This page will be updated as I learn more and discover more tools or tips for those traveling and living abroad.
Google Chrome – this browser is the best for customization and integration with Android phones (which are much more popular in Europe than the iPhone). With Chrome one can install extensions or apps that will sync with your phone, and provide other tools for productivity or travel. So I suggest starting here for one of the best tools. There are lots of ways to customize including spell check options, translation options, etc. I also have this on my phone so my desktop and phone browsers are always synced. Extensions and apps I have installed in Chrome and my phone include:
Google Translate – again Google specific, but it’s the best translator I’ve found. Again comes as an app on your phone (and there is an option to download the language packs so there is less data drain and can be used when not connected to service.) There’s an extension for the Chrome browser that allows you to highlight a phrase and have it translated by right clicking. In the app version is also a “scanning” feature that uses your phone’s camera; turn it on and scan over a text for instant translation. I’ve found it to be about 50/50 but also provides enough context to figure out exactly what’s in the dish on the menu in front of you.
VPN – a VPN is a Virtual Private Network and is best described as your own “tunnel” that hides your identity, your login point and other geo-centric data about your internet connection. Currently, we’re struggling a bit on this front. We were using StrongVPN but haven’t had much luck with it lately. These allow one to watch TV shows that are only available in certain countries over the internet, to have a more anonymous profile when posting anything on the internet or to provide oneself with the security of knowing the internet connection is more secure. I’m not too versed in how they work and how best to set them up, but as I know more I’ll share.
Hola – a Chrome extension, this is an amazing invention. With one click, you can change your IP to another country (like a VPN). This is a geo-centric specific VPN and is pretty much flawless. I was super excited to discover this. However, a discovery was made that this service uses your computer’s internet connection to make one giant netbot that could be used for less than legal purposes (article). In a nutshell, I do not recommend its use anymore unless you’re positive you can secure and protect your computer (I miss it a lot 😦 ).
Cell phones – obviously, important, but Europe uses a different radio band than the US (GSM vs. CDMA). Cell phones need to operate on GSM frequencies in order to work here (and much of the rest of the world). You can look up which type of frequency your phone uses by googling the type of phone you have.
Voltage Converters and plug adapters – when I first traveled abroad, I borrowed an awesome set of plug adapters from a friend (Cindy those were seriously amazing!) and I wish I had thought to write down the brand. Since then, we’ve collected a mix of adapters and sets that fit our needs. Some we’ve bought from Saturn or other stores around here and some I’ve received for free (so worth the time to attend industry conferences). What I needed to learn when I first started out however is there is a huge difference between a plug adapter and a voltage converter. I learned this in my bathroom in Dubai when my hair straightener started smoking a few seconds after turning it on. Most cell phone chargers for example are 110v/240v compliant (look at the fine writing on the plug in) and don’t need the converter. However my American immersion blender is definitely able to perform the conversion on its own so I must use a voltage converter when using it. I’ve noticed it still pulses faster and with more vigour than in the states and it runs a little hotter, but it works fine. If you plan to live outside the states I recommend getting one or two, if you’re bringing over American electronics (heating elements and heavy energy usage appliances such as a TV definitely need these). You are looking for a “step down” type to cope with the higher voltages put out in European outlets. We have this brand: