How to travel overseas with an iPod touch

Rather than face exorbitant cell-phone roaming charges, my travel companion and I recently traveled to Europe with just an iPad and an iPod touch. Though that meant that we could only look up restaurants or things to do when we were in a free Wi-Fi spot, I enjoyed the break from my inbox. And rather than being tethered to Facebook updates, we both paid more attention to the scene at hand — though as soon as we landed at JFK, my travel partner immediately turned on his iPhone to check Facebook.

Over the course of eight nights, I stayed in six hotels that all had free Wi-Fi access. Here’s what I learned about traveling overseas with the fourth-generation iPod touch:

The iPod touch is an affordable way to stay connected while on the road. For the newest 8GB version with FaceTime, the iPod touch starts at $229, compared to the iPad’s $499 starting price tag. Since there is no data plan for the iPod touch, you don’t have to worry about incurring a monthly bill. Also, since both devices are light and compact enough to carry, I didn’t have to fret about leaving a laptop in our luggage, which we left with the hotel’s front desk during the day before moving on to the next one. Though I normally travel with a netbook in order to back up digital photos and clear memory cards, I solved the memory problem by bringing 18GB’s worth of SD cards, which was more than enough even when shooting RAW files.

Sometimes the iPod touch was able to log on faster than the iPad. For whatever reason, we sometimes couldn’t get the iPad to connect right away. Having two devices that could access the Internet also proved invaluable when plotting our next destination. I used the iPod touch to check simple things like the weather, the time (I still don’t wear a watch), and the train schedule. I also downloaded the free Oanda currency converter app, which I used to calculate exchange rates. Conversely, we used the iPad for booking hotels and travel entertainment.Keep your turned-off cell phone in a safe spot. I made a point to keep my regular cell phone turned off during my vacation, but I experienced a moment of panic at a restaurant when I discovered the phone at the bottom of my messenger bag — turned on. I spent the rest of my meal worrying about how expensive the roaming charges would be. As soon as I got back to my hotel, I checked my online cell-phone statement and was relieved to see that no major damage had been done by my carelessness. (I still have no idea how the phone powered on). Nevertheless, after that incident, I moved my cell phone into my bag’s side pocket so it would stay off and yet still be accessible during emergencies. And though my travel companion could have switched his iPhone to airplane mode and achieved the same effect as with the iPod touch, we found it easier to keep everything off — just in case.

Many hotels generate individual Wi-Fi passwords for each guest.
Some hotels used a computer system to print out a unique Wi-Fi code for our stay. Other hotels used our passport number to create a password. One downtown hotel gave us a username and a password that we could use while sitting in the attached cafe. Even after we checked out, we’d stop by that cafe to order a coffee, rest our feet, check our e-mail, and look up restaurants. At one hotel, we were given a code for one week of complimentary Wi-Fi access, but unfortunately that was our last night so we weren’t able to take advantage of the pass.

Some hotels provided free Wi-Fi in the lobby but charged for Wi-Fi access in the room. In one hotel, we decided that sitting in the lobby was better than paying 15 euros for in-room Internet access. As it turned out, our room smelled like cigarette smoke so the less time we spent in there, the better.

[Photo by Amy Chen]