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A Couple of Travel Thoughts

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47 comments on “A Couple of Travel Thoughts”

  1. Have fun on your trip. My daughter traveled in Europe and Scandinavia one Summer and she used my e-mail account at home for any authentications she might have needed. We Skyped almost daily (wanting to make sure she was safe) as well as she had a blog which she wrote daily. Also we used FaceBook so we could help if anything needed attention immediately as she could give us a heads up so we were ready to help if needed.

  2. If you plan to use Netflix, your cable online streaming service or any US based streaming service, including some YouTube clips not available in Europe, you’ll also need a VPN. VPNs won’t always work for Netflix as Netflix eventually determines it’s being accessed through that VPN will block that VPN’s IP until that VPN changes their IP number.

    • I’m not so strict. If I pay for a service, they’re getting their money. I’m not going to get locked out of using it. (I say this as a personal opinion and this does not reflect the views and opinons of Ask Leo!)

  3. For those traveling to the US:
    A couple of days ago there was a French couple in front of me trying to buy a subway ticket with a French credit card. When the machine asked for their Zip code, they entered their PIN. This was wrong on two levels. In addition to not working, their PIN appeared on the screen. I told them that in the US, the Zip code is the postal code. And fortunately it accepted the French postal code.

    • Glad that worked for them. A couple years ago while traveling in the U.S. and trying to buy gas, the gas station offered “pay at the pump.” But when I used my credit card at the pump, it asked for my zip code. Unfortunately, the pump wouldn’t allow me to enter my Canadian postal code. It only accepted digits 0 to 9. I thought maybe pressing 555 or 5555 would tell the pump my postal code started with an “L.” Nope. Heading into station, they wanted me to predict how much I wanted to spend on gas. Very difficult to do since my gas tank is 76 litres and estimating how many litres I need and then dividing by 3.78 before multiplying by the price to figure out approximately how much I was going to spend is very difficult (traveling across the U.S. I need a full tank every stop). Most stations, thankfully, understood that I would like them to just do a pre-authorization so I can pump as much gas as I need and let the machine charge my credit card with the actual amount spent. One station in Minnesota either didn’t understand or refused to do pre-authorizations. They actually made me pay. So after letting them charge my card $100, I went and filled my tank, and then had to go into the station a second time, to get a refund. Very frustrating for a foreign traveler when credit card machines insist on zip codes to make purchases.

      In Canada, we use a chip in the credit card and our pin. A much better way to ensure that the correct person is using the credit card. And chip and pin allowed MasterCard to instantly recognize fraudulent activity on my account. They knew the person who tried swiping my credit card in another province was not me because at the same time I was using chip and pin to buy groceries at home. A quick phone call from MasterCard to me to confirm that I did indeed purchased groceries was all they needed to cancel the fraudulent charge and issue me a new card. I suspect it was one of those trips to the U.S. where my credit card was swiped allowed someone to get my card number. The chip is a lot harder to scam.

      • Unfortunately, because of the magnetic strip system in the US, credit cards from all over the world need to have a magnetic strip for backwards compatibility to allow them to be used in the US. This makes ATMs all over the world are vulnerable to skimmers. The US is changing to chips, but not pins. I guess the Zip code is the default unchangeable pin.

        • I don’t understand why the U.S. wants to keep magnetic strips when credit and debit cards are so easily skimmed because of them. The sooner the magnetic strip is off my card the better.

          • Actually the US is gradually replacing the mag stripe system, but as you said, it’s expensive, and every shop and hot dog cart would have to upgrade to the new system. Heck, some people still use carbon paper credit card sales slips.

          • I don’t think they WANT to keep them, it’s the MASSIVE installed base of machines that have no chip reader that’s the problem. Including ATMs.

          • Something better is already here, and is being implemented in a some contactless applications: RFID chips. I think it’s slow to catch on because of real security concerns and a degree of paranoia.

          • In Canada they mandated the change had to happen within two or three years. Walmart was the last hold out pushing the deadline as long as possible.

            I don’t really care for RFID. When I’m talking about chip and pin, I’m talking about a chip embedded in the card that has to actually be slid inside the card reader and then I have to enter my pin. You can ask your bank to turn the RFID on or off depending on whether you want to “tap” (contactless) or not. The chip will still work if the RFID is turned off. I find that chip and pin is more superior to swipe and contactless because like a password, as long as I don’t write my pin down and make it as long as the bank allows (and don’t use something like 123456), it’s pretty much certain that I’m the one using my card.

