The main motivation of this article is to share the “tech” side of my last extended travel, with the hope of offering some ideas or suggestions to future nerdy travelers.
I recently did an independently designed one-month tour in East Asia, as a round trip from the United States, with the following stops:
Beijing 北京 (first time)
HongKong 香港 (first time)
Taiwan 台灣 (first time, from Kaohsiung to Taipei)
Japan 日本 (fourth time, from Kagoshima to Fukuoka)
While planning the itinerary and preparing my checklist, I decided to travel “as light as possible”, primarily because I wanted to take with me my dear old Nikon D70 with the relevant optics and a bunch of other “camera-related” stuff, which quickly covered my own definition of “heavy”.
Therefore, the first bullets on my checklist were (of course) my GalaxyNexus 4.1.1 stock rooted and my Nexus7, stock rooted as well; just Android, just google experience… (alright honey, you can take with you our iPad instead!)
As camera storage, I decided to bring with me a 4GB compact flash card (and other smaller cards for backup), which – as expected – I completely filled in 10 days. In preparation for this eventuality, I was also ready to backup photos on Hdd; in this respect, my equipment consisted exclusively of a micro usb to usb host, usb hub, card reader and a 32GB Corsair usb key.
Unfortunately, Android does not support (except maybe for the SIII, but I am not sure) the usb host natively, therefore it’s mandatory to root your device (this is the only reason why I rooted my Nexus7 !); for this purpose, Apps like ’s StickMount are available http://goo.gl/D78dI , but it’s not a very stable system.
My first thought was indeed: “OK, I will travel on my own in countries with potentially no english (and this prediction was so damn true!) and, except for Japan where I can speak japanese, I will have basically no way to interact with people – considering also the fact that I regularly live and work online, I’m a nerd and I can’t live without a connection with Arpanet “.
This is the reason why I decided to collect a sim card from each country on my itinerary; by summing up all the sim purchases, the total was indeed a bit overwhelming for just a month, but the possibility to travel alone and to known where to go and what to do with just a smartphone in my hand instead of tons of paper was definitely worth the price, plus it has been for sure an interesting experience!
In China I used the service “Holiday Phone” www.holidayphone.com which offered not only a chinese sim with chinese number, but also the possibility to receive and make calls to US numbers at no extra cost, and, of course 1GB of data!
While in HongKong, thanks to my italian H3G sim, I was automatically connected to internet (thanks 3Italia !) at no extra cost (or at least not a relevant one).
In Taiwan the situation was a bit more tricky, I visited a local phone company branch and I tried to explain my needs (half in English and half in Japanese) and, after several attempts, I finally got a flat 3G data with TaiwanMobile at a super-reasonable price!
As for Japan, I discovered the site “eConnect Japan” www.econnectjapan.com
which, among other options, offers a data-only sim card (1GB/month) at a very reasonable price – you just have to put in the right apn with username and password and voilà… you’re under NTT DoCoMo 3G data!
Another important thing that should be taken into account is that, at least on the basis of my previous travels, in many hotels in Japan the wifi is not available in the rooms, which are normally provided with just a cable connection. This is of course cool if you travel with a notebook, but if you are just with wireless devices this could be a problem!
I did some research before my departure and I found this USB to RJ45 EthernetAdapter for Android on +Amazon: http://goo.gl/DkOwT . Basically you connect it to ethernet then via a micro usb host cable, to your android device and boom! you are connected (but do not expect any notification of it on your the system!).
In conclusion, I can say that I solved pretty well the “always connected” problem, but in some occasions I still experienced some difficulties that prevented me from accessing the Internet; in such conditions I was forced to use offline apps (in a rather pessimistic perspective, before my departure I did some research about this point, therefore I had an offline option for at least the very fundamental apps on my phone).
Here below you may find a list of common “travel tasks”, with a possible solution (in terms of app), based on my personal experience:
I always used “Currency Converter” http://goo.gl/8BPIo – mind that it requires a working connection, due to currency updates at start up. Another valid option might be “Exchange Rates” (see http://goo.gl/qJ59g), which has a better UI, and, if flagged, it does not need a connection; in addition, you can also view all your currencies in the same page, which is useful if you visit several countries or if you want to check rates in different currencies!
