SkyMall Monday: Underwater Cell Phone System

Here at the SkyMall Monday headquarters, the motto is “Be Prepared…Always” I considered copying the Boy Scouts’ motto verbatim, but I just can’t support any organization that places so much emphasis on neckerchiefs. That said, I like to be ready for any situation, and thankfully the SkyMall catalog anticipates every situation imaginable (and some that only a person on a tremendous amount of hallucinogens could possibly consider). So, while some people are content with put their faith in maps, GPS systems and charts, I require a Plan D. I need to know that, at any time, I can contact my SkyMall Monday support team for assistance. As I often find myself 40 meters underwater and completely lost, I can’t be trying to read a soggy AAA TripTik with outdated notes about speed traps. No, I need real help. Thankfully, SkyMall anticipated this completely common and harrowing situation and responsibly chose to distribute a product that can help me when nothing else can. The next time I’m disoriented below sea level, I’m going to call the Gadling editors and ask for help on my Underwater Cell Phone System.Why would I need to make cell phone calls underwater, you ask? Well, besides my penchant for driving off of bridges, I also happen to do my best thinking while in a wetsuit. And when an idea pops into my head, I feel that it merits a phone call to share the news.

Case in point: Just last year, I was scuba diving and realized that it was time to break up with my girlfriend. I called her immediately and said, “Babe, we’re through. I met a mermaid down here and I think she’s the one.” Now, it turns out that the mermaid was just a manatee with two seductively-placed goiters, but I still think breaking up with someone warrants a phone call.

Don’t think that making phone calls from 40 meters below sea level is necessary? Well, I bet you also think that I don’t need to watch TV while in an elevator. You’re such a Luddite. Well, if you won’t take my word for it, listen to the wizards over at SkyMall:

With the Alpha UWCP, talk with someone 15,000 miles away while diving a tropical reef or in your pool! This complete and sophisticated communication diving system can do it.

It was just last week that I got completely lost and needed help to find my way home. Thankfully, my mother answered the call and told me that I was in the pool and simply needed to get out and walk inside. Now, if I can get lost just trying to find a comfortable place to urinate, you can imagine how desperately I need an Underwater Cell Phone System in my life. It’s anecdotes like this that make the system’s $1,790.00 price tag seem like an absolute peach of a deal.

So, the next time you set off on a road trip, don’t just pack maps and charge your GPS. Lakes, ponds and oceans are lurking everywhere, just waiting to swallow you whole. Only some quick thinking and speed dialing will be able to save you. Be prepared…always.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Gadling Review: Traveldodo mobile city guides

We like to play around with mobile phones here at Gadling. They’re becoming one of the more invaluable tools for the on-the-go traveler, both domestically and abroad. Recently we were introduced to a website called Traveldodo, an online travel review site that offers an extensive selection of free mobile travel guides for cities across Europe.

Free mobile guides you say? We decided to take Traveldodo’s suggestion, download a free mobile guide to Barcelona and see for ourselves how it worked. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Extensive selection – Traveldodo offers city guides for more than 100 cities across Europe, including everything from Barcelona to Reykjavik to Istanbul
  • Free Download – the guides are free to download and don’t require a wireless connection to read. You will however pay a charge from your wireless carrier (typically around $1-2 depending on your carrier) if you don’t have a data plan. Take note.
  • City Info – the info within Traveldodo’s guides covers Things to do, Food and drinks, Places to sleep, City info, and Country info, as well as a special section where users can submit their own tips for inclusion in future versions.
  • Compatibility – the guides are designed to work with lots of different phones, meaning you don’t need an iPhone in order for it to work. Traveldodo claims most phones after 2006 to be compatible.

Overall, we like Traveldodo’s concept and their utility, though the guides themselves still have some rough spots. Downloading was easy enough – users simply point their browser at the address of their desired city listed here. Despite two tries we could not get the app to work on a Blackberry, which was a troubling sign, but did get the Barcelona guide downloaded on a Sony Ericsson device.

Having visited Barcelona a few times, we took a look through the guide’s listing of Things to do, Food and drinks and City info. The information was certainly useful, though frequent travelers might find it to be a bit basic. One feature that was particularly interesting was the Submit Do/Don’t, which allows users to add their own tips to Traveldodo’s database by email or SMS. This collaborative feature, along with the app’s free download price and extensive range of cities make Traveldodo mobile city guides worth a second look. Check one out if you’re heading to Europe anytime soon.

10 travel related things you just don’t see any more

Feeling nostalgic? I’ve compiled ten travel related things that are no longer around, including a couple of things that really brought back some memories of trips from the past.

Read through the 10 things I could think of, and leave a comment with anything you no longer see when you travel.

Smoking or Non Smoking?

