Digital nomad survival tips you can use anywhere

Living in Europe, the Middle East and Africa taught me that the conventional wisdom about mobility is all wrong

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And fourth, confuse crooks with the unexpected. Most criminals are looking for specific things -- wallets, high-end smartphones, expensive laptops and iPads. I walk around wearing Google Glass with confidence. Nobody is going to steal it because that technology is not on their radar yet. Criminals are confused about what it is, so they leave it alone. Likewise, you can confuse crooks by making them unsure about what you've got.

I'm a huge fan of Twelve South's BookBook line: Phone, tablet and laptop cases that look like old leatherbound books. This will at best make them think you've got a book and in the worst-case scenario confuse them before they figure out that you've got some unknown type of electronic device. That delay in reaction makes a big difference.

Twelve South BookBook cover
Nobody wants to steal your book. They'll never know your "book" is actually an iPad wearing a Twelve South BookBook cover.

How to get good Wi-Fi

The quality of Wi-Fi connections vary wildly around the world and tend to be very bad in most countries. It's common for the staff at restaurants and coffee shops to know nothing about the network. Often either the router or the Internet connection isn't working, and nobody knows or cares why.

Always check for actual data throughput by connecting and doing something before you sit down. Check performance by loading a picture.

Favor hotels over other establishments because their Wi-Fi is usually more reliable. Performance in hotels varies by location, so walk around to find the best spot before checking in, then request a room closest to the Wi-Fi sweet spot.

Carry a long Ethernet (RJ45) cable and plug-in for a wired connection to the router if you can.

If your cable can't connect to the router, try rolling your own Wi-Fi network with a wireless travel router. I recommend the Asus WL-330NUL All-in-One Wireless-N150 Pocket Router because it's tiny, and also light enough to hang from a router (which is often wall-mounted). Be bold. Just step right up to the router and plug in. The proprietors will most likely shrug and forget about it.

How to get mobile data easily and cheaply

I can answer that question in three words: Switch to T-Mobile.

While international roaming is massively expensive and problematic on other carriers -- (cough!) AT&T! (cough!) -- it just became free and automatic on T-Mobile.

T-Mobile US announced this week a new plan that provides unlimited texting and data in about 100 countries and into which every T-Mobile customer will be automatically enrolled at the end of the month.

If you have T-Mobile already, do nothing. Just go abroad and the free, unlimited data is there.

Let me tell you a story about T-Mobile. My wife uses it so that she doesn't have to pay for wireless while we're abroad. So we went to Italy recently and were gone for two months. She didn't even notify T-Mobile. But she didn't use it, and they didn't charge her. After two months, we landed at JFK airport and, while still in the plane she fired up her iPhone and service was just there, including her old phone number. She paid for the current month by phone, and everything continued uninterrupted.

Thanks to unlimited international roaming, however, T-Mobile has given her a reason to keep paying for service while abroad.

How to keep gadgets charged abroad

Reliable, available electricity can be problematic. The solution is very simple, actually. Make sure to give priority to battery life when choosing your electronics, and always carry and use a portable battery pack.

Look for two things in a battery pack: High milliampere-hour ratings (the more the better, but at least 10,000 mAh for just phones and tablets and at least 18,000 mAh if you want to charge a laptop) and high construction and durability ratings from other users (Many batteries are powerful but shoddy and unreliable).

Always charge everything whenever you get the chance. Turn off Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth when you're not using it, and turn down screen brightness to conserve energy.

I'm a digital nomad, and so are you. These tips and best practices will help you hang on to your expensive mobile gadgets and keep them connected and powered as well -- whether you're sitting in a hookah joint in Marrakesh or a Starbucks in Poughkeepsie.

Believe me when I tell you that I've learned these things the hard way. But you don't have to.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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