Travel Necessities

It’s one thing to pack for a typical two-week vacation, but quite another more daunting task to prep for one that spans two months.

Before jetting off on an extended sojourn with stops in Paris, Valencia, Rome and Morocco, I had to address certain practical challenges: how to organize my electronics, make calling affordable to the U.S. and within Europe, and use credit cards without a hassle.

Here’s how I’m handling these common issues:

Mr. Gadget Usually, I stuff the various electronics cords and chargers into a Ziploc bag and hope for the best.

This time, I’m using a Grid-It! organizer, which is a rectangular board set with a “web” of rubberized bands to secure everything from plugs and chargers to MP3 players, smartphones and even small digital cameras. The system I chose is the size of a magazine and cost about $25.

The 411 As much as I love my iPhone, I couldn’t see incurring the pricey roaming, data and airtime charges under AT&T’s alleged international plan. I plan to use my iPhone mainly in WiFi settings and keep the mobile calls to a minimum.

Instead, for calls to the U.S., I have obtained a free phone number from Google Voice that allows me to phone home at no charge using my laptop or iPhone app. Google Voice even comes with voice mail that sends transcribed messages to a Gmail account.

For calls within Europe, I’m using an unlocked GSM phone with a prepaid SIM card. These mobile phones are available from Amazon.com and countless other websites. This route won’t be cheap –– most providers charge 40 to 50 cents a minute –– but it will save roaming charges and doesn’t require committing to a plan.

Money for Nothing I’ll be toting my Capital One Visa card, despite the bank’s overzealous fraud protection unit, which is prone to  flagging benign charges here in the U.S. But Capital One doesn’t charge any fees for foreign transactions, making the occasional decline more bearable

Still, most European train and metro ticket machines  –– and even some of the hand-held processors used in restaurants –– require a credit card with a PIN and a microchip, neither of which are available features on cards issued in the U.S.

Travelex has a new product that solves this problem: a prepaid chip and PIN “Cash Passport” debit card.  You simply load it with the currency of your choice, and use it at any business that accepts MasterCard.

The card doesn’t charge fees when used for purchases or to withdraw cash from a MasterCard ATM, and can be refilled by phone or via an affiliated bank. Best of all,  it can be replaced, if lost or stolen, without threat to your home bank account.

Of course, these solutions don’t address the dilemma of how to pack for four different micro-climates and still leave room for shopping.

I have a feeling I’ll be finding out more about international shipping rates in the months ahead.

Stay tuned for updates and snippets from my trip.

  • Megan

    What a lark! Sounds like the start of an amazing adventure. Can’t wait to hear all about it – share as much as you can along the way!

  • I’m green with envy! Can’t wait to read about your adventures. And thanks for these excellent tips.

  • Jewel52

    I explored getting a Travelex MC for my last trip to Germany and found that there is a service fee and most businesses do not accept MasterCard.