With the possible exception of a few smaller airlines, you won’t find an airline in the world that still asks whether you want a smoking or non smoking seat on your flight.

I’m not that old, but I can still remember sitting in the back of the plane with all the smokers so my dad could light up.

Smoking is banned on any flight in, or destined to the United States, and an overview of the rules on worldwide airlines can be found here. In 2006, a German entrepreneur announced he was starting an airline where anyone would be free to smoke, but the concept never took off.


Travel agents

In ancient times, booking a flight involved making a trip to your local travel agent. You’d often pop in for a stack of brochures, then you’d head back in a couple of days to make the actual reservation.

The booking involved filling in forms, and an agent calling the airline to check for availability, or if they sold enough trips, they’d use their green screen computer to check for availability. You’d then pay, and 2 weeks later your travel documents would be ready to pick up. Usually neatly stacked in a nice vinyl pouch.

There are still some travel agents around, but most of them have disappeared. The local travel agent is just another victim of Internet booking sites and airline cost cutting measures. Those still around tend to cater towards specialty trips, package deals or cruise vacations, where they can still make a few bucks in commission.


Color TV! Phones!

Sure, some less luxurious places may still have the old sign out front, but “color TV” is not the big selling point it used to be. Nowadays guests want 100 channels of HD, as well as a nice variety of pay per view flicks.

Access to your own in-room phone is also no longer a perk worth advertising, even though the phone has now become a major money maker for many hotels.

I haven’t been around long enough to know when “color TV” actually became something worth advertising, nor have I ever been to a hotel where the TV was not in color.



Let me admit right away that this one hasn’t completely vanished – but the payphone is most certainly not as common as it used to be, nor do that many people want to use them.

In a way, I kind of miss the hassle they offered, because they meant people had to stop and drop some coins into the slot in order to make a phone call. Nowadays it seems like everyone is on their phone, and the worst offenders seem to have their Bluetooth headset glued to their skulls 24/7.

The last time I made a call from a payphone was in 1998, when I arrived at Dulles with a dead phone battery. Nowadays I can use my cellular phone in almost any corner of the globe.


Real room keys

We can put a computer inside your phone, and develop a car that runs off battery power – but for some reason we seem unable to make a magnetic room key that always works when you need it.

I remember when the room key hung on a big board behind the front desk, and you’d hand it in when you left the hotel for the day. The large weight on the key would usually remind you not to go out without leaving it behind.

The best part about the real key is that it always worked. You never arrived at your room at 2am to discover it was encoded incorrectly by a clueless night desk clerk, nor would you be able to receive a key for a room already occupied.


Carbon copy ticket stock

This one is closely related to the travel agent – remember when airline tickets did not roll out of your home printer? You’d get them on airline ticket stock, in a cool red carbon print.

The carbon copy ticket still exists for a couple of airlines, or for trips too complicated for online ticketing (usually round the world tickets with over 10 segments).


Affordable duty free shopping

To many, a trip to the airport never took place without first passing through the duty free shops. The stores themselves are still around, but they are not the deal heavens they used to be. In the past, the duty free shop was where you’d pick up a bottle of the “good stuff” for about 30% less than the liquor store in your town. You could always tell who traveled a lot, by the size and quality of the booze in their cabinet.

Nowadays duty free is just another overpriced way the airport tries to squeeze some more cash out of you before you fly. In Europe, duty free shopping between EU members was abolished in 1999, and most duty free stores in European airports sell only regular priced (luxury) items. Airports like Amsterdam Schiphol and London Heathrow have 100’s of stores, but only a handful of true “duty free” options.


Film roll kiosks

It didn’t matter where you were – if it was something tourists enjoyed looking at, there would be some poor guy selling rolls of film in his little kiosk. If you were part of the new revolution, you’d buy your Kodak Disc cartridges from him. If you were really hardcore, you’d carry your Polaroid 600 with you, and get instant gratification!

Once you got back home, you’d have to drop all the film rolls off at the local photo store, and wait a week to get them back. That then changed to same day processing, then one hour processing, and nowadays we just stick a memory card in our computer and make our own prints.


The VHS video camera

I still remember hauling a large bag with us on our trips. It contained a JVC video camera and VHS recorder.

By the time we had loaded the padded bag with batteries, a charger and a stack of tapes, the thing weighed about 60lbs, but at the time it was a marvel of technology.

It went everywhere we did – to the zoo, to the bar and even to the beach. After years of vacations, we ended up with 100’s of hours of video we never once watched again.

Nowadays the video camera inside many mobile phones is able to make better quality video than this thing did, which is probably why you don’t see anyone dragging one around any longer.


Cheap plastic luggage

Nowadays, the big unknown by the baggage carousel is to see whether your baggage actually made it to your destination, but I still remember the days when the big surprise was whether your cheap luggage made it in one piece, and how many of the handles were still attached.

