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7 Essential Travel Gear, Apps and Services for Global Travel

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Couple on beach

Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around Europe and Asia to visit friends and family. As a productivity geek, I wanted to make my trip as convenient and efficient as possible.

Traveling can be quite stressful but with the right gear, apps and services it can also be a fun and convenient endeavor. Here are 7 tips that I’ve used to make my global travel efficient and stress-free.

1. Passport Wallet

The first thing you need is a passport wallet. This allows you to keep your itineraries, boarding passes, passport photos, baggage tickets and such in one place.

Trust me, it’s a huge time saver. A couple years ago when Aaron and I went to Hong Kong, I saw Aaron use one of these. While I was scrambling in my bag for my passport, boarding passes and other tickets, Aaron just pulled out his passport wallet and efficiently got things taken care of. Since then, I got one for myself and from all the traveling I’ve done since then I can tell you that having this changed my travel life.

If you’re always scrambling and looking for your passports, tickets and boarding passes – get yourself a passport wallet / holder.

passport wallet

This is the one I have.

2. T-Mobile Subscription

This one won’t apply to everyone but having a T-Mobile phone plan made my travels very easy and convenient.

As a US T-mobile customer, you get free text messages and data when you’re abroad. Yes, you read that correctly. I had 3/4G everywhere I went and it was free. Whether I was wandering the streets of Amsterdam, Budapest, Ho Chi Minh or Bangkok, thanks to my data plan, I had Google Maps to tell me where to go.

There was no need waste time finding sim cards, memorizing a new phone number, notifying friends of my new number and swapping sim cards from country to country. I had the same number. I had free text messages. And I had an internet connection on my iPhone everywhere I went.

Data packages can be quite expensive when you go abroad which is why I usually got a local sim card as it’s usually cheaper. If you’re only staying somewhere for a short period of time though, it’s too much of a hassle to get a new sim and overpaying for a temporary phone plan.

That’s not a problem anymore.

Free texting and data plan while abroad on T-Mobile.

Free texting and data plan while abroad on T-Mobile.

I’m not sure if other carriers offer this free feature at the moment (I don’t believe so) but if you travel quite a bit and don’t want to deal with new sim cards all the time – get on T-Mobile.

3. Uber

One of my favorite services in the world is Uber.

It’s a taxi service where you can request a car to pick you up via your phone based on your current location. There’s no cash involved – at the end of your ride your credit card gets charged based on the total ride fee. So you get in, tell the driver where to go and then get out.

It’s cheaper than a taxi in a lot of places, but most importantly – it’s a global service. So when I went to Europe, I requested an Uber to take me to the airport and when I landed in Amsterdam, I requested an Uber to take me home.

Same app, same company, same service. You get the same experience and convenience in Amsterdam, Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City as you would in LA.

Whenever you arrive in a new city, the last thing you want to do is haggle with taxi drivers, figure out how much it costs in local currency and worrying about possibly being scammed. With Uber you don’t have to worry about that.

uber

For new Uber users, you can use coupon code UBERTPHAM and you get a $30 credit on your first ride. Sign up via this link.

4. Tripit Pro

Tripit organizes your itineraries and hotel bookings in one place. It is one of those services you don’t really understand how valuable they are until you use them.

For example, in the past I had to print out my itinerary or dig through my email to find my flight details to check in for a flight. Now, with Tripit, I just open the app and it shows me all the info I need to automatically check in.

tripit

There’s a free version that I used for years that was convenient. Then I got a complimentary upgrade to Tripit Pro (as part of a credit card I have – see below) and now I like it even more. What I like about the Pro is that it gives you real-time travel updates and travel tips and recommendations based on your trip, e.g., which seat to get, weather conditions, and such.

The other day, my flight got delayed while I was waiting at the gate. Tripit notified me of my delay on my phone before the airline did at the gate. It’s that good. Or another time, due to a delay I missed my connecting flight and Tripit showed me alternative flights I could hop on later so I could plan accordingly and be prepared.

5. A Good Travel Credit Card

Whenever I’m abroad, I like to avoid cash as much as possible. After researching how currency exchange kiosks work and losing lots of money in the process, I really try to pay as much as I can with a credit card and carry minimal amounts of cash (I especially hate coins).

