Travel Tech – Entertainment & Communications

Entertainment. If you are abroad for a long period, then English language entertainment online makes this no problem. Basically, you have multiple streaming services. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. But also HBO, Comedy Central, etc. So why do I even mention it? Watching them can be another matter. Most of Amazon’s movies can’t be watched in Europe. Netflix has different offerings (that may be good for you, or not so much). Comedy Central is unavailable. What is going on?

Basically, this is online version of DVD sectors. Remember when you could not watch a Euro DVD on your American player and vice-versa? Same thing. It doesn’t matter that you pay for Amazon Prime. These systems interrogate your IP address and determine that you are outside the geographic boundaries and ban your browser from watching.

Yes, there are workarounds. They are called Virtual Private Networks. You “tunnel” through the Internet to a US location where a server on the other side of the planet issues your request and feeds you the data. The web site you are at thinks you are in Florida or Kansas or whereever the VPN server is located. Even with the VPN service, some sites (Netflix, Amazon) have enough at stake where they try to identify the service you are using and ban your access. So, rather than endorse any particular service, I will leave it to you to find one that will get you to where you want to go.

I should comment that VPNs may also be a benefit from a security standpoint. Using one means that all your traffic is encrypted until it hits the United States, which means that if someone has compromised the local network, your traffic will not be readable.

Communications. I like Skype despite the fact that it has now become a tool of Microsoft. The alternative is to use Facetime or Google Hangout and then deal with those companies. Here’s why I like Skype, and if the others meet your needs better, than use them. Of course there is free peer-to-peer video and audio phone calling. All of them offer this. Skype also allows you to buy a phone number which can receive calls (Google’s is just a redirector, but more on that later). This allows people in the US to dial a US phone number and it will ring you whereever your computer is located. Very handy. You can also purchase a subscription to make outbound phone calls to America for free. The incoming number is $30/year, and the outgoing subscription is $30/year, so for $5/month, you have unlimited ability to make and receive phone calls independent of your cell phone. Very handy. And, unlike Google voice, you can text internationally (e.g., to your hotel’s cell phone) because Skype will charge you a few cents. In short, this is a fantastic supplment to your cell phone while in your apartment/hotel.

Google Voice. I also have Google Voice, which I deem to be a fantastic service. I transferred my cell phone number to Google Voice. Now, when someone calls my cell phone, Google Voice receives the call and dials my Skype number (which I don’t usually give out because I give out my previous cell phone number which is what people had anyway). So, someone calls the old cell number, and my computer rings on Skype. Very handy. If I don’t answer, it takes a message, which it then transcribes and emails to me. Very handy because I don’t have to listen to the message and I get it via email. If they don’t leave a message, it emails me that someone from that number called. And I have unlimited text to US phones via Google Voice. This means that my American friends and family can text me, and I get an email with the text and it shows up in my Google Voice account, and I can go online and text them back. Did I mention this is free? (Of COURSE they are reading my text messages and transcriptions to analyze me for ad placement. I don’t think they are giving it away.)

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