Howdy travel fans! Today I am happy to publish an article from my travel partner and fellow digital nomad Gianfranco, on some of the tools and products we have used to optimise life as digital nomads. Some of these will definitely help anyone who travels a lot for work, whether as a digital nomad or on regular business trips. So, I’ll let him take it from here…
We all have watched a 007 movie in our lives. In every story, James Bond is briefed about his new mission and equipped with the best technology available to MI5 by Agent Q. Those gadgets often happen not to be incredibly precise, but at the end they prove reliable enough to save the bacon of Daniel Craig.
But, just as a spy will work more efficiently with the appropriate gadget, also the Digital Nomad can improve dramatically his/her lifestyle by using the most appropriate technology.
The SIM card
The first problem to solve when you wander around the world is how to “stay connected”. You will already be stressed out by not having a fixed address, so sooner or later you will feel like you are missing a fixed reference point in time and space. A way to be tracked down.
I must admit I don’t use the phone to actually phone that much. Nonetheless a mobile phone is useful in many other ways. You might want to send and receive text messages for a million reasons: to pay for parking, to get SMS notifications from your bank, to see when the next bus is due at your stop, to update Twitter (or to receive notifications), to get the password of a WiFi hotspot, to obtain the PNR of your next flight, be notified of a delay, or to recover a password. Not to mention the time you handed your number to the pretty girl/handsome guy you met at that party – even if they never did text you back!
Ultimately, a mobile phone number is useful, not only to confirm Whatsapp ☺ – but, imagine what, to actually make and receive calls. When I’m between two contracts, I actually talk a lot on the phone. Recruiters call me and keep babbling for hours about how great their offer is. The least sociopathic among you might even want to hear from their friends back in the UK (really?), where freelance workers might chase the payment of their invoices from their freelance customers. Last but not least, as a personal safety measure, it’s always best being able to make a phone call, from everywhere, anytime.
Wouldn’t it be great having the same phone number working in most major countries, without paying for roaming? With the same conditions you’d have in the UK, including the use of Internet from your mobile?
I have found that Three UK offers a pay as you go simcard that allows you to use the plan in 42 (fortytwo!) countries. You can receive calls for free, use Internet (500Mb for £5), make calls (you can buy minutes upfront for that) exactly as if you were in the UK.
Drawbacks: you will have your free SIM delivered to a UK postal address (which is not very handy if you have already left the UK).
The top-up credit never expires (data and minutes do monthly, though) so you can just stop topping it up when you don’t need it. The other bonus of this SIM is that every time you top up, you get 1 month of free Wifi in the London tube.
The Egg (portable 4G to wifi router)
Digital nomads, by definition – don’t have a fixed address. Which means we also don’t have broadband. We have just sorted Internet on the phone but we can’t tether it outside of the UK, so what happens when we have to work? The obvious answer: crash to a Starbucks, but it costs money, it’s crowded, unreliable, won’t let you work in pijamas and you cannot take a Starbucks shop with you in the car or the train when you commute. So, first problem, how do I get Internet on my laptop when I am on the move?
Also, in my case, the laptop is not the only device I might want to connect to the Internet. I own a WiFi multifunction scanner/printer, an iPad, a wireless Hard Drive… so a personal WiFi access point would be great as well.
This device (shaped like an egg) is a 4G to WiFi router – for example Huawei E5577 or similar. You just insert a 4G Simcard in it, switch it on, connect up to 5 devices, then jump on the Internet. On the display you will see the amount of 4G/3G traffic you have used (so you can buy more, all your devices in Wifi mode will hog a lot of data). These devices aren’t exactly cheap, the RRP being around £70. Avoid the cheaper ones, branded from a mobile operator (Three, Vodafone, O2) because they will be locked onto the specific sim: i.e. you won’t be able to use them abroad.
The VOIP app
When I told you about the simcard, I haven’t been totally frank with you. There are times you have to make a long, international call, to sort out a situation. Typically, unlocking your cards after you’ve been abroad for more than 6 months, cancelling utility bills at the last place you lived in, tracking parcels that have been shipped, paying random parking fines, sorting out your taxes with an international tax authority… Bad stuff, generally long calls – long waiting time listening to Vivaldi or Adele (big fan of the former, would extinguish the latter). I have found this great VOIP provider, Messagenet, that gives you an App (named Mtalk), with a free landline phone number – Italian or English – you can use to receive calls, and if you top up some credit, will let you call any number in the world for a few pence per minute. And you can use the same credit to send and receive faxes from your email. The same applies also to text messages!
Sometimes you will be shocked by how cheap your call has been. And the quality is great, much better than Skype. Your available credit is always available in the top right corner of the display.
If you download the App now, you will get 20 minutes for free! (Italian numbers only).
N26 online bank
I am Italian but I work in the UK. So I had an Italian bank account (in EUR) and I have opened one in England (in GBP). The Italian bank account, though, had very high maintenance costs, yearly stamps, not so good customer care. So I had to shut it down, to save on costs. Right before I did so, I discovered this new bank, N26 that offers an EUR bank account (based in Germany) for free to the residents of most EU countries, providing you with a contactless MasterCard Debit. Opening the account has been as easy as making a skype call.
I am pretty happy with this bank, the App works perfectly and it’s your currency passport for the whole EuroZone. There is a referral scheme, that promises both me and you rewards – still to be determined – so if you are interested, sign in with this referral code (PKPM6-IINKv0GC) and you may procure benefits to both me and you. Mail me(*) if that code isn’t working for you.
The Curve card
Ok, now that we have sorted out the problem of an EUR bank account, let’s make things easy, tidy and comfortable. What if a card existed that would act as a proxy with all other credit/debit cards you own – regardless of currency – so you could technically use the same card in every country, just selecting the one to bill with an App on your phone?
Let’s make an example here: I own a GBP account and both a Credit and a Debit Card in England, one SEK account with another Debit Card in Sweden, and the N26 EUR account in Germany with its own Debit Card.
With Curve I can register all the cards I own in an App, and use the MasterCard that they ship to your address instead of all of those. The Curve card is also contactless.
When I want to bill a particular one, I select it in the App. And if I’m abroad or booking a ticket on line, I just select a card with the correct currency… and voilà, no exchange fees, no currency conversion rates.
Also, if I don’t have a card for the specific currency I am using (for example if I’m in Ukraine), using Curve I will have only a 1% flat fee on the best MasterCard conversion rate of the day – it’s actually the best you can find on the market.
The card is free (incl. shipping!) for a limited amount of time, and if you order it on imaginecurve.com/getcurve using this promo code (Z8JFX), both you and I will receive £5 free credit on the card.
Fellow travel fans and digital nomads: have you tried some of these handy products? Have you got others to recommend? Let me know in the comments!