Tips on local languages, mobile tech, and time zones
We all know the feeling: your phone battery is dying or you’re passing through an area of weak signal. At home, it’s usually a simple annoyance, but when you’re traveling, not having access to a communications device is something you’ll want to avoid. So, how can you stay connected as you explore the cities, towns, and rural areas of Europe? Here are some simple guidelines and some key things to keep in mind.
Making calls and accessing the internet on the move
No matter what, you’ll probably need to make phone calls while on your trip. Whether it’s to call home, reach a hotel or bed and breakfast, make a restaurant reservation, or coordinate with friends, a good phone is essential. There are basically two ways of deciding how to proceed. The first is to check with your existing carrier in your home country to see if they have a good deal on making calls in Europe. Some carriers allow you to make unlimited calls for a small—and temporary—increase to your monthly payment. But don’t assume! Check to get the right information. The second option is to purchase a European sim card, which is easy to do and won’t break the bank. One great benefit of this is a 2017 policy in Europe that eliminates all roaming charges within the European Union. That means a Czech sim should work in France and vice-versa.
Let’s not forget phone data! A mobile internet connection is key for maps, social media, and all kinds of other functions. If you’re using your home carrier, the best option is to follow the advice above: check to see if there’s a package that makes sense for you. If you choose to get a local sim, in all likelihood you will have a calling/SMS/internet bundle, and the data you have should work perfectly fine anywhere in the EU.
Note: as you might have guessed, payphones and landlines (at hotels, for example) are extremely rare in Europe these days, so it’s best not to rely on them. Also, check to make sure your phone is “unlocked” from your carrier. If it’s locked to a certain carrier, you may not be able to use a local sim card.
Tip: you may not need any calling minutes with a local sim. Voice-over-IP services like WhatsApp, Skype, or Viber allow you to call for free using your mobile data. This is a great way to reduce the cost of your communications.
Last but not least, some parts of rural Europe are dead zones for mobile phones. It’s wise to check ahead of time to see whether you’re likely to have a good connection, and if not, plan accordingly. Some simple steps will make your life easier if the signal is weak: download confirmation codes/reservations for your lodgings. The same applies to maps. Some mapping apps allow you to download certain sections ahead of time, so you can track your location even if the connection wanes.
Europe has only three time zones:
- Western European Time or GMT: Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and the United Kingdom;
- Central European Time or CET (GMT+1): (the majority of the European Union Member States and other countries between Spain in the west to Poland in the east);
- Eastern European Time or EET (GMT+2): Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.
- Beyond continental Europe and its nearby islands, there are some far outposts of European countries with different time zones, such as the Azores (Portugal), which follows Greenwich Mean Time and French overseas territories such as Guadeloupe, which is in the GMT-4 time zone.
Given that the maximum number of hours ahead or behind you can experience in Europe is two, time zones mostly affect your trip in the context of travel. The best approach? Check ahead of time to see if you’ll be crossing any time zones, and if so, simply keep that in mind when it comes to logistics or scheduling. And remember that most European countries use the 24-hour clock, especially for train and plane schedules.
We all know that phone batteries run out, and often faster than we expect. A good travel practice is to keep a portable battery with you. That will ensure you always have enough juice to keep your devices functional.
Free Wi-Fi is common in Europe. Many trains, busses, and cafes offer it to customers. Just as often, airports and train stations have a network you can tap into. Sometimes, cities will have free Wi-Fi zones. A word to the wise, however: make sure to keep security in mind when using free Wi-Fi. Before connecting, make sure the network is trustworthy.