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Travel Backup Plans, Part 2

A while back I wrote briefly about the need to have backup plans for products and services you depend on while traveling. This was right after Google killed off its popular RSS reader and a bunch of people I know had their gmail account hacked—which of course affects all the other things that near-monopoly makes you sign up for with one single log-in.

In the tech world “redundancy” is not a bad word. You want redundancy in your servers, in your e-mail backups, in your data backups, in your power system. If the first system fails, you want to be able to keep at least the essential services running.

This same attitude should prevail in your long-term international travels. Things go wrong, always. It’s just a matter of when. That’s the nature of being on the road instead of in your predictable house and predictable job. So having a back-up for your primary services you depend on is essential. Here are a few to consider.

1) Multiple phone communication systems

I rely on Skype constantly on the road and living in Mexico, but it’s never a perfect solution. Sometimes the incoming calls to my US subscription number don’t ring through, sometimes the connection keeps dropping. So I’ve downloaded an app from Rebtel that gives me free international calls to anyone else who has it (gotta hook up the relatives) and if they don’t, the international calls using Rebtel are affordable with their rates: about half what the local telecom provider typically charges and about 1/10 what your U.S. mobile carrier will charge for international roaming.

I also use Movistar instead of Telcel in Mexico on my unlocked phone because with their prepaid plans, you can call the USA, Canada, or the EU for the same price as a call in Mexico. So no matter where I am and what happens, I can reach people when I need to. Yeah, I know, there’s Google Voice too. I’ve used it, but see the first paragraph above. I simply don’t trust they’ll keep any service now that’s not directly making them money and I don’t like them snooping on everything I do online.

2) Multiple Ways to Get and Spend Money

If you arrive in a small airport that doesn’t have an ATM machine, or it’s out of service, or it rejects your card (I’ve experienced all three) what will you do? If you lose your debit card, or a machine eats it, what happens next?

This one scares me more than anything as it’s a panicky feeling to arrive in a strange country and not be able to pay for anything you need. I’ve stupidly left a debit card in a machine and had to wait weeks for a replacement. I’ve had cards expire when I’m on the move. And once someone copied the data from my card at some point and went on a spending spree. So I had to stop using it until I got home and it was sorted out. Call us crazy, but between my wife and I we have four debit cards, more credit cards than that, and I try to carry some dollars or euros along if I’m not arriving at a large international airport.

No, we don’t pay a lot of fees. None of our bank accounts with the debit cards have fees and if you pull money from cash accounts at Fidelity, Schwab, or ING/Capital One like we do, there’s no ATM fee from them—just the local bank. With my Paypal debit card, I only pay $1 each time.

3) Multiple e-mail addresses

Do you trust that your e-mails are getting through? And that you’re getting all of them sent to you? What do you do if a friend tells you, “I tried to e-mail you, but it got kicked back.”

I get that message and send it several times per month. Reality is that every server has filters in place and most of them make loads of mistakes every day. Plus thousands of accounts get hacked every day by spammers and many people end up having to shut them down and start over. This is especially rampant with gmail and it can wreak havoc with your life. Have another address that you can seamlessly transfer to. Or maybe more than one. Plus you can keep a commercial one to use whenever a site makes you register to do anything. They’re free with any domain and places like Yahoo and Hotmail/Outlook.

4) Multiple Photo Backups

Canada family travel

I don’t want to lose this…

Nearly every day of your travels you are snapping photos. These are your cherished moments, your memory triggers, the images that you will share with grandkids someday. Don’t just take a chance that a single place to store them (physical or virtual) is going to be enough. The easier and more automatic it is, the more chance there is it will not be enough. Do you know anyone who has had their Apple account hacked? Search online for that phrase and you’ll hear some heartbreaking horror stories. Are all your travel photos on your laptop alone? Good luck with that if you have a hard drive crash.

You can buy a portable external hard drive that holds a terrabyte or more of data for less than $100 now. Or if you know you’ll regularly have a good internet connection you can get a cloud service like Dropbox, JustCloud, Mozy, Sugarsync, or Carbonite that stores that much for a monthly charge of $10-$20, less if you only need to store photos and a few documents. (Hint—it’s video that really hogs the storage space. If you’re not keeping that, you won’t need so much room.)

What redundancy systems do you have in place when you travel that help you travel with less stress?


Friday 28th of November 2014

When using your ATM card abroad, be sure to remove it the instant it comes out of the slot. In Mykonos, I made the mistake of not retrieving it immediately and it got swallowed up. Not only that, but I did not receive my money and I had an awful time getting my bank to reverse the transaction.

Jeremy ATMDepot

Wednesday 11th of June 2014

To avoid having your ATM or debit card eaten by an ATM machine try to only use ATM machines with manual "DIP" or "Swipe" readers and avoid machines that take your card. Using ATM machines that take your card and don't give it back until the end of the transaction is the only way to lose your card. When you use a manual card reader the ATM card never leaves your hand. When traveling it's best to hide at least a $50 in your shoe or (under the insert) for emergencies (or get and register emergency Travelers checks) if you encounter an issue getting access to your bank account.


Friday 22nd of November 2013

I'm glad you addressed the google login issue, among other things! That completely concerns me and I wish I could compartmentalize more of the google products I (have to) use and not have them all so interconnected. We always travel with a backup credit card we don't keep in our wallets just in case.


Wednesday 20th of November 2013

I always carry one credit card that has a zero balance just in case of medical emergencies. In most of the world outside the US, you can actually afford to pay for medical treatment, so this is an extra form of travel medical insurance in case I end up in a hospital.