  4. If you are a Canadian trying to buy gas in the US, you may be asked to enter your zip code. Canadian have a postal code (A1B 2C3), rather than a 5 digit zip code (12345). MasterCard and Visa have a workaround for this. Just enter the three numeric digits of your postal code followed by two zeros. For example if your postal code is R3M 2B7, you would enter 32700 as your zip code. Works just fine whenever I’ve used it. Official reference:
    http://www.mastercard.ca/education/travel-tips/US-gas-code.html

    • A few weeks ago, I was in Midway Airport (Chicago) buying a train ticket using my Canadian credit card. The machine asked for my zip code. The station attendant told me just enter zero. It worked.

    • BMO always prints messages on my statement about traveling, but they’ve never told me this. I wish I had known that when I traveled in the U.S. It would have made life more simple.

  5. “Everything else that I’ll be using will be already there. And the correct voltage as a result. So, that’s power. Like I said, that is one of the two surprisingly common articles, very popular articles on Ask Leo! having to do with voltage and power supplies and what you can and can’t plug into different devices and remember when I’m talking about 110 or 220, what I’m talking about is the input voltage – the voltage that’s coming from your wall.”

    I have to confess that I’ve never really understood why the US has settled on a more dangerous power supply than Europe. Maybe it’s just to be different and to shrug off anything that might take America back to its roots. A simple look at Ohm’s law, (V = I x R) identifies that decreasing the voltage, increases the amperage (current) and it is current that kills. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that certainly on British construction sites, the power of choice is stepped down to 110v but I’ve still never understood the reasoning.

    On the subject of mobile phones, you say, “…it’s not uncommon for people to travel without their mobile phone at all, if they even have one to start with.”

    Is this because they know that the majority of US ‘cell’ phones will not work in Europe (or Africa, or Asia, or anywhere other than in the U.S.) because, again, America wishes to set itself apart from the rest of the world and operate a different system to that acceptable by the rest of the world?

    Please don’t get too upset by my criticisms, Leo. 99.9% of the material you publish is absolutely spot-on and easily understandable by us, the great unwashed, and I have heartfelt thanks for that. My only wish is that America might consider joining the rest of the world with regard to such basics as power and ‘cell’ phones – we have the reciprocal problem if and when we journey to the US.

    • I don’t know who you are getting your information from but the safety of voltages is backwards.

      Current kills but the level that will kill you is actually quite tiny and not in the range that any outlet voltage will make a difference. EU standards change for anything over 20 volts to a stricter protection.
      5 amps on a 240 volt circuit will kill you just as dead as a 10 amps on a 110 volt circuit.
      “a current of around 30 mA (0.030 amperes) is potentially sufficient to cause cardiac arrest or serious harm if it persists for more than a small fraction of a second” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Residual-current_device) – If you have a 240 volt circuit where the voltage collapses if you draw more then 7 watts, then you might be safe.

      More important is that various voltages will cause conduction through the skin which is a slight insulator. The 20 volt line for different safety standards is because below that, skin is a reasonable insulator and not allowing the current to pass through the body. Higher voltages make it more likely to have a shock and to cause the muscles to suddenly contract causing injury when a body is thrown.
      I have personal experience with then when working with a 700 volt flash tube supply. Just a quick brush against the wrong wire found me sitting on the floor with the chair that was formerly under me move a couple feet.

      On you other assertions, you might want to look at the history of these items and if the US variations were already established early and other standards were set because of other considerations.

    • Unless you have a GSM (SIM card, like T-Mobile, Metro PCS or AT&T and some others) phone, your phone would be useless in Europe. European phones will all work in the US, but US phones without a SIM card won’t work in Europe. Therefore, that’s the reason many either leave their phones at home, or try to use them and find they don’t work. So that’s another area, in addition to voltage, where the US is incompatible with most of the rest of the world. However, I won’t necessarily blame it on stubbornness. The US usually invents the technology, and by the time other countries implement it, there’s a better version available.

    • Ditto what Bill said. Tom you have your interpretation of Ohm’s law incorrect (reversed). The equation shows current is proportional to voltage, so the higher the voltage, then the higher the current for the same load (R), and vice versa. Also, for electrical units of measure (Volts, Amps, Ohms, etc.), there is no distinction between metric and non-metric (except for the underlying units for electrical power or energy). In the U.S. electricity is transmitted to the user (home, business, etc.) as 220 volts, but we only use half of that inside the home/business because it’s relatively safer and we can use smaller wire size (because of lower current).

