• Dropbox

    We love Dropbox for everyday use to store files, documents and more.  But, Dropbox is indispensable for using while traveling.  We have the Dropbox app on our iPhones ,iPads and laptop.

    Dropbox is an easy place to store all the things you need when you travel.   Here are the items we store in Dropbox when we travel:

    • Travel itineraries
    • Airline confirmations
    • Hotel confirmations
    • Copies of medication prescriptions
    • Emergency contact information
    • Copies of passport and drivers licenses (additionally encrypted, of course)
    • Copies of travel insurance documents
    • Copies of travel vouchers
    • Copies of train tickets (Eurail, etc).
    • Copies of travel visas

    By keeping all things related to your trip in Dropbox, it allows you to eliminate carrying paper.  It’s also one less thing you risk losing or having stolen.  The last thing you need is thieves knowing what your travel plans are. 

    While Dropbox stores your documents and information in the cloud, we’ve never had to worry about accessing an internet connection, no matter how remote of a place we’ve been.  But, of course, when you need one, there’s always the remote possibility you won’t have one.  That’s why it’s a good idea to put the items for your trip in a special folder to share on Dropbox.  You can share that folder with a friend or relative.  Then, if you don’t have access, you can at least have them fax or email it to you.  For each trip we take, we make a special folder in Dropbox, so it’s easy to find and share information.

    You can easily upload information to Dropbox from any computer or mobile device using the Dropbox app.  You can also use a third party app that’s also free, like SendtoDropbox.  SendtoDropbox allows you to email items directly to your Dropbox account.  It’s free and doesn’t have a size limit on attachments.  You can also give the SendtoDropbox email address to friends, in case they need to forward larger attachments to you while traveling.  It’s a good idea to also store that address in your own address book, in case you want to send items to it as well.

    Now you may be thinking, “Why not use something like TripIt, instead?”.  We use TripIt, too but the downfall is that it converts all of your itinerary information into it’s own format.  It leaves you without the original documents or confirmations.  While having the original is not usually a problem in the US, it can be as you travel internationally.

    Dropbox also comes in handy for other things while you travel.  We use it to to upload our travel journals each day and backup special photos we don’t want to lose. 

    Dropbox is extremely handy and the best thing is, it’s free.  You can store up to 2Gb of information without any fees.  You can also earn free additional storage space, just by signing up your friends.  Of course, you can buy more storage as well, although we’ve always found 2Gb to really be adequate.

  • Dark Energy Reservoir

    Back in January, we started testing of the Dark Energy Reservoir to use as a backup charging source for our iPads and iPhones while traveling.  The results are in and we’re thrilled.

    Overall:  This charger worked like a champ.  It charged quickly, efficiently and lasted forever.  If you don’t have one of these and you travel, you’re crazy.  We won’t leave home without this whenever we travel.

    Testing time:  90 days

    Device Charging Capability:  Our results were slightly better than as advertised.  On several occasions, we charged two iPhone 5s, one after the other, while they were powered on and used only 1/3 of the chargers capacity.  Each of the phones had less than 18% power at the time we started charging.  Both were charged in less than 90 minutes to 100% capacity.  The charging was conducted while in our coat pockets skiing and walking around the city in temperatures of less than 30 degrees.

    As to charging an iPad, we charged an iPad 2 that had 26% battery life remaining and it used less than 1/2 of the charge available in the reservoir.  The iPad was powered on, but not running any apps while charging.  We left it charging at room temperature.  We did this a couple other times in similar situations (while the iPad had between 20-40% remaining charge) and less than half of the reservoirs power was used.

    What we loved:  First, it’s light weight and easy to carry.  At around 5 ounces, it’s super light.  It easily fit into our coat pockets with an iPhone attached via the iPhone charging cable.  It was still easy to use the phone as it was attached to the charger.  

    The charging time for connected devices was more than adequate.  To be able to be out all day and not worry about trying to find an outlet to charge your device was great.  Also, being able to leave your device on while charging was great as well.

    The Dark Energy device itself was pretty quick to recharge.  When it first arrived, it took a while to charge, about 5-6 hours.  But on subsequent recharges, usually less than an hour or so, with about 1/3 of capacity used.  We never let it get below that before recharging.

