A few weeks ago I sat next to a woman on a plane who alternated between an Amazon Kindle, and three varieties of Apple smartphones, tablets and notebooks. Showoff.
But it makes you wonder if she had any sensitive corporate data on her snazzy devices – or if a CIO somewhere was wringing his hands in worry. You can’t stop employees from traveling and bringing along their own devices. You do it, too, I bet. But there are guidelines that will help them – and you, when you travel – rest a bit easier when corporate data and budgets travel over the pond. Or anywhere, for that matter.
1. Take Charge of Mobile Costs
If a smartphone had a corkscrew on its side, it would make the perfect replacement for the Swiss Army Knife. It offers all a modern scout could wish for, including a compass and flashlight. But, ah, the cost of taking that baby overseas.
Planning ahead is essential. And planning smart. Even GSM phones, such as those from AT&T and T-Mobile, work great overseas, but associated data plans will drain the expense account line faster than a location-services enabled device will a battery. Even roaming across the US border into Canada can get you into deep financial trouble.
The easiest way to save money? Call your carrier and work out a temporary plan. Worldwide data plans can get your talk time down to under 40 cents a minute and you can buy 130MB of data, enough for about two cat videos, for $30 a month. If you use Wi-Fi a lot, you actually consume little cellular data. I keep roaming off and turn it on only when I need to check e-mail. I do the heavy data once I reach a Wi-Fi connection. Double check that roaming is really turned off. I can’t emphasize this enough. A butt call or some chatty app will dig you a big money pit.
Your best bet: an unlocked phone with a cheap, pay-by-the-minute SIM card. If you don’t have one, AT&T will unlock your iPhone if your contract is up. Android is trickier. A free app called Galaxy_S Unlock in the Google Play Store will only work with Samsung GSM phones — so success is not guaranteed.
Some people just buy a cheap phone overseas.
But wait, there’s more. Did I say this was simple?
Most big, honking SIM cards don’t fit itty bitty phones. You need to chomp them down to size. SIM card punches, resembling big nail clippers, will do that.
And think about it. Do you really need cellular if you have Wi-Fi? I use free Skype and Google Voice for voice, video calls and texting and an app called Line2 http://line2.com for business calls. I ported my business phone number to Line2 — and for $100 per year I get excellent call quality and texting.
Image credit: connectedtraveler.com
2. Secure Your Data
Most people I know don’t password protect their phones. Do it and make sure your users do, too. And don’t let anyone store a list of passwords in their phone or wallet. Caution against walking while texting. Snatching smartphones is a major sport here and abroad.
Laptop? Leave it at home or at the office — especially if it’s the primary work laptop. A number of foreign countries actively snoop — and free Wi-Fi connections are notoriously insecure. Unless you are doing business-critical work, a smartphone or tablet should work fine for any traveler. Store important stuff in the cloud. And make it policy that before downloading, users know how to ensure they’re on a trusted and secure connection.
If the laptop absolutely must come, make sure the anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware software is up-to-date on that device and everything associated with it. I also use a free browser spyware blocker program called Ghostery and I highly recommend it.
For important data, store it on a password-protected flash drive or SD card.
And, a piece of low-tech advice: Always carry photo copies of your passport.
3. Pack Smart
Thieves prey on travelers, business or tourist class. Make sure your users pack electronics in carry-on bags — and they never check them. Have them resist the temptation to carry trendy luggage. Make them look less attractive than their contents. As for me, I use lumpen gray lookalikes from discount stores and hang a little flag on their handles to identify them, Nothing tempts a thief more than a Tumi, multipocketed camera bags or an expensive looking aluminum case. The dorkier and uglier the bag, the better. Always.
4. Manage Your Power
Carry a spare battery for each of your critical devices. Cameras with one extra battery should do fine for a day or two of shooting even if you are snap-happy. Most chargers are small these days and operate on both 120 and 220v, but double-check that. Bring a power strip with a built-in surge protector. You will only need one plug adapter for charging your numerous devices.
5. Corral and Cull Your Photo Gear
For most people, a mobile phone works well for both stills and video, especially if you pick up an accessory lens that adds macro and telephoto. Most phones can shoot wide-angle pictures. If you are a purist, there are point-and-shoot cameras with sharp, super-fast lenses. Professionals favor the Panasonic LX-7 and the Sony RX-100 as pocket cams. They are rated as highly as some bulky DSLRs and both shoot broadcast-quality video.
Bring extra SD cards. They’re cheap.
6. Plan Your Trip
If you are going to a larger city, try an app with downloadable, vector-based maps such as Stay.com. It lets you design your own travel guide before you even leave home. These maps work offline with GPS. This lets the traveler roam around without ravaging bandwidth.
Add a tool like Tripit, which will organize itineraries on its website, and you’ve got a real solution.
As for roaming, just say no. Implement a no-roaming policy whenever and however you can. So many travel apps include augmented reality tech that automatically locate local Instagram and Twitter streams. Set roaming to off and your budget won’t roam away with the traveler.
Don’t let smartphones, tablets and other personal gadgets destroy your budget, data security or other bottom line issues.
Based in Sonoma, CA, Russ Johnson is travel editor at aNewDomain.net and runs the site connectedtraveler.com. Russ will moderate three sessions on travel technology, travel apps and digital photography at the New York Times Travel Show from January 18 -20 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York. Email him at Russ@aNewDomain.net.