  6. When travelling abroad recently with my laptop and tablet, I simply went to my microsoft account before departure and registered both as “trusted devices”. I had no problems getting mail on my @msn.com address.

  7. I found your comments educational – as usual! When we have traveled in Europe we have found another very annoying problem and would like your help there. In France especially but Germany and other countries as well, when we try to access our Yahoo email we are redirected to a site which is from that country ie – FR.yahhoo.com ….. These seem to want a knowledge of that language (French) before they will allow access. Even then the connection is often not made. Our only solution (not available everywhere) is to use the local WIFI connection. I have always suspected that if McDonald’s free WIFI isn’t a good idea then these aren’t either. Am I right about that? Is there another way around this problem?

    Thanks,
    Larry Mavis

  8. Just a minor technical issue. They are not called switching supplies because they switch between 120 and 240 volts.
    They are called that because they use a very fast switch to turn on and off the power to a filter stage that charges up to the proper output voltage. As power is drawn, the voltage drops a tiny amount and the switch turns on to bring it back up.
    A side benefit is that because the method, the input voltage isn’t very important. If it is higher, the switch turns on for less time.

  9. On the card issue : Happened to me in Myanmar , no ATMs parted with money , just refused. Found out from my bank in Sweden that if the card has strip as well as chip any ATM reading only strip was not approved by bank. Finally found one after like twenty misses. Just the wonderful sound of bills rattling saved my day. as well as the day of a desperate Canadian couple , in the same situation. I wonder if card will work in the US ?
    On voltage issue at Tom. The higher the voltage the more dangerous , since the voltage “pushes” the current . So more danger in Europe ….and it also explains the British construction sites voltage.
    Best
    Leo (another)

  10. I use a vpn at coffee shops. One issue I discovered is that I can’t use the vpn with Hulu. Hulu detects that you are using something like a vpn and won’t show any videos. I’m not sure if this issue affects other sites/services like Amazon or Netflix.

    • I think it depends on the VPN you use. I also expect it’s a game of “whack-a-mole” as services detect new or changing VPN IP addresses and block them.

    • I’ve had similar problems NetFlix and a VPN. Eventually, the VPN service gets a new IP number which lasts for a while. In other words, as Leo said, whack-a-mole.

  11. We are a retired couple who live in Sweden and travel to both the US and Australia on a regular basis to visit our
    children and grandchildren.
    We have an unlocked gsm smartphone with a prepaid sim (T-Mobile for US and Optus or Telstra for Australua) and
    these work just great for those countries.
    We also take a laptop and tablet for email, but here I guess we are lucky because we can tap into our family’s wifi.
    I suppose the power outlets are the biggest pain but here I have made adaptor cables to go from which ever
    country we are in to the European standard socket, thus we can take all our standard European chargers with us.

  12. He Leo, ‘n veilige reis, eh? I knew it! A Dutch name if ever was. One thing you can try in Europe is how and if Google Voice works FROM there. My phone numbers are routed via Google Voice and I use it very successfully to call the old country, (as my parents call it) from here. I haven’t had a chance to try G/V from NL. My relatives in Hulst are puzzled by the idea.
    Reis voorzichtig.

  13. Leo,

    I note you’ve highlighted the log in problems of hotmail.com / outlook .com email accounts while travelling. Do you by any chance also have a gmail.com account you can test? I’m a member of the Gmail Help Forum, and daily we see complaints of people getting locked out of their accounts while travelling, (or sometimes even while NOT travelling). Gmail is now supposed to have an “improved” account recovery process, but it appears to me the problems have increased. My wife and i both have Gmail accounts and have never been locked out on our travels to Caribbean islands, South America, nor North America (both USA and Canada). Don’t think we did anything special except that we usually use my laptop when travelling, and both accounts would be recognized as having logged in from that machine before. People with recovery emails on the same network should really consider changing this. I have Gmail recovering to Yahoo, Yahoo to Hotmail, and Hotmail to Gmail. Also resisted it for a long time but finally added my cellphone number to all the accounts. (Didn’t have a cellphone when I first got an email account).

    Regarding cellphones, we’re not from the USA but our phones will actually work there, or anywhere else we go. The major consideration is what we call “roaming charges” which will have a very significant impact on the next phone bill after travel. Options are to switch off data and use Wi Fi only, which means emails and other messages will only come through each time you return to your host location or any other Free Wi Fi spots while on the road. Otherwise pay for an upgraded mobile travel package before flying out on our trip.