    The PCMag Review:  We did our research before we ordered the Dark Energy Reservoir.  After reading the PC Mag review, we were a bit skeptical.  It goes to show you take each review with a grain of salt.  It didn’t bother us at all that there weren’t any cables included, other than the charging cable for the device itself.  We have plenty of cables for our devices, who needs to pack more?  As to being pricey, for the value it provides, I think the Dark Energy Reservoir is a great value.  It works as advertised (if not better) and has a one-year replacement warranty.  It charges devices fast and charges fast itself.  Plus, it’s lightweight.  That’s key when traveling.

    Where to buy:  You can purchase directly from Dark Energy or from Amazon.

  • Switching from AT&T to T-Mobile

    So, the switch is on.  We’ve switched from AT&T to T-Mobile.  Switching from AT&T to T-Mobile was really fairly easy.

    If you’ve been away from the planet over the last couple of weeks, you may have missed the fact that T-Mobile is on the hunt and looking to poach customers from other US wireless networks.  And they’re paying to do it.  Is it all hype?  A bit, maybe.  But it’s certainly gathered the attention of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and others.  So in our early days with T-Mobile, we’re putting the new network “in the lab” to test out and see if we made the right move.  

    Why the switch?
    While we’ve never been enamored with AT&T after six years, they certainly weren’t the worst wireless carrier.  But then what wireless carrier is great?  We lump cell phone carriers into the same bucket as most airlines.  Making money while nickel and diming customers is first, customer service is a distant second.  But the new T-Mobile offer was really too good to pass up.  They pay the early termination fee from AT&T and we were able to get new iPhones.  They took our old iPhones in trade and gave us more than Gazelle or other trade in sites.

    What we disliked about AT&T
    Well there’s the main things:

    1. Two Year Contracts
    2. Charge for every little add-on even under unlimited plans (texting, out of country use, data overages)
    3. Mediocre customer service at best
    4. 4G LTE service that worked occasionally (and yes, we’re in a large metro area)
    5. The wouldn’t unlock the SIM card on the phone until our two year agreement was up

    Again, was AT&T the worst carrier we ever had? No.  Was the coverage pretty bad?  No, not since about 4 years ago when they finally did network upgrades.  It’s what they didn’t do to keep us as customers.  Same high rates.  No additional services.  No appreciation for being a customer.  

    What we liked about T-Mobile

    The Plan – Plan for plan, it’s $20 cheaper a month over AT&T’s Share Plan.  And no commitments.  It’s month-to-month.

    International Data – OK, sure its only 2G data when roaming internationally, but 2G data is better than paying an arm and a leg for data period.  Plus, if high-speed data is that important, we can buy high speed data just like on the other wireless carriers.  We don’t use a ton of data overseas, but we occasionally do need to look something up while we’re out and about or get a live map of the area we’re in.  At least now, we can do that without incurring fees. And after 60 days of being a customer in good standing, they’ll unlock the SIM slot.

    International calling and texting from outside the US –  With T-Mobile, texting is free.  And for voice calls, we’ll only pay 20 cents a minute, vs the $1.99 a minute or more we’d pay on AT&T.  And that was only if we paid an additional $5 a month, to get a better rate.  Do we use our phone for voice calls out of the country?  Not usually.  But occasionally we check in with home base, so doing that for about 80% less, is nice.  

    Upgradability of the phones – Sure AT&T has Next!  In fact, under pressure from the T-Mobile offer, AT&T just changed their Next offer today so that you can upgrade now, vs waiting six months.  And yes, AT&T is free, where T-Mobile charges $10 a month.  But, with T-Mobile, you do actually get insurance in that cost, with AT&T it’s a no.

    Customer Service – We’ve been very impressed with the customer service so far at T-Mobile.  They’ve called us a few times, to see how things are going, to see if we’ve had any issues and if we’ve had any problems turning in our AT&T phones.  We’ve called customer service ourselves once to change our caller ID and add a corporate discount and both were done quickly and efficiently.  No hassle.

    Coverage – The coverage here in Denver is slightly better with T-Mobile than AT&T, but we expect that to be negligible.  After doing some research on coverage done by third parties, there really didn’t seem to be a big difference for either carrier.  Based upon comments and blogs on T-Mobile coverage in general in the mountains surrounding Denver, we do expect T-Mobile’s coverage to be a bit more spotty.

