Monday, January 18, 2010

Traveling with an iPhone and other necessary Europe-hacks

I know I should have been blogging live from my latest trip—Zurich, then Lech-Zug-am-Arlberg in Austria, but it seems that no amount of foreign travel experience prevents the slew of technical difficulties that accompanies each trip. My problems this time were a combination of a) everything in Europe being closed on Sundays and holidays b) mountains and c) iPhone.

I'll start with c. I did some online research on how to travel with an iPhone without breaking the bank, and was directed to sign up for a data roaming package; the smallest amount is for 20 MB for around $20. I signed up for this online with AT&T, and off to Europe I went. Well, the data roaming package was not applied to my account, which, I discovered later, seems to be because I also needed to sign up for an additional $5 for the international dialing plan. They aren't linked on the website, but it seems you can't use the data plan withough the dialing. I did all the other things recommended: reset your usage so you know how much bandwith you've sucked since going abroad; turn data roaming on only sparingly, manually check e-mail, but still got hit with about $20 in unexpected charges for text messaging while abroad. I sent and recieved maybe 4 text messages but have been charged for 38 at a shocking rate.....I'm sure there's an explanation & it won't be in my favor. I eventually called customer service and got the phone working, and with very sparing usage for about a 10 days, squeaked in under the 20MB limit.

a & b, well.... at this point I think of wireless internet as a basic human right, but obviously hoteliers do not concur. I am going to start asking hotels if they have WiFi in the rooms, and if I get my money back if it doesn't work, as so often seems to be the case. Both of our hotels on this trip claimed to have it, but didn't work in our rooms. It's either 'cause you're on a high floor or the thickness of the walls or always some bullshit. In the case of the Zurich hotel, the Helvetia, we arrived New Year's Eve, went to a party, and when we woke up New Year's Day and tried to use the Internet for the first time, discovered that our Internet didn't work and there was no way to fix it because the hotel was closed and the staff was gone for the holiday. No one appeared till January 2, when essential services like coffee was restored, but nothing else--no food, no bread, no Internet. This, I suppose, is the wage of European quasi-socialism. Laborers have more rights and are higher paid, so people just don't have to work as much. Sounds great, but it means the cities shut down entirely on Sundays and holidays and sorta on Mondays as well, and it can be a real pain-in-the-ass to the American traveler, who isn't used to it. Remind me, next time, not to expect to be able to DO anything on New Year's Day, and to avoid the continent on Sundays.

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