With a last-minute invitation to Budapest, Hungary, in June to meet with the founders of a tech start-up, I had less than two weeks to prepare for the trip. And just after getting my tickets booked for the flight, I quickly realized I needed to investigate which tech gadgets I would need to take to plug in and recharge my devices on the trip, as well as figure out if I could use my U.S.-based smartphone while traveling.
Ah, the joys of international travel. If you are contemplating a similar journey abroad, here's what you need to know to make it trouble-free.
The last time I was in Europe, in Rotterdam, Holland, in 2014, I took just one small single-plug power adapter that let me plug in my smartphone or my laptop, one at a time. On my trip to Budapest, however, I knew that wouldn't be sufficient because I'd be traveling with a laptop and three smartphones, just to be sure I could always be connected to WiFi with a fully-charged phone wherever I was at the time.
In addition, I also had to find out if I'd need simple plug adapters that would convert my U.S. power plugs into plugs that fit European electrical sockets or if I'd need a dedicated power converter that switches higher European voltages down to voltages that can be used by U.S.-spec appliances.
All these questions made me realize that I needed answers, and fast, so I could find the needed items before my departure. A bit of quick research via Google and some advice from a sampling of travel-savvy pals on Facebook quickly helped steer me in the right direction.
First, no power converter would be needed because most modern devices, particularly tablets, laptops and mobile phones, already include chargers that work with 110 volts in the U.S. or 220 to 240 volts in other countries around the world, using automatic voltage sensors that adjust to the power at the receptacle. Devices that are only compatible with 110 volts would require a power converter, but I wasn't traveling with any such gadgets and didn't need one for the trip.
If such a converter is needed for your travels, however, there are a myriad of choices, including the WOKAO 200W Voltage Converter International Travel Power Converter, available from Amazon for $26.99 and eligible for Prime shipping. The WOKAO converter includes three U.S. electrical plug receptacles and four 2.4A USB charging ports, as well as an assortment of power plug adapters to plug the converter itself into a foreign receptacle.
What I did need, however, were power plug adapters that would allow me to use my U.S. electrical plugs in Budapest. For that, I chose a set of three European Type C two-in-one plug adapters by Yubi Power, which sold for $11.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping. I liked these because each one allowed me to plug in two power cords, leaving me excess capacity if needed on my trip. These worked great and fit the electrical sockets in Budapest perfectly, easing my recharging chores.
My smartphones provided their own technology needs. As a Verizon customer, I investigated the idea of taking my LG V10 smartphone and swapping out its SIM card with a data-only card I'd buy in Budapest for use on my trip. But then a pal shared a great option – Verizon's recently unveiled Travel Pass service – which lets customers use their Verizon handsets in more than 200 countries by tapping into their normal data, calling and texting plans back home. For this service, Verizon charges $10 a day or only $5 a day in Mexico or Canada, while allowing users to consume their normal calling plan allotments. A quick call to Verizon's customer service line and I was hooked up with the service, which is now available on my phone with no other intervention anytime I am in a participating country. Users receive a text message on arrival in a covered country advising them they have the option of using the service if desired.
While at $10 a day it's not the cheapest option, the ability to use my regular smartphone to call home to the United States or text or use Google Maps on the fly without worrying about international rates was liberating. I highly recommend it. Plus, I didn't have to deal with the vagaries of using a foreign SIM card or getting such services to work properly. Many experienced travelers prefer taking an unlocked smartphone and buying a local SIM card for use where they are visiting, and such cards were available all over Budapest had I wanted to take that option. Local Vodafone mobile carrier stores sell a SIM card offering one week of data service up to 1GB for about $9 inside Hungary, with no voice or texting, for instance.
The other phones I took on the trip, a review unit Samsung Galaxy S8+ and a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, were along for the ride as backup devices that I used only with WiFi as needed, just to have alternatives available in an emergency.
WiFi was seemingly available all over Budapest in cafes, restaurants, hotels and public spaces, but I tended to use it only in my hotel where I had to log in with a password. I also downloaded apps for Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger on my phone before I left the U.S. so I had those options as well to communicate with friends and family back home. I didn't end up using them since I could call or text on my personal smartphone using my Verizon Travel Pass service.
Then there were the technology needs of my Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR camera, which I took along to capture great images of my trip. I ordered a spare 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC memory card to be sure I had enough storage for photos – $22.85 from Amazon with Prime shipping – and carried a spare battery, charger and lens cleaning kit.
In the non-tech-but-necessary category I also ordered a soft, padded USA Gear Flex Armor X DSLR case made of neoprene that protected my Canon camera in my backpack way better than the old T-shirt I've wrapped around it in the past – $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping. I also ordered a set of four sizes of Altura padded neoprene pouches to hold spare lenses, chargers and cords and my collection of power adapters – $17.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping.
There were a few other non-tech products I took along as well – including a Budapest guidebook from Lonely Planet ($14.95 from Amazon), a Top 10 Budapest guide from Eyewitness Travel ($9.80 from Amazon) and the latest edition of Rick Steves Budapest from travel writer Rick Steves ($14.93 from Amazon), along with a small Lonely Planet Hungarian phrase book ($6.99 from Amazon) to try to communicate a bit with local residents.
Having all of these products along with me made the trip to Budapest nicer and easier. For just a few bucks, you can assemble what you need to make your own journey trouble-free, starting with the right electrical plug adapters and mobile phone strategies and then adding in other items as required.
So get out there and see the world in this glorious summer travel season. Safe travels and have a fabulous trip.