    AT&T Post Switch
    In fairness to AT&T before we made the switch, we called AT&T customer service to see if they would lower our bill, provide unlimited data in our plan, as well as add international roaming at the same rate as T-Mobile and give us free international data.  Of course, the answer was NO.  But of course, once we terminated our contracts and tweeted that to the twitter verse, AT&T came a twittering to get us to reconsider.  They would “work with us” to try to find a good compromise.  As far as I’m concerned, you had your chance.  We asked before switching.  You said no.  Didn’t you believe us, AT&T?  Why is our business more important now that we have switched? What’s changed?  You couldn’t offer something up before the switch while we were still your customer?

    All in all we’ll see how T-Mobile stacks up and report back in a few weeks.  We’ll be taking the phone to Europe to test out how the data works, is the data speed good enough when traveling overseas and how is the coverage quality both here and there.  Stay tuned for an update soon.


  • Dark Energy Reservoir

    There’s nothing more that’s a pain in the a**, than having your tablet or phone run out of juice.  And of course, it always happens at the most inconvenient time.  After a long flight.  After running around all day.  Ugh.  Let’s face it.  No matter what kind of phone or tablet you have, the “advertised battery life” is never very close to what it is in actual daily use.

    When we ran across the Dark Energy Reservoir late last year, we thought this could be the answer to our problems.  We had looked at portable phone and device chargers before, but they were too bulky or heavy to add to a backpack or carry around all day.  The Dark Energy Reservoir intrigued us with it’s light weight and extremely small footprint.  Plus, it can charge up to two devices more than once without needing to be recharged.  Too good to be true?  Well, that’s why we have it “in the lab” for testing to see if it lives up to it’s claims.

    So, the initial skinny.  

    We ordered a Dark Energy Reservoir right before Christmas in black.  We found a deal for $110 vs the suggested retail price of $129.

    It really is light weight.  It seems a bit lighter than an iPhone and about the same form factor.  It’s actually around 6″ X 3″ X 1″.  It comes with a nifty microfiber pouch, a charger and a USB cable.  It has two USB ports on the end, which can be used to charge up to two devices at one time.  Spec wise, what is amazing is it’s charge capacity of 8000 mhz.  That’s more capability than almost any other, especially in this small size of charger.

    In the next two weeks, we’ll put it to the test.  We’re taking it on a one week journey to Europe.  We’ll see how long it lasts on a single charge, charging out two iPhone 5s and two iPad 2s.  But that’s not all, we’re also going to put it to the climate test.  We’ll take it out skiing for 4 days and see if that affects how long it will stay charged.  So stay tuned.  In early February, we’ll report back.

    In the mean time, you can read a few other reviews about the Dark Energy Reservoir as well.  From PCMag, Business Insider  and GloboTraks.  Also, you can watch this video from Dark Energy for more info about the reservoir.

    Our testing of the Dark Energy Reservoir is complete. You can read the final review here.
  • Losing your cell phone on vacation

    Painful.  That’s the only way to describe losing your cell phone while traveling.  After traveling with a cell phone for almost ten years, not once have we lost one.  Never.  Ever.  Until now.  Somewhere in the Dar Es Salaam Airport in Tanzania, one of our iPhones took it’s own vacation.  A permanent one.  It wasn’t that hard being without a phone on vacation, but it sure was painful coming back and then replacing it.  Since it’s less than four months till a new Apple iPhone debuts, there’s no way we’re getting another until then.  Luckily AT&T was actually helpful and provided me with a SIM card as a temporary fix, so I could replace it temporarily with a cheap phone.  Enter the Nokia C3.  It’s no iPhone, that’s for sure, but at least its a phone.  The next difficult step was getting the phonebook updated on the new phone.  There was a backup on my Mac and laptop, but no way to easily get that stuff on the Nokia.  That was until we found Everdroid.  Everdroid allows you to back up your current phone (or data you store on your phone) to the cloud.  You can then export it to another phone from a different manufacturer in just minutes.  Everdroid was a godsend.  It saved hours of time from entering 100+ contacts by hand into the new phone.  The best part, it’s free.  Check out our review.

