Calder’s Corner: The must-haves in tech while abroad


By Calder Phillips-Grafflin

Sure, you’ve been accepted to your term abroad. You’ve picked your courses, bought the airline tickets, and figured out where to live, but what will you pack?

You can’t pack everything you’d bring to Union; most airlines restrict you to one carry-on and one or two checked bags, which only gives you room for the most essential of things.

There isn’t a simple solution for everyone, but there are a few major things to bring, especially for engineering or science majors going abroad.

The most important item to pack is your computer. Packing desktops, especially on an airplane, isn’t the easiest thing; I’d advise bringing a laptop or netbook instead. Keep in mind, though, that laptops and netbooks are easily stolen or lost, so back up all your files before you leave.

While you are abroad, back up important work regularly, since your chances of recovering a lost or stolen computer are next to none.

On a similar topic, don’t bring the external hard drive that has all your movies and music and backups. Have you seen what happens to stuff in overhead bins? You really don’t want to realize that the clumsy passenger next to you has killed your external by knocking it out of the bin or stepping on it. Instead, bring lots of USB flash drives. If your computer doesn’t have a camera or microphone, bring one for Skype, since long-distance calls are hideously expensive.

Speaking of which, bring a phone. If your phone from home supports Tri-band or Quad-band GSM, great. If not, either get one before you leave or right after you arrive. Make sure to get an unlocked phone, since the cheapest option is to use prepaid SIM cards. In Europe, the cheapest places to buy a phone are usually cell phone carrier stores, like Vodafone, O2 or T-Mobile, which can be found in any shopping mall.

If you have a smartphone with a SIM card, call your carrier and ask (beg) for the SIM unlock code for the phone. Some carriers, like Verizon, will provide them upon request, but if you have an iPhone or an Android phone, jailbreaking/rooting may be your only option. If you can get tethering to work with your phone, it can be a lifesaver if there are problems getting your computer connected to the internet.

Last but not least, you should bring some basic school supplies. You don’t need to pack much; maybe a single notebook, or a little binder if you have the space.  You only need to bring enough to last for the first couple days, which is a lot simpler and easier than betting that you’ll have a chance to buy them before classes start.

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