The FCC has declared this week as "Wireless World Travel Week," and as such has offered some handy tips that can be found in this eWeek article. All the tips are extremely useful and interesting including the one about how a smartphone can be a "tempting target for invasion by the government in some areas." I've been testing cell phones a long time and have made it a practice to take a test phone with me when I travel to see the experience. For example, when I went to Argentina I wanted to see how easy it was to get a prepaid SIM card and stick it in a compatible GSM phone. Finding the SIM card wasn't initially easy until I realized they were sold at local convenient kiosks similar to the way prepaid calling cards are sold at 7-11. Also, the phone had to be unlocked or the SIM card wouldn't work. Having a cell phone with service for that country made it easier to call for reservations at restaurants or keep in touch with the people I was traveling with if we decided to spend our days separately.
On that note, I just got back from a trip to Panama. Initially, I didn't want to take a cell phone with me so I didn't do any preparations in order to have one to test while I was out of the country. I also had no idea what types of outlets the country used. An important point, especially since many countries have a different outlet and if Panama was such a place I'd need to take an adapter. The only thing I knew for certain was that if you wanted to use a phone in Panama it had to be a GSM phone. It was literally a hour before I left for my flight to Panama that I decided to take the DROID Incredible with me.
My rational: I knew I'd need a cell phone when I was arriving back in the states to coordinate a ride home from the airport. I also really wanted to have music with me and the Incredible had tons of my music stored on its 8GB of internal memory. I decided to take the charger too thinking I could always charge it at the airport between flights if I had drained the battery listening to music or playing games while on the plane. What I didn't think about when making the decision was WiFi, Skype, or even the built-in 8-megapixel camera on the Incredible - features that would definitely come in handy.
The cell phone came in handy the first night in Panama when visited the UNESCO area of Casco Viejo. I couldn't find my camera so I took the phone with me on a whim just in case I wanted to take a picture or two. Don't think that 8-megapixel camera can take a decent picture? Check out the image below that was captured with the DROID Incredible. I didn't have a map with me either so I really wasn't sure how to navigate the area. It would have been nice to get some help from Google Maps, but that wasn't going to work out because I didn't have service and couldn't get a reliable WiFi network in the area so there was no way to download the maps needed. Something to think about if you're considering using a cell phone for navigation while out of the country. For me though it wasn't a big deal because not knowing how to navigate was part of the fun. During the trip the cell phone's camera and the extra 8GB microSD card I had inserted in the phone proved to be a reliable companion. I was able to take pictures with the DROID Incredible when the lens on my camera had fogged up due to the humidity and during a hike through a rainforest I was able to capture video of howler monkeys.
Throughout the rest of my travels WiFi was readily available even at remote locations that I could only get to by boat. I checked personal e-mail and was able to contact a friend in the states about something worth exploring in Panama, as well as correspond with a friend I was meeting up with on an island off of the Panama coast who had a working T-Mobile BlackBerry Curve. Since it did have WiFi, connectivity was readily available, and it was a Verizon phone that supported Skype if I really wanted to I could have placed a call using Skype.
Finally, the outlets are the same as those in the United States so keeping the cell phone charged wasn't a problem. Though I should note that I probably extended battery life a lot by leaving the cell phone in Airplane mode and turning off mobile connectivity. I didn't want the phone to drain trying to find a network that simply wasn't going to be there. Taking such a feature-rich cell phone on vacation definitely added to my trip, but being able to manage how I was going to use it made it that much more enjoyable to have.