These crappy bags were often made of vinyl glued onto cardboard, and you were lucky if they survived the trip to the airport, let along a long haul flight abroad.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I suspect luggage quality has improved in recent years, and very few people actually still travel with the old fashioned suitcase.

How to use your mobile phone abroad

I understand why many people don’t pack a mobile phone when they leave the country. Aside from the high costs for international roaming, many associate mobile phones with the annoyances and stresses of day-to-day life. Nevertheless, I am a strong proponent of bringing your phone along for your trip. With a few small modifications, your phone can become a tremendous enhancement while you’re out of the country. When I travel with my friends, we usually carry two phones so we can meet if we split up. Not to mention the joy it brings to my friend Nick or my parents when I dial them from Spain at 3 in the morning. And the best part of all this? You can even avoid the painful international price-gouging that usually comes with using it.

But before you can enjoy this blissful world of cheap local calling worldwide, you’ll need to take a few simple steps to get your phone ready for travel. Here’s Gadling’s guide to using your mobile phone abroad. Follow along as we take you through the steps.


The most important part of using your phone abroad is having a model that is compatible with the worldwide wireless networks. For 95% of the world (excluding Korea and Japan) that standard is GSM. You’ll want a phone that is compatible with the GSM system. If you live in the U.S., both AT&T and T-Mobile, along with a few smaller wireless carriers, use GSM systems. Check with your provider if you’re not sure. If you have service with a GSM carrier, you’re already a step ahead, though you still need to confirm if your phone is tri-band or quad-band, which I will explain in the next step. If you are a Verizon or Sprint customer, your phone is not compatible unless you have a “world phone” – but don’t despair. You can easily purchase a cheap phone online or through a third party retailer.


In addition to a phone that works on a GSM network, different countries operate using different “frequencies” within GSM. Don’t worry about matching a specific frequency when you travel – instead make use of a phone that works across all the various frequencies. A phone that is quad-band works across all four GSM frequencies and will allow you the most flexibility. Tri-band phones will work in most situations, but there’s a few exceptions. Quad-Band is always your best bet. Check your phone’s user manual to find out what kind of phone you have.

For those lucky enough to already have a GSM-compatible, quad-band phone, skip this step and move to the next step, unlocking. For everyone else, you’ll want to get yourself a compatible phone. You can rent these types of phones online, but they can be purchased for about the same price and you get to keep it indefinitely. Sites like Amazon and eBay have lots of cheap handsets for sale. Find one you like and keep your eye out for the word “unlocked,” which I’ll explain in my next step. Also make sure it accepts a SIM card and that it’s quad-band or tri-band as mentioned before.


So you’ve gotten yourself the right phone, but there’s one last step before you’re ready to use it abroad. GSM phones use a technology called a SIM card that identifies your particular phone and its account on the wireless network (see the photo above for an example). If you open the battery pack on the back of the phone, you’ll see a little plastic chip wedged into a slot. That’s your SIM card. Wireless companies in the U.S. “lock” their phones so that if you take out their SIM, it’s useless. You will need to remove this protection before using it abroad. So we’re clear, you can still use “locked” phones in other countries – it’s just that you’re paying $2.00/minute to your favorite phone company back home. By unlocking, you’re using local service providers and getting cheaper rates.

There are a few ways to unlock but the easiest is to buy a phone that comes pre-unlocked. Search for the term “unlocked” on Amazon or eBay and you’ll see what I mean. You can also unlock a phone you already have that is locked. Surprisingly, your wireless carrier will typically give you the codes and instructions to do it, provided you’re not a brand new customer. I called up AT&T and they simply gave me the instructions. Done. It’s not always that easy however – if you’re unsure at all, take it to a third party wireless store and they’ll do it for a small fee. Or check out this.


Your phone is unlocked, congratulations. All you need now is a local SIM card. You can either buy these online (check out Telestial) or you can buy a SIM card when you arrive at your destination. In most countries, mobile phone stores sell prepaid wireless service for low rates along with a SIM card for their network. Once you’re set up, you can add more minutes with refill cards bought at places like ATM’s, convenience stores, newstands or even online. You might also wonder if the SIM card you buy in one country works in others. The answer is typically yes – I have used SIM cards from Spain while traveling in Italy at rates that were still reasonable. The tricky part is when you go to add minutes in other countries. To make this process easier, try to find a wireless carrier who operates in more than one country. A good example in Europe is Vodafone, which offers service and minute refills in Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK, France and Belgium among others.

That’s it. It can definitely seem confusing at first, but there are plenty of resources online to help you if you get stuck. Sites like Telestial or Howard Forums are great resources if you need more information. Give me a ring and say hello once you’ve got it working, will you?