  • Everdroid

    Everdroid is a cell phone data backup service that stores your cell phone data on the cloud.  Contacts.  Calendars.  More.  Import or recover your important cell phone data and contacts in minutes.

    After losing our iPhone on a recent trip to Africa, we were in a pickle.  We weren’t about to buy a new iPhone, with a new version coming out in less than six months.  Instead, we bought a piece of crap Nokia to get us through.  But until then, we needed to recover our cell phone data and get our 100+ contacts on to the new phone.  Doing it manually was a very painful option we wanted to avoid.  After a quick web search, we found Everdroid.  Everdroid can take a current back up of your phone and then restore it to almost any other phone, should your original phone become permanently unavailable (i.e. lost).  

    But of course, we didn’t know about Everdroid before we lost our phone.  No problem.

    You can upload your contact data from any other source to Everdroid.  Since we used an iPhone, we had all of our contact information on our iMac and Macbook Pro laptop that was on our phone.  We exported it to a CSV file and had it uploaded into Everdroid in less than 2 minutes.  Then, all you do is setup your new replacement phone (i.e. piece of crap Nokia) to sync with Everdroid and voila, all of the contacts were there in less than 5 minutes.  

    If you have an Android based phone, Everdroid has even more services that allow you to operate your phone remotely.  We’re Apple die-hards, so for us, just being able to export contacts from our Macs, to a different OS on a non-Apple phone made, Everdroid our hero.  Best thing.  It’s free.

    From now on, we’ll be routinely backing up our phone data to Everdroid.  That way, if we lose our next iPhone again, and have to buy a new phone that’s not an iPhone, we’ll be able to restore our contacts on the new phone in minutes.  Check Everdroid out by going here.

  • mTrip Travel Guides

    Over the weekend, we were making last minute preparations for our upcoming trip to Spain at the end of the week.  We were searching the iTunes App Store for an iPhone/iPad app that had subway and city maps for Madrid.  In the past, we’ve pretty much stuck to Lonely Planet apps, but this time around we wanted to try something different.  We were also looking for something that gave us offline map and GPS capability.  Enter, mTrip.  After reading a few reviews, we’re going to give it a try and see how well it works.  mTrip has guides for many different cities in Europe, America and Asia.  Plus, they can be updated daily with the latest information.  Very handy.  We took a look at the app after we downloaded it and I must say it’s very impressive.  Very easy to use and does a good job of suggesting things to see and mapping them for you.  We’re anxious to try out their “augmented reality” feature, which allows you to point your iPhone at a location and find things nearby in a live video format.  Check back here the week of the 12th and we’ll let you know if mTrip’s app can cut the mustard.

  • Travel tips for phones, laptops and cameras

     We have some great travel tips for traveling with all of your electronic gear.  With just a bit of preparation, you and your phone, laptop and camera will be ready for just about anything in any country.  We’ll also include security tips on keeping your data secure.  After all, you never know what may happen when you travel.

    Phones, smartphone and tablets

    We take the view that vacation is vacation and it’s good to remain “disconnected”.  There are occasions when it is handy to have a wireless phone when traveling internationally.  If you think you’ll be taking your phone, before you leave make sure you:

    1. Verify your phone will work outside of the country
      Most foreign countries outside of North America use GSM technology.  Most Smartphones utilize GSM, but many regular cellphones in the US do not.  Check your carriers website and look at your destination’s wireless coverage maps.  You’ll find roaming maps for major US and UK carriers here:  T-mobile, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone, Orange.
    2. Make sure your phone is activated to work on international networks
      Most carries levy an extra surcharge for this service and it must be activated before you leave.
    3. International cell phone and data roaming can be expensive
      Make sure you check with your carrier and see what roaming rates are at your destination.  Data transfer adds up quickly.  You may want to turn off your email and web browsing capability while outside your home country.
    4. Set a device passcode
      Travelers lose or leave behind items every day.  Just in case you forget your phone, make sure to set a passcode on the device.  This will not only protect your phone from being used in a foreign country, but it will also help protect your valuable data stored on the phone. 

    Another alternative, based upon your destination, is to purchase a world cellphone or rent a sattelite phone if you’re traveling to extremely remote areas.