And here we are, the real problem for all travelers: a solid offline map app! As you know, now support (sorta of) offline maps, but unfortunately they are not available everywhere, for instance there is no way to use it in Japan, and in Taiwan some areas are not available. I really don’t understand why! So I also tried “Maps With Me” http://goo.gl/2gyEU , which is a very simple app – just download the maps and you are ready to go (no annotations or markers are available, though); in addition, it works pretty well after turning on the gps (but you can use it just with cellular signal).
OK I have to admit that I did not perform a real investigation about this, as I still use Google Translate only when connected.
I know that http://goo.gl/7H3PW is a cool and trendy app (I tried it and it’s great!), but I did not need such a complex note app, I just wanted a simple app in sync with google task. Therefore, I startd by using “Notes for ICS”http://goo.gl/D7Amn which is indeed very neat and, more importantly, open source; but recently I noticed that the app was not so stable, as many syncs were skipped and some notes got lost. This is why I switched to Taskshttp://goo.gl/qJzNB, which is more solid and stable and with a sync that works like a charm. I was extremely happy with it, therefore I even purchased the paid one (just no ads – but I really wanted to support the developers!)
I love http://www.clipperz.com, I started using it years ago and it really changed my behaviour on the web and I do not think I will never use any other password manager. BUT there’s at least only one thing missing, which I actually needed quite frequently, namely the offline access for mobile / dedicated mobile app; therefore, this app is not very useful while traveling, unless when you are staying in an hotel with a notebook.
So, I discovered this (new?) app called http://goo.gl/8Ac70 which is completely offline and it automatically backups crypted db to a cloud service, in my case GoogleDrive. This option seems to works very well, and it is also tablet-friendly. Maybe you would ask why do I need a password manager while offline? Because I have several cards with different pins and no, there is no way I can remember them at all.
Indeed, I am not that kind of person interested in shopping for clothes while traveling abroad, nevertheless here is a pointer to an (old) app which I found very useful a few years ago: “Clothing Size Convertion” http://goo.gl/8KBQ9 ; but I would be very interested in hearing some alternatives in this respect.
I registered to Tripit http://goo.gl/5hCy4 many years ago, but I never seriously used it before this travel; I found very handy to have all my information in one place (not just this one, of course). As backup (and not to mention to conveniently show a chinese address to taxi drivers!), I indeed used pdf files. In this respect, unfortunately AdobeReader for Android it is not as good as it should be, therefore I used ezPdf Reader http://goo.gl/vOk2e which is faster, more stable, and you can take annotation.
I always used Root file Explorer http://goo.gl/sROoL, which was the best, and still the best for root operations like rw file system ecc, BUT for every day use the relatively new Solid Explorer (beta2) http://goo.gl/iORKR which comes with two panels, the browsing experience is cleaner, faster, and with a lot of additional feautures. Anyway, I found that both crashed while coping hundreds and hundreds of file (like uhm… photos?)
And last but not least: Google Now, which I used a lot! It is a very convenient way to stay updated with weather and fly status, plus it can offer quick shortcuts for currency conversion, translation and (oh thanks!) local time in my home country, of course you need a connection for this.
I was very happy to be able to travel, for the first time in many years, without a laptop or a netbook! In general, with a bunch of tweaks and some research, Android can be a really valid alternative to a notebook, if you do not need something platform-specific; in my opinion, only
at least two things actually need a few fixes, namely the file management and a real and solid usb host capability – it is really disappointing that Google did not yet considered these issues with the appropriate attention, as they are among the most important features, if you want to use Android in a really effective and productive way!!
Oh, by the way I wrote this article on GoogleDrive from my GalaxyNexus and Nexus7 (reviewed and edited at home, in front of my 24” OF COURSE!)
Anyone willing to share a similar travel experience? Suggestions? Better alternatives? It would be very interesting to hear different solutions!
originally posted on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+LeonardoGandini/posts/GNKmvznmrxg