Managing a cell phone abroad

Depending on how much you are paying a month, it might make sense to ditch your cell phone plan back in the US and use pre-paid SIM cards while aborad.  Still want to hang on to your old phone number? It’s easier and quicker than you think and can save you some cash on a long trip.

Option 1: Keeping your existing US based cell phone plan

1. Upgrade to an international plan – Most of the carriers will offer an international phone plan that will allow you to receive calls, text messages and surf the web with your current cell phone setup. The drawback, however, is it can be fairly expensive – something like $10 a day – while traveling. This is most suited for shorter trips abroad.

2. Put your account on hold – If you are leaving the country for an extended period of time, many of the cell phone carriers will allow you to put your account for a small fee. For example, AT&T charges $10/month for this service. You will still be paying some a little money monthly, but this will save you from paying the entire bill while you are away. (For me this would approximately $55 a month that I would have to pay for services I don’t use). And once you are abroad, you can use local SIM cards for calling and data services, so long as your cell phone is GSM and unlocked. This option is best suited for people that would be abroad for just a month or two who wish to keep their current cell phone plan.

Option 2: Ditch your phone plan, while keep your existing phone number (optional)
If you are planning to travel for an extended period of time, you can still keep your existing phone number by moving it to Google Voice. (This is available only to mobile phone numbers in the United States). Google Voice allows  you  to make and receive calls via your old number via the Google Voice application on your phone or via a web browser. You will still receive SMS and voicemails through Google Voice as well, and can even have your voicemails automatically transcribed to e-mails. Once you are back to the US, you can have Google Voice forward phone calls to your new US based phone number and users will not know the difference.

For myself personally, I moved my number to Google Voice and plan to have been using local SIM cards as I am traveling. Here are the steps I took to accomplish this:

1. Get your phone unlocked – Check that your cell phone is unlocked, you can try it yourself by inserting a SIM card from another cell phone provider. If in doubt, give you carrier a call and check their policy for unlocking your cell phone. As for AT&T there is a simple unlock website to submit your request. AT&T Unlock

2. Move your number to Google Voice (US numbers only)- If you do not have an account already, sign up for Google Voice. Once that is setup, follow the directions on below for porting your phone number. The entire process was painless and took about 2 days to complete.  Afterward your account will automatically be closed with the carrier, I was instantly locked out of my AT&T online account the next day. Howtogeek – Port your number to Google Voice.

3. Finding the best deals on local SIM cards – There are many websites dedicated to pre paid SIM cards while abroad, but I have found this one to be particularly helpful. Prepaid SIM card Wiki

Some notes from my experience:

  • What’s App – If you already have this phone number via What’s App, there will be no changes to how you use What’s App.
  • iMessage (Apple) – iMessage will cease to work via your existing phone number. However, you can still use iMessage with all of your friends, just ensure that you have an e-mail address associated with iMessage and have your friends add that to their contact list.

Accessing money while abroad

The two most useful cards I have in my wallet at all times, the Chase Sapphire Reserve & Charles Schwab checking card

As resident of the United States, accessing cash while abroad in Europe does not need to be tricky.  Instead of bringing a lot of cash and finding a place to exchange it, I have taken the approach of only using one credit card and one debit card for my travels. These are the two of my most useful cards while traveling abroad, whether for two days or six months:

My travel Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Why: $0 in foreign transaction fees, travelers insurance, lost/delayed baggage insurance, included car rental insurance, lounge access, global entry & pre TSA reimbursement. You will get 50,000 points for signing up which is almost a round trip flight to Europe from the US! (At the time when I signed up, I received 80,000 points)

This card has a lot of travel benefits that are included as a card holder:

  • 3 points for each dollar spent on travel & dining (restaurants, bar, airline tickets, train, etc.)
  • Access to a number of Airport lounges (Priority Pass)
  • No international fees
  • Delayed trip insurance – Provides reimbursement for expenses such as meals and lodging if your common carrier (airline, bus, cruise ship, train) travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay
  • Delayed baggage insurance – If your bag is delayed while traveling (train, airplane, etc) you are reimbursed $100/day to buy clothing
  • Car rental insurance – Included anytime you rent a car with this credit card
  • Global entry & TSA Pre reimbursement ($100 value) – This means you can skip the lines at the airport
  • $300 in travel credits a year – There is a $450 annual membership fee, but if you have at least $300 in travel expenses, this will be reimbursed during your billing statement each year.