    • I live in Germany most of the year, and when I came to the US, I needed a TAN (transaction account number) from my bank which works similarly to what outlook.com and Gmail do to confirm it is you. They sent me an SMS text to my German number and I received it without a roaming charge in the US. My son-in-law said he had no problems using his American T-Mobil phone for that in several EU countries, but I’m not sure it works the same with all US carriers in Europe.

      • Mark,

        I usually notify my bank before traveling, otherwise the Credit Card transactions might trigger a “suspicion” shut down. Once my wife was away without me, and using the same credit card account at the same time as me. The bank actually called me for verification, rather than shutting it down that time.

  14. Have a great time in the Netherlands! We lived in Delft for several years and loved it. Our computer stuff worked easily just as you said but we needed some of those clunky transformers for other things like stereos. Inasmuch as we lived there and didn’t travel with that stuff, it was certainly worth the cost.

  15. For household appliances the frequency is just as important as the voltage is. Europe uses 50 Hz and the USA 60 Hz. But you will not take a frig on your trip, I suppose.
    A solution for the problem of Leo Lukjanov (redirection to a French version) is using something like http://www.google.com/ncr The ncr at the end gives (me at least) the US version of Google and without it I get the Dutch version.
    Not being able to use your Outlook or Hotmail account? While traveling in the USA I never had a problem with it. But when in Brazil–yes.
    My Dutch credit card almost always works in the USA when I use my four number pin. Only one gas station (major brand!) gave a problem which could not be solved by any means.
    When using a credit (or debit) card with chip and magnetic stripe, you could put some tape on the chip so the ATM machine is tricked into supposing there is only a stripe on the card. No guarantee but I know several instances where it worked out as hoped for.
    And switching supplies work with the intermediate of DC. The switching gives a very high frequency to the voltage so the transformer that produces the secondary voltage can have a very small size. And a high efficiency.

  16. New device being used in a new location will keep you out of LastPass which in turn keeps you out of any site for which you have not memorized the password. Buy your new device well before the trip starts.

    • I’ve never had that problem with LastPass, but if it does happen, you can even use LastPass through their web interface.

      • Actually you can end up with that problem if, like I do, you have two-factor authentication enabled in last pass. You need to transfer the “two factor” part to new device (like phones) or you can be locked out of even the web interface.

  17. Just returned from US, our first visit. Experience with ATMs and Petrol stations very similar to those above.
    I would add that I am amazed at the variety of different authorisation methods for card payments across the different business and banks/ATM networks. Even the acceptance of a signature on a card that was elesewhere randomly classified as either a Debit OR credit card by the system in questions (we had to guess which). The card itself does not have a signature strip and no ID was requested. Right the way through to the tap to pay system (RFID/NFC) now getting increasingly common in some European countries.
    Anyway, I was wondering whether your trip, might be able to explore aspects of levels of ability to make and receive calls, texts and data on the various phone networks. My own UK provider does not work overseas and so a T Mobile Tourist plan SIM was pretty useful to me but made the costs racked up for others in the party when contacting me.
    Are there some guidelines, clues or even answers to the conundrums of staying connected, and at fair and reasonable costs, when not on wifi.

    Also, any tips on highly portable ways to be able to take your subscriptions to TV or other services with you. Our villa was not supposed to have wifi so I left my Amazon Fire TV Stick and Chromecast at home. (Sorry but as a combination of the age of the TV in the Villa and maybe the lack of cable or something it was hard to find anything to watch where we were – apart from Ads).

    Are we working towards a Tech Travellers Survival Guide?

    • One thing that is consistent among wireless carriers is that they are all inconsistent. For example, my German O2 sim card worked perfectly in the US. The cost of a phone call was exorbitant, something like 1.69 euros a minute, but I was able to receive SMSes for free. This made it possible for two factor authentication for my bank transactions and email account verifications. I see you are using gmx.com as your email provider. That’s the one I recommend for traveling or as an alternate address for account recovery, as it’s been my experience that they don’t lock you out when you travel. What was your gmx.com experience while traveling?

  18. I use Gmail WEB mail and have no problems when traveling domestic or foreign travel..

    When home using a Win desktop I have Thunderbird configured for IMAP to provide backup and use FireFox to read mail.

    For domestic and foreign travel I use an iPad browser to read mail and my current ISP does not mater.

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