    Buying SIM cards at your destination can be cumbersome and some phones no longer have SIM cards that you can change.  If you’re going to be in a destination for a month or more, consider just buying a disposable cell phone when you get there with prepaid minutes.

    IAH TIP: Mobal Communications is our world cellphone carrier and has reasonable rates for most countries.  You pay no monthly fee, only for the time you use the phone.  They also rent sattelite phones if you’re going to be in remote areas.  We’ve used their service for over 4 years and have been very happy with both the service and call quality. 

    Laptops and tablets

    If you’re going to be traveling with your laptop or tablet, here’s a few tips:

    1. Backup it up before you leave
       That way if you lose it or it is stolen, you’ll have a current backup of your data
    2. Secure it
       Setup a Logon ID and/or passcode.  It’s one extra layer of security that can help protect your data if it is stolen or lost.
    3. Setup remote wiping
      If you have the ability to setup remote wiping of your laptop or tablet, enable the functionality before you leave.
    4. Plan on alternate protection.
      Hotel safes vary in size.  Sometimes there’s not a safe at all.  Sometimes safes aren’t safe. Plan on an additional way to secure your laptop if necessary.  Pac-Safe gear is one way to protect your electronic equipment if a safe isn’t available.
    5. Power supply and adapter.
      Make sure you have the right electrical adapter for your destination country.

    Using the internet in other countries

    Anytime you use your laptop, tablet or smartphone outside of your home, you should always be aware of keeping your surfing and data secure.  That’s especially true when you’re outside the country.  That hotel your staying in or internet cafe you’ve stopped into, may not take data security as seriously as you do.  Plus, you never know who may be trying to sniff 

    your data from nearby locations.  To protect yourself, consider getting a personal VPN.  

    A personal VPN protects your information once it leaves your computer.  Your firewall and virus protection don’t do that.  When you use an internet connection or hotspot, you don’t know who may be “sniffing” that traffic just looking for personal information, credit card numbers, etc.  Who knows who’s in the hotel room down the hall that’s monitoring your internet traffic on the hotel network.

    We’ve used WiTopia for PersonalVPN service for over five years.  It’s extremely reliable and really doesn’t have any affect on internet speed.  It’s very reasonable at around $60 per year and it’s easy to install and use for both Windows and Mac users.  Plus, you can also enable a WiTopia VPN on your tablet or smartphone.

     Leverage “the cloud” when you travel

    What happens if you lose your hotel confirmation while you’re on your trip?  Worse yet, what if you lose your passport?  While everyone should always take copies of important documents (like your passport) with you when you travel, as well as copies of itineraries, confirmations, etc., it’s easy to misplace or lose them.

    Our backup plan is to use the “cloud”.  There are many different cloud-based services you can use, such as iCloud or Dropbox.  These sites allow you to securely store files in the cloud and then access them from anywhere that you can logon to the internet.  You can store copies of your itineraries, passport, travel insurance documents, visas, etc, then be able to download or print them from wherever you are. Your files are safely stored and accessible only by you.  As an extra measure of precaution, we store all of our files in PDF format and encrypt them with a password.  Even if someone were to find out our login credentials to the site, they’d also need to know the password to the file to open or view it. 

    Cameras & video gear 

    There’s nothing better than getting back from a trip and reliving your travel experiences with your photos & video footage.  Before you leave on your trip, make sure:

    1. You have plenty of memory cards.
      The last thing you want is to miss out on being able to take photos half way through your trip.

    2. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket
      While it might be more convenient to buy one large capacity memory card, we prefer to use a few smaller capacity cards.  That way if your camera or card are lost, you don’t lose all your photos.
    3. Make sure you empty your memory card
      Before you go, make sure your memory card is empty and you’ve downloaded past photos.
    4. Make sure your camera’s batteries are charged before you leave
      That way you can hit the ground running and don’t have to worry about charging your batteries right away.
    5. Make sure you have the right power adapter for your destination
      You want to make sure you can recharge your batteries once you get to your destination.
    6. Lens cloth
      Make sure you take a small lens cloth.  If you get the right one, you won’t even need any lens cleaner and you’ll be ready for any dust, dirt or fingerprints that may get on your lens.