This card is particularly useful in turning your everyday spending into some serious points to be used with travel. Often times I would go to dinner with friends and they would like me pay the bill on my credit card so i could get the points. (They paid me back, of course).

Stories from the road:
○ My baggage was lost for 3 days while traveling from France to Norway, which allowed for me to spend $100/day maximum on clothing through the lost baggage insurance. Hence my new trench coat in the video below. They also they will reimburse for a 1 cell phone charger, which I learned about while on the phone with a Chase representative.

Approx. $127 USD that was reimbursed to my credit card for the baggage delay.

It was the first new piece of clothing I had purchased in over 6 months, and best of all, it was free!

○ While in Romania, I lost my credit card and was sent a replacement one in about 3 days or so. Chase is really responsive if you let them know it needs to be expedited.
○ It’s easy to drop into a lounge at the 100’s of lounges included in the Priority Pass (lounge access) You can check out a list on their website.

If you would like to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, I would ask that you please do so with my referral link. Apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve

My Travel Bank Account
Charles Schwab Checking account
Why: While traveling it’s much more convenient to pull money out of an ATM, with an added bonus of a good exchange rate from the local Banks. The best part of the card is that it will reimburse you for any ATM fees incurred. For instance, if the ATM charges a fee of $3EUR to withdraw cash, Charles Schwab will reimburse you at the end of the month.

Charles Schwab automatically credited my account $6 USD for all of my ATM fees during the month of March 2018

Tip: When choosing an ATM, rates will vary but by a small percentage. Try and go to the bigger chain banks and not a tiny 3rd party ATM)

Stories from the road:
○ Able to use this in every country so far without issues. And the ATM fee reimbursement has been great, I see a credit at the end of each month (Although I haven’t run into too many ATM’s that charge a fee)

Other tips for Credit & bank cards:
– I keep a backup credit card and debit card just in case your primary one gets lost. Depending on the country, you could get the card in as little as 2 days or 2 weeks!
– Before leaving the country, be sure to give your Bank and call and let them know your dates of travel for their fraud alert.
– Check with each of your Banks about withdrawal fees, for instance, Chase charges a fee of $5 each time you use your card abroad. So if you’re in a bind, make sure you take out a larger sum of money instead of going multiple times for smaller amounts.

Budgeting & expense tracking:

Tripcoin – iOS only (for now)
For those of you who are obsessed with metrics and being able to analyze your spending, I have been using the app TripCoin religiously for the past 7 months. The concept is simple, you enter in your daily expenses and it will provide you cool graphs of how much you have spent daily against your budget and how much you’ve spent by country.

Image provided by https://tripcoinapp.com/
Image provided by https://tripcoinapp.com/

 

Travel hacks for Americans traveling Europe

Traveling Europe for an extended period of time was a huge dream of mine and happy to have to chance to finally do it. After nearly 7 months of traveling through Europe, here’s a collection of tips I’ve collected, mostly by making mistakes and learning from other travelers. Since I am from the United States, a lot of my tips will be very specific for citizens of the USA:

If you enjoy this, please consider using my link for my favorite travel credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Thanks and regards from Copenhagen, Denmark!

– Michael

 

Photographs of Lyon, France

After arriving in Lyon, I almost instantly fell in love with the vibe of this city. Lyon is surrounded by the Saône and Rhône rivers, there are beautiful colorful buildings, and of course the Lyonnaise cuisine was amazing. It is one of those cities where you can grab a sandwich and relax for the afternoon down by the river with some friends. After spending some time here I wanted to capture some sights via a little video:


I recall standing on a street corner taking a photo and a few locals would come up to start a conversation with me about my travels. I hope these photos inspire you to  visit next time you are in France!

Walking down just about any of the streets in Lyon, you will find little gems like this building. It’s hard not to stop and take a photograph!

Top 3 places to find Vintage cameras in Bucharest, Romania

If you have a chance to spend some time in Bucharest, you’ll get to see there’s a lot more than the hustle and bustle of bars and restaurants in the city center. After spending a few weeks in the city, I’ve come up with a listing of the top places to find vintage cameras in Bucharest.  This list is updated as of January 2018. Have a place that’s not listed? Let me know below.

