Berlin: Travel Apps and Tips

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I finally succumbed and got an iPhone just days before my vacation. I knew it would make some things, like navigation and checking email, easier. Even though I was fairly familiar with the phone, there were some kinks and things I learned along the way.

Data
First, turn your phone to airplane mode and shut off any data so you don’t get charged exhorbitant international rates.

Outlets
One thing I didn’t consider with a new phone was the European current for electricity (different outlet). Thankfully, I was able to borrow an extra adaptor that my friend had, but they are also cheap to buy online. If you plan to stay for a while, there are even power strips with universal outlets available.

Navigation
Many people swear by Google maps. While they are generally accurate for street directions, I find that I have more luck on public transportation using Hopstop. And I don’t always feel like letting Google monetize every bit of my personal data. In Berlin, Google maps doesn’t currently include buses or trams, only the U- and S-Bahn, so public transportation directions are fairly useless. My tech savvy friend recommended the FahrInfo app, which gives a list of alternate routes to your destination with approximate travel duration and arrive times. It also has maps of the U- and S- Bahn. I highly recommend it for travel within Berlin.

That said, Google maps are indispensable when you don’t have Internet access (navigation continues to work). Simply open a local map when you do have a connection, and continue to use it when you don’t. Their “greedy” algorithm works very well for street directions (walking, biking, driving).

Text or Chat
To communicate in country, my friend recommended What’s App or Viber. Unfortunately, since I didn’t download the apps before arriving, I couldn’t activate the service (via text message). (I receive way too many texts daily to opt to turn on that service.) Another friend recommends Zello, which is popular with her family in Mexico, who prefer the push to talk feature. All of these options are worth trying. We wound up using Facebook chat and it worked just fine.

Wifi Hub
There isn’t a lot of free wifi available in Berlin, but you can generally get access to a network at a cafe or a restaurant (when they remember the password). It gets challenging when you are out and about all day, at museums or just wandering around, trying to coordinate plans or in need of consistent access. My friend works at a startup¬†called deMifi, which rents these nifty little portable wifi hotspots that are smaller than your phone at very reasonable rates. I also highly recommend!

Extended Stays

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live abroad for an extended period of time. And for a host of reasons (career goals and ambitions, family obligations, waiting for someone else, procrastination, fear), I have yet to make it happen. My friend Amy has done it a few times, and it’s something I admire about her. In this witty post, How I’m getting away with this whole thing, she shares practical tips for making this dream come true on a budget– everything from getting a deal on airfare to finding an inexpensive place to stay. For example:

Third most important thing – how can I get housing for free? Housing, unless you’re going to South America or Asia, will kill a small budget. The miracle of the internet is that if you have a dream, so do a half million other people and someone’s out there facilitating your dream for people like you. Sites that hook people up are generally great for making sure you won’t be sold into slavery once you arrive. They check people’s info, keep logs of all your communication through their site, and try to keep everyone safe. They also are big on peer comments, so you get to see what others have said about the place you’re going and how it was to be there. I joined http://www.mindmyhouse.com/ for $25/year¬† (or 2 yrs – can’t recall). This site is British, and loads of British people have second homes in Spain, so there were lots of situations in the country I was headed to. The challenge is finding someone who’s not just looking for a free caretaker/dogsitter. You may love dogs, but they can’t be left for weekend excursions and you could end up stranded at home most of the time. In which case, write a book. About the dog. I was extremely lucky that there was a small retreat center looking for someone exactly like me, but there are new posts all the time and there’s always something that might allow you to do someone a favor and still have flexibility.

Check out the whole post– and blog– here. Thanks for sharing, Amy!