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In our incredibly connected world, modern travelers can go abroad and easily stay in touch with friends and family back home. There’s just one problem: incompatible technology. Your smart devices rely on your local networks to function. Go too far outside of your network, and you run into roaming charges, varying electrical setups and other challenges. When you go, go prepared—this list will help you ready all your smart devices for any trip, anywhere in the world.

RELATED: 5 things you should know before renting a car abroad

Electric power cable with plug and socket unplugged.Some similar pictures from my portfolio:

Make sure you can charge your devices

Sounds like a no-brainer, but every country has a distinct voltage or outlet type, so you’ll have to make sure the country you’re going to has a compatible electrical standard.

Most regions have relatively similar or identical standards. The standard voltage in the United States and Canada is 120 volts (V), while Mexico uses a standard voltage of 127 V.

European power outlets are usually between 220 V and 230 V; Asian countries can vary wildly. Services like World Standards can help you determine the voltage and electrical standards of the country you plan to visit.

Even if you know the electrical standard of your destination, your device may not fit into the outlet. The two-pronged socket style is common in America, but other countries use circular outlets. The simplest solution is to purchase a universal travel adapter to ensure your device’s charger will fit.

Note: The batteries of many modern smart devices can translate voltage from 240 V to 120 V with no ill effects, but verify this before you travel.

Pack enough cables

When you travel, you should have at least three charging cables for your devices: one for your hotel room, one to stay in your backpack or briefcase for charging on the go, and a third to charge your battery pack.

Bring a battery pack

The standard storage for most battery packs is around 10,000 milliampere hours (mAh)—enough to charge most phones twice. If you only carry a phone, a single 10,000 mAh battery pack is enough. You will need a pack with more storage capacity if you have more than one device.

Discuss international options with your service provider

Does your carrier offer an international plan? If so, will it operate in the region you’re traveling to? If not, is your phone unlocked? Finding the answers to these questions is vital. After all, no one wants to pay roaming charges.

There is no “standard” for international phone plans; each one is different and comes with a list of pros and cons. There are a couple of benefits to using an international plan: One is that you can keep your number—that’s great if you’re traveling for business and you want to avoid the hassle of forwarding calls to a VOIP number. The other is that some international plans only charge you for the days you use the phone. If you spend the entire time connected to WiFi and don’t make any calls (or use WiFi calling), you can avoid additional charges.

Texting traveler

Check your settings

You have more control over how your phone operates than you might think. Before you leave for a trip, check these settings:

Data roaming: Most phones have data roaming enabled by default. Open Settings and go to Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Data Roaming and make sure the setting is turned off, so that you don’t accidentally incur massive charges. Depending on your provider and type of phone, you can turn off voice roaming this way, too.

Cellular data: Data roaming falls under Cellular Data, but if you want to be positive you aren’t racking up charges, open Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data and turn off all data.

Airplane mode: Airplane mode turns off your phone’s cellular and network data access but leaves WiFi enabled. This is the safest way to ensure you use no data, but it removes your ability to make calls.

WiFi Calling: To make calls over WiFi, open Settings and go to Phone > WiFi Calling and enable it. You should also verify that your provider supports WiFi calling. Keep in mind that even while using WiFi, you can still face international calling charges.

Auto-sync: Even with data roaming turned off, some apps can override your settings. Go into your settings menu and ensure auto-sync is deactivated. For Apple devices, you want to make sure “Background App Refresh” is disabled.

Swapping SIM cards

If your phone is unlocked, you can purchase a SIM card when you arrive at your destination. In many countries, buying a pay-as-you-go plan will get you a decent amount of data and in-country calling capabilities. If you plan to stay in one place for an extended amount of time, this could be a cost-effective option.

Note: If you plan to swap SIM cards, make sure you pack a SIM card ejector. While many SIM card providers include one free with purchase, not all do.

Find a reliable VPN

Just as you should never use a public WiFi hotspot to access your banking or credit card information, you should not connect to unknown networks without a secure VPN, or virtual private network. Security considerations aside, there are other reasons you might want to use a VPN. For instance, some countries like China won’t let you access Facebook. Or, maybe you want to rest in your hotel room for a few hours with your favorite Netflix show—except it’s not available in that country. A VPN can sidestep that.

What VPNs essentially do is hide your IP address and encrypt data transmitted over the connection, making them a much more secure option for accessing private information. For example, it’s highly likely you’ll need your banking information while traveling, so it’s a good idea to find a VPN you can trust.

There are a lot of free VPNs, but not all of them are trustworthy. When it comes to cyber security, you get what you pay for; spending a couple of dollars per month to avoid identity theft is worth it. Here are a couple of suggestions for reliable VPNs:

  • ExpressVPN is one of the most popular VPNs in the world. The service supports over 2,000 servers in 94 countries. You can purchase various tiers of service, ranging from one to 12 months. ExpressVPN can support up to three devices at once.


  • NordVPN is another option. This service supports six devices at a time and has more than 5,000 servers in more than 60 countries. Purchase options range from one to 36 months. NordVPN also offers a seven-day trial.

VPNs can have a small effect on your browsing speed. You’ll experience a slight slowdown, but the Internet speed reduction shouldn’t be severe enough to affect your browsing experience.

travelling with phone

Arrange for 2FA emails

A potential obstacle many travelers overlook is the loss of two-factor authentication (2FA). If you have 2FA enabled on important apps and accounts, you might not receive the text with the code while you’re abroad. Plan ahead by opting to receive the code via email rather than through text. Some services also provide back-up codes that you can write down or print out to use to access your account.

Another option is to use an authenticator app that generates a random code every 30 seconds. The code only works during that time frame and is one of the most secure options for accessing important accounts.

Download ahead of time

Depending on where you go, there might be limits on the amount of bandwidth you can access. If you need to download large files, do it before you leave. Load your phone or tablet with videos and music for in-flight entertainment, and make sure you have all important documents and files saved in a password-protected folder. It can also be a good idea to download maps of the area you’re traveling to, just in case your phone’s GPS service doesn’t work abroad.

Traveling overseas is an incredible adventure that exposes you to a variety of experiences. Make sure your technology is prepared before you leave the country, so you don’t have to worry about it once you touch down at your destination.

Patrick Hearn is an Atlanta-based freelance tech writer and contributor for Xfinity Mobile. When he’s not writing about the latest gadget or smart tech solution, you can usually find him scouring the streets for the latest and greatest restaurant or on the tennis courts practicing his forehand.

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