Mar
05
2010

Flashpacking through Europe with iPhoneTrip.com

An in-depth review follows. Here’s the take-away:
iPhoneTrip allows you to rent a SIM and use it abroad very cheaply. It works extremely well, and is well worth the money. It’s a must-have if you plan on flashpacking.

Pros: Incredibly easy, relatively cheap compared to other options, allows you to travel in ways not possible before. If you also use Google Voice and Skype it makes iPhoneTrip even better/cheaper.

Cons:
You may find yourself over-dependent on your iPhone. You run the risk of being too connected to people/co-workers back home. You’ll use your iPhone so much that you’ll want extra external batteries.

Bottom line:
For me it came out to about $60 a week versus well over $100 on a slow day. I couldn’t afford that, nor could I have done this trip without my iPhone.

Read more below for how I used it with my MacBook Pro, Skype, and Google Voice for free voice calling and SMS messages:

As I prepared for my Europera 2010 trip, I looked into options for using my iPhone 3GS. Coming from America with AT&T the option was to take out a mortgage and pay AT&T outrageous sums of money for international data roaming and sell body parts for a few minutes of voice time.

Another option could have been to get a SIM card in Europe, or even buy an iPhone in Europe and sell it before I leave. Neither of these options would work because I’m traveling to so many countries that I need to be able to freely roam without limitation or concern.

I stumbled across a site called iPhoneTrip.com. Now we all know when something sounds too good to be true, it always is. Except for when it isn’t, and I’ve got to say that the iPhoneTrip SIM has totally exceeded my expectations.

What is it?
It’s a way to cheaply use your iPhone abroad.

You have two options, you can rent an iPhone from them, or you can rent a SIM from them. I chose the SIM rental as I already have an iPhone 3GS configured exactly how I wanted it.

Now before signing up, I scoured the Net looking for personal reviews. I couldn’t find any with real authority and credibility. I actually saw a few posts from others who were highly skeptical and thinking it may be a scam. So here I am. Someone with an online history and credibility…and someone who’s written/produced reviews for such media companies as CNET amongst others.

The SIM from iPhoneTrip arrived via FedEx as promised, the day before departure. I was able to pop it in and test it before leaving. Yes, it worked in San Francisco.

First stop on my trip was London. I got off the plane and inserted the SIM. Almost immediately it picked up the local carrier and gave me 3G coverage. Many European carriers don’t support aGPS, which means that, as I found in London, it can take a long time to find your position if you’ve moved far since the last time it had a satellite lock. It also means that it can’t find your position at all if you are deep indoors. The solution to this is to just be patient. Before arriving at a destination, pull up Google Maps and get walking directions from your train station to your hostel, then start using it as a map until the GPS kicks in and can track your position.

Google Maps is awesome when flashpacking. Take advantage of it with any number of Wikipedia apps that show you what’s around you so you can see cool stuff along the way.

The apps I’m using the most are:
Skype
iTranslate
iConvert
Fizz Weather
Facebook
Hostelworld
Google Voice (via Cydia on jailbroken iPhones or webapp)
iRail
WikiMe
Shazam
Motion Alarm

I’ve also been beta testing an augmented reality app that I can’t divulge too much about yet, but it allows you to use the camera and GPS to point at something and the iPhone returns information on what you’re looking. This technology is going to be very big.

The iPhoneTrip SIM doesn’t require that you jailbreak your iPhone. They don’t mention that you might find that it works better even if you do. I’m also traveling with a MacBook Pro and because my iPhone 3GS is jailbroken, I’m able to tether my MacBook Pro, which is just what I’m doing right now…on a train somewhere between Dresden and Prague.

Also, with a jailbroken iPhone, you can run Skype over 3G (or even Edge). This means that phone calls Skype to Skype are free. Phone calls Skype to landlines back home are free with a $12.95 subscription, and Skype to cell phones are incredibly cheap.

Since you’re replacing the SIM, the phone number on your iPhone changes. You could forward your original number to your iPhoneTrip number, but I didn’t want to do that, so I had my original phone number forwarded to Google Voice. This allows me to read a transcription of the voicemail, or hear the voicemail for free, and then Skype call them back if needed.

Google Voice also allows you to send and receive SMS messages for free. You’ll want to alert people back home to your Google Voice number, so they’ll recognize the SMS as coming from you.

It’s really amazing how well this works and how critical it is on my trip. James Bond never had anything like this. Think about this… I don’t speak a word of any language for most of the countries I’m going to (except a little bit of Spanish). No problem, I get in a taxi and hand my iPhone over to the driver who sees that I want to go to the opera house. Along the way he stops and I can here him talking on the radio. I pull up iTranslate and ask if he’s lost. He nods his head as he’s arguing with the person on the radio. I pull up Google Maps and him my iPhone again. He smiles and we’re back under way. I want to emphasize this point here: I was in Berlin for a matter of minutes and I’m able to ask a taxi driver if he’s lost, and then provide him with step by step directions.

Hey, what’s that building? Out comes the iPhone.
I wish my friends back home could see this now. Posts to Facebook.
I have no idea what you’re trying to tell me. Enters phrase in iTranslate.
How much is that in $US or US measurement. Enters amount in iConvert.
Etc…

I could go on and on with all the uses of the iPhone when traveling abroad, but the key point here is that iPhoneTrip allows you to actually use your iPhone for a very reasonable price. It’s also 100% seamless. You do nothing but replace the SIM and turn data roaming on (if it’s not already). Your iPhone will automagically connect to whatever available carrier there is in whatever country.

Keep in mind that you’re going to be using your iPhone constantly, especially if you’re doing a lot of walking around. You could charge your iPhone on most but not all trains and at most but not all hostels. I’d highly recommend getting some cheap external iPhone batteries. Look for the ones with high amperages. I bought 3 from Monoprice.com that are 2200mAh for about $14 and can completely charge by iPhone twice before needing recharging themselves. These also work well because they charge using the standard USB docking cable and can be connected to your iPhone while charging, thus charging both. That’s also where Motion Alarm comes in. I’m sleeping in hostels that are mostly dorm or ensuite style. With Motion Alarm, I can plug in my iPhone, external batteries, and MacBook Pro all with my iPhone on top. If someone moves any of it or my backpack, the alarm goes off on my iPhone. I still keep it all hidden on my bed between me and the wall.

iRail and HostelWorld apps are great for looking up specific travel information. To make things easier, I created a spreadsheet that lists all of my trains, cities, hostels, operas and other activities and then saved it in PDF form. At any time I can pull this up on my iPhone and see where/when I’m supposed to be someplace.

This is the coolest, most adventurous trip I’ve ever taken in my life. It’s amazing how much the iPhone adds to the experience and how iPhoneTrip enables the use through reasonable pricing.

If you’re interested in learning more about my Europera 2010 trip or having any questions, please follow me on Facebook at:
facebook.com/kevine

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