Besides, I like getting points for my spending too that I can redeem for future travel. If you’re going to spend money, might it was do it efficiently!

So you might be wondering – which credit card should I get for travel? There are so many out there, but here are the things you want in a travel credit card:

1. No foreign transaction fees
Obviously, you don’t want to get penalized for using your credit card in another country. So the first thing you want is a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

2. Chip and PIN feature
Most places in Europe and Asia don’t accept the traditional “swipe credit card” that is so common here in America. Instead, they accept cards that have a chip that requires a PIN to operate which is more secure.

Some of the new travel credit cards have this feature. A lot of them also have the Chip and Signature feature (you put the card in the machine and then sign) which will get you by in most cases unless a particular ticketing machine requires a Chip and PIN card. So it’s better to have a Chip and PIN card than Chip and Signature.

3. VISA or Mastercard
As far as the type of credit card, I’ve noticed that American Express is not widely accepted – especially in smaller shops. VISA and Mastercard are more widespread (I suspect due to AMEX’s higher fees for merchants). That’s why I recommend you get both a VISA and Mastercard just in case one of them isn’t accepted or isn’t working.

With that out of the way the two cards I use are the Barclays Arrival+ and Bank of America Travel Rewards card.

The Barclays Arrival+ is a Mastercard with a great reward system (2x points per $1) and has a Chip and PIN feature. This is my go-to card when I’m traveling. It also gives you a complimentary subscription to Tripit Pro which is totally worthwhile.

The other is the Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card that gives you 1.5 points per $1. This a Chip and Signature card (so not Chip and PIN) and I only use this if the Arrival+ card can’t be used (which hasn’t happened yet).

For those of you outside of USA, ask your local banks for credit cards and check the national airline as they often have good credit cards too.

Random note: If you get asked to pay in USD or the local currency, choose local currency. You’ll save money in the exchange rate. One time I bought dinner for my friends in Hungary and the waitress asked me if I wanted to billed in Forints (the local currency) or USD. I told her Forints and I noted down how much it was in USD that she quoted. When I checked my statement for the amount in USD, I compared it to the waitress quoted in USD and saw I saved quite a bit of money. The banks and credit card companies usually have a better exchange rate than the foreign merchants.

6. Universal / International Charger

One of many wishes I have is that every country uses the same electricity plugs and voltage. That would take globalization to the next level. More countries would be able to import and export electronics which benefits everyone, but that’s a separate dinner conversation.

In the meantime, you want to get at least two universal plugs that you can use anywhere. Get two just in case one of them stops working (remember: backup is a productivity tool). Trust me, the last thing you want to do on your trip is finding a store that have one of these. It can be quite a challenge (especially when you don’t speak the local language).

maxah charger

The one I have are these. Get two per person.

7. External Battery Pack

The last tip is to have an external battery pack for your phone. While you’re in transit you definitely don’t want to run out of battery which can easily happen when you start traveling internationally.

I always charge my phone while I’m flying so by the time I land, I can immediately go on with my day without worrying about my phone’s battery. This is especially true when you have a data plan on your phone that you use to get around and stay in touch with people. While I was playing tourist and my phone was at 10%, I simply grabbed my battery pack out of my backpack and started charging it while I kept sightseeing.

limefuel

Limefuel battery pack. Can charge both your iPhone and iPad at the same time.

The external battery pack I use is by LimeFuel that can charge two devices at the same time – perfect for an iPhone and iPad combo on your trip.

Efficient Traveling

Here are some other posts we have on efficient traveling:

Do you like to see more efficient traveling tips? We have a ton of tips for efficient packing, travel hacks and productive travel tips and we’ll share them if you want us to write about them.

Let us know in the comments and we’ll write more of these posts.

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2 Comments

Posted by Dr Mark  | August 14, 2014 at 6:11AM | Reply

These are great. Two additiosn I have to this list
1. Rather than two power adaptors is to take a 4 point power board and one adaptor. This helps overcome the issue of needing multiple power points in hotels that seem to never have enough.
2. A business card sized cheat sheet that has passport details on it (eg number and exp date etc) so that you don’t have to get out precious documents every time you are filling in immigration documents.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | August 17, 2014 at 1:58PM

Great tips Mark! I like the cheat sheet idea.

I use 1Password for that on my phone since it contains everything (passport number, expiration date, etc). Very easy too.

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