A new blog follower asked me a question today, so I have decided to try to answer it in a post. I’ve been thinking about doing a post like this for a while, but more from the psychological perspective than the practical one. I’ll try both.
Warning: I just re-read this post and it is a rambling disaster. But I can’t be bothered to tidy it up, so it is what it is. Read it or don’t.
Psychologically, I have found my extreme dependence on the internet a little disconcerting. I wouldn’t have classed myself as an internet junky before we started planning this trip, but I guess I may have become one. I say that because of the feelings of isolation, vulnerability, and sometimes downright fear I have when we are cut off. This seems wrong somehow. I mean, people have been travelling Europe for a long time, way before we had internet and cell phones. My sister and I travelled for a month in the late 80s. No way to contact anyone. No looking at accommodation reviews, no online booking – no nothing. In fact, I think we made two calls to our parents, collect from a payphone (which my children thought was just something Maroon 5 made up for the song).
Aside: as a parent, I cannot imagine the torment of my children being off in the wild blue yonder and only hearing from them once every two weeks; I think it would send me to an early grave. But again, that’s another self-help post for some time in the future…
Back on topic. It feels a bit pathetic to rely so heavily on the internet, but I guess that is just indicative of the world we live in. That’s how we operate. I didn’t make any phone calls to book accommodation for this trip. I didn’t speak to a travel agent to book our flights. I didn’t go to a ticket agent to buy our ferry tickets. I did it all online. And granted, sometimes I wish I could just let someone else do it for me, and I have complained more than once about the number of hours I have spent online planning for this trip, but in reality, there is an unlimited amount of information out there that we would never have been able to access without the internet. I can see multiple pictures of any hotel room or apartment we might want to book, and I can usually find out anything else I want to know thanks to traveller reviews and detailed websites. It’s amazing.
And it’s annoying. Often, there is just too much information, and if you read it all, you will never have any fun. Because you’ll spend your entire life online weighing up the pros and cons of accommodation A versus accommodation B, based on price, location, parking (included or not), breakfast (yes or no) and the favourability of the 342 reviews posted online. Possibly on 4 or 5 different websites. Oh, and then you need to figure out which of the sites you should book it on. Trip advisor, Booking.com, Hotels.com etc etc. My policy has always been to find the accommodation on one of those sites, then go directly to the hotel site, and book there. Always the best price. However, that has backfired a couple of times. Once when we got lost but had to keep pushing on to get to our hotel, despite the fact that it was close to midnight and our kids were losing it, because it could not be cancelled. Apparently some of the booking sites allow cancellation without penalty. The other example is when our chosen hotel showed up full on their own website, but I found a room available on Booking.com.
Oh, dear, I digress again. Take my advice on this. Find one, and if it looks ok, book it. Do not agonize over the details and worry about whether the next one on the list might be nicer. Just do it. Oh, but wait. Make sure it has free wifi first:)
OK, back to the purpose of the post. The 3G ipad has been fantastic. When we can find a sim card for it. And when we can find a place that will let us do a pay up front plan. Which should be easy, but hasn’t been. Airports are a good place to do this, we have recently discovered. You can get a sim card for most devices which is operational within 10 minutes. In Italy, we had to wait 24 hours after buying the card for it to become operational, but you could buy it easily in any little electronics shop.
In England, this was much more difficult. We found the right company, Three, after much research and time. Here we could get a 1gb sim card and pay for it up front. We also bought a cheap phone and got a pay up front sim card for that from Orange. This has been great, and has worked in all other European countries so far. A little more expensive than in England, but usable, and we are able to top up online. Oh, but only because I have a British bank card…that’s another issue for a future post.
Back to the ipad. In Italy, we could quite easily get a sim card, but the provider TIM, didn’t always come through, and it was a weak signal in many areas. Still, it worked. Until we crossed the border into any other country. Which is the big problem with the ipad really. The sim cards only work in one country, so even if you have usage space left, it disappears when you leave the country. Not too expensive though, so doable. You can usually do it for about $25 for 1gb or a month, whichever comes first.
I did see, after we left Canada, that you can actually buy your sim card for France online, and have it delivered to your home before you leave. That would have been well worth the effort. Not sure if you can do that with other countries or not, but what you don’t want to do is arrive in a country with kids in tow and then try to find a store where you can buy an ipad sim. That’s not fun. And not always possible either.
Thinking back to Cinque Terre for example. Not much wifi around there, except at an internet cafe. So, here the 3G would have been really useful. But no place to get a sim card. And you sure don’t want to brave those winding little mountain roads again to go back to civilization and find a place.
Which takes me back to the psychological side of things. Finding that first internet cafe after the culture shock of Cinque Terre, and logging on after three days to check emails and post our whereabouts on facebook gave me such a feeling of relief. It was almost euphoria. Like I had just injected a potent mood altering drug directly into my bloodstream…
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But you get the idea. I actually don’t feel safe without the internet. Which is frightening in itself. These feelings and reactions are, I’m sure, in the dictionary under physical addiction.
Oh, and the cell phone, which has actually been much more necessary than I expected. Especially when you’re somewhere off the beaten track with no internet! I texted our host upon arrival in Cinque Terre and he came and found us. Without that phone, it would have been pretty tough to find our accommodation, especially since no cars were allowed in the village. And the ipad map wasn’t working due to no internet.
And speaking of the ipad map; it has saved us many many times. It’s just another thing I’m completely addicted to….oh, my.
Good thing I’m not a gambler or a big drinker. I think I may have been in trouble. Or in a Betty Ford Clinic while my family enjoyed the trip without me.