  1. Foto Hobby in the Old Town
Sighting of the rare Canon 50mm f/0.95 lens in Bucharest

Walking through the busy Old Town, you might not notice this photography shop that has a little secret inside. From the exterior it appears to be your basic camera shop, carrying Nikon and Canon logos and so forth. But once you enter the store, you have to turn the corner in order to see the large collection of vintage cameras the owner, Stephan, has managed to pull together. I spent an afternoon here geeking out, and saw the infamous Canon EF 50mm f/0.95 lens in excellent condition! Could not resist the opportunity to hold this little guy for a second.

Hours: 10:30AM-7:00PM (M-F), 10:30AM-6:00PM (Sat)

Address: Strada Covaci 7, București, Romania

2. Market at the Stock Exchange Palace

Stock Exchange Palace in Bucharest

Another little gem I did not see the first time around in the Old Town, there are a number of second hand and arts and crafts stand located inside the Bucharest’s old Stock Exchange Building. You’ll have a chance to find some local handmade goods as well as dig through old vinyls, antiques and vintage cameras. If you run into Gabriel’s stand, he has many cameras on display along with war memorabilia. Strike up a conversation with him and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear about the collection of hats worn by military from various countries and their history.

Digging through vinyls at the Stock Exchange Palace
CNYTHNK Sputnik Stereo 120 Film Camera

Address:Palatul Camerei de Comerț, Strada Doamnei 11, București 030167, Romania

 

3. Targul Vitan Flea Market (Vitan Auto)

Exterior of Targul Vitan Flea Market

If you are feeling brave enough to venture outside of the city center to one of Bucharest’s biggest flea markets, then this is the place for you. The Targul Vitan flea market is located inside the same space as Auto Vitan, so don’t let the name fool you. Entrance as of January 2018 was 3.9LEI and allows you to check out both areas. At the market you’ll find all sorts of parts for automobiles, second hand goods of all types, war memorabilia, goods for China and vintage cameras.

Trying on vintage war clothing at Targul Vitan

A vendor in Targul Vitan selling clothing

Be prepared in comfortable walking shoes and get ready to strike a deal with the locals!

Hours: Sunday, 8am – 2pm

Address: Splaiul Unirii 450, București 040043, Romania
Website: Targul Autovit

Notes: Follow the signs for Targul Autovit, the flea market is located inside. It’s an open air market, so it will not be open if the weather is bad.

A serendipitous adventure for vintage cameras in the Czech Republic

It was my second time to Brno, I had spent an afternoon in Brno the previous month and thought I had seen everything I needed to in town. I decided to make a second trip on an offer from a friend, Jiří, who graciously offered to take me around his favorite spots in town.  During the first evening, we ended up heading to one of his jobs at an upscale Hookah bar. This is where he introduced me to  Eliška, a budding local photographer that just graduated university. She took one look at my camera and we instantly started geeking out, the rest of the night was over photography and unusual and cool things to check out when in Brno. She said if I am interested in vintage cameras, I need to check out the Café Flexaret just outside of the city center.

CafeFlexaret in Brno, Czech Republic – A vintage camera themed cafe for camera and coffee lovers alike.

Cafe Flexaret
Kopečná 2/21
Brno, Czech Republic 602 00
Highlights info row image
+420 530 341 628

I arrived at the cafe the next day, unsure what to expect. The cafe has a vintage diner feel with large display cases full of old cameras and and Flexaret branded TLRs (Twin Lens Reflex) . I had never heard of Flexaret before, but Eliška later explained that this is a Czech camera brand that was made in the former Czechoslovakia, which peaked my interested. Being a camera themed coffee shop, we spent the afternoon flipping through an encyclopedia of vintage cameras, day dreaming about what kind we would collect if we had infinite money (and storage space). One thing led to another and told me there’s another shop that I must check out that sells some old TLR’s that I might be interested in.

Antikfoto
Antikfoto – Brno, Czech Republic

ANTIKFOTO (BAZAR)
Kounicova 31, Brno 602 00
Tel .: +420 541 213 129
E-mail: info@antikfoto.cz
Open: Mon-Fri 9.00-12.00, 13.00-17.00

Entering Antikfoto, you are instantly greeted by large glass shelves filled with old film and digital cameras, barrels of camera covers and a workbench where the owner works on camera repairs. It was like a little museum with the carefully laid out displays, loads of photography memorabilia including vintage pins from photography conferences and camera brands. I spent the afternoon looking through the display cases and knew I could not leave without making some sort of a purchase here. A day well spent, Eliška and I both ended up walking out with cameras from Eastern Europe. 

Flexaret IIa TLR
Flexaret IIa TLR

A very nice shop to check out if your journey takes you out to Brno, Czech Republic. There are not the lightest souvenirs to bring home, but there’s a satisfaction in finding these little gems while you are backpacking across Europe.

Team RADepilliar [8] Race report & Reflections

Race report & Reflections

All of the training paid off, we were able to finish with an official completion time of 4:53:33, which was 10 minutes faster than the previous record! We can honestly say this was one of the best experiences of our running career, to be running with folks in another Country and have them waiving and reacting to our costume while running. Some of our favorite memories of the run:

  • Mile 14 is where things got real. There was a lot of pain, and the reality of having to finish 10 more miles to go
  • Run/Walk schedule was important for this marathon, it’s difficult to run so close together
  • The look on the little kids faces when they saw the caterpillar comping up! Some of them just lost it and started dancing around and waiving their hands!
  • Crowds. The fine folks of Berlin at every corner of the run cheering us on.
  • Running into other runners from home, making it feel like such a small world.

We’re blessed to have had such a wonderful experience at the 2017 Berlin Marathon. Thank you to all of our friends and family that have helped us out along the way, our crazy Dog Haus Run Club and everyone else who thought we could pull off this whacky run record.

Team RADepilliar [7] Guinness World Record Attempt at the Berlin Marathon

Pre-race check in with the Guinness World Record Team

After arriving in Berlin, the team put the final touches on the caterpillar to make sure  it would look it’s best from every angle. We then headed out to the Race Expo to meet the folks from the Guinness World Records, who were there to take some photos of all the record attempts for the Berlin Marathon, check our costumes and answer any questions about ensuring our attempt is within guidelines. Check out our video of the pre-race here:

Race day at the Berlin Marathon

Hailing from California where temperatures can reach up to 85F/30C during the run, we were accustomed to early starts for the Marathon (7AM). Luckily for us the marathon did not start until 10AM, which gave us plenty of time to eat and board the subway to the start to the race. Walking in costume all the way to the start line proved to be difficult, not just the walking part – but we were not prepared for the amount of attention our costume would generate. We would be walking and taking selfie’s with people along the streets and subway, in fact, we even ran into some folks from Southern California along the way. Check out the entire entry below for the walk and actual run during the marathon:

Team RADepilliar [6] Flying to Berlin & Marathon Expo

First day in Berlin! The entire RADepilliar team & support crew landed and checked into our AirBnB. After quickly dropping off our luggage, we went straight to the Berlin Marathon Expo. It’s our first time running a marathon outside of the United States – a real treat for us. Also found this really cool little German pub to round of the night.

 

Team RADepillar [5] Training for the Berlin marathon in the costume

In order to give breaking the current Guinness World Record (4 person marathon in a costume [previous time was 5:10]) a try, a few training runs would be required to work out the kinks of the costume. The real challenge here was keeping all 4 teammates training for running a regular marathon, and making time to try out these test costume runs. Everyone’s schedules were erratic, so we would frequently have to swap out runners for other friends that were crazy enough to run with us.

Luckily the 4 of us were already accustomed to a marathon training schedules, so it would be a matter of incorporating some mileage in with the costume on. We would run our normal weekly workouts, and on the weekends we would throw in a few miles with the costume during the long runs:

  • 3 mile short run- prototype run
  • 8 mile long run – 6 miles regular, 3 miles in costume
  • 16 mile long run – 8 miles in costume, followed by 8 miles regular run
  • 3 mile short run – dress rehearsal before the marathon
  • 1 mile test run – day before the Berlin Marathon (make sure the thing didn’t fall apart!)

Total training miles while in costume: 19miles (~30k)

We definitely got some funny looks running around, especially during a training run around the Rose Bowl where one of the eyeballs fell off! We learned to not use hot glue gun in California weather races, and fixed this with the help of liquid nails. A few lessons learned we gained from the training runs:

    • Backpacks – Good for distributing the weight of the costume
    • Modify the suspenders to be shorter
    • Running cadence, we found a way to “sync” up our feet if we kicked each other too much
    • Hot glue gun isn’t strong enough (use liquid nails) for running costumes

All in all, the hardest part was trying to coordinate everyone’s schedules and get a few good runs in.