Category Archives: Technology

Taking your iPhone Abroad – How to avoid expensive data roaming charges?

I recently went back to the UK for a seasonal family visit, and have just received my Christmas gift from AT&T, my cellphone carrier here in the US. It’s a bill for $286. I would never previously have described myself as innocent, but obviously in matters of data roaming charges, I am, because this bill rather took me by surprise.

You see, I have a UK cellphone, so calls and texts were made on that, and I stayed at my sister’s house which has wifi, so email checking, skyping and internet use were carried out at home. There were only two days when I was at our old home in Wales, and on those days I checked my email (twice), checked on the website (twice) and searched for a location (once). And for that privilege, I paid through the nose.

So, since I have returned I have been searching for alternatives, and I may have come up with a solution in the name of iPhone dual sim adapters. As those of you who follow my ramblings know, I adore my iPhone, and generally run my entire life though it. Judging by the comments on the latest Techcrunch article on dual sim phones, I am not alone.

Currently, when in the UK I use an unlocked phone with a local sim to make calls and send texts, but when I need to send emails, I either have to be somewhere with Wifi access or pay what I now know to be exorbitant international data roaming charges. The downside is that because we are doing a lot of traveling, access to Wifi is unpredictable, and I would really like to be able to use Google maps to navigate with.

There are a number of dual sim adapters out there, ranging from $20 -$120 with corresponding quality levels, all of which do basically the same thing – connect the existing sim in the sim card tray to an additional sim (see picture on right). But where the previous multiple sim adapters only allow you to switch between sims with only one active sim at a time, the latest – Vooma – allows you to actually keep both numbers on at the same time. And there appears to be no cutting of sims or poking of slots required – a definite plus when you have my history with electronic gadgetry disasters..

For me, this is heaven. With this latest release, I should be able to simply buy a local pay as you go sim with data and use just one phone to do everything. It’s world domination on a cellular scale. And it’s not just expats and global nomads that stand to benefit – for those of you who live in areas with spotty cellphone reception or who want to use an additional cheap rate phone and data package like GiffGaff, this allows you to do just that.

There is bad news, however. Firstly, the Vooma has yet to be released, although I have signed up to be first in line when they do go on sale. Secondly, they require that your iPhone is jailbroken, and while this is now legal, taking that step is a leap of faith.

I’ll let you know how it goes..



Teen Social Networking Infographic

It’s no longer just putting pen to paper – like many expat and TCK kids, mine rely on social networking sites to keep in contact with friends around the world. But while we keep track of them in the real world, Zonealarm’s infographic outlines just why we should be doing the same in the online one.
Other Resources:
expat disasters; nanny's applesacks

The Stalker

Celebrity status has arrived. I have my first stalker.

When I first struggled my way through the jungle that is WordPress, I has no idea why there would be a spam filter plug in (plug-ins, for those of you who are glazing over, is like those optional extras on the car adverts – you have no idea what they do or how they work, but you really, really want one). And then I started getting strange, grammatically incorrect messages from people offering illegal services. And while I like to think we welcome a diverse readership, I was not sure that their motives were honorable. So the spam filter plug-in was duly added, and the only comments I am now having to block are the somewhat sarcastic ones from my children. Freedom of speech only goes so far in this house.

However, today I had a Twitter greeting from a @lanceotero878, who was now ‘Following’ me. He was also Following 506 other people, but interestingly, no-one was Following him. It may have been his greeting,  “Come and visit me to stimulate my body and my mind” which was giving us all pause for thought. Now, I do like to think that this site has some cerebral content and if nothing else, I’m painting a very entertaining picture of how to do expat parenting badly. The ‘body’ bit, however, left me slightly nervous, especially as I was at that moment contemplating the impending arrival of a pair of Zaggora Hot Pants, whose sole purpose is to reduce the size of your rear and your cellulite by increasing heat, metabolic rate and sweating.. Probably not quite what he had in mind.

I am ruthless in the pursuit of knowledge, and so I clicked. And then I blinked at the vast array of female body parts arrayed before me, all wearing underwear that looked extremely uncomfortable, was made of manmade fibers and provided absolutely no support or coverage whatsoever. I can only think that they also all suffered from poor eyesight, because they all appeared to be searching the floor for a lost contact lens while wearing perilously high heels. Or maybe they’d just toppled over.

So I have resisted the invitation to follow @lanceotero878, but not before I sent him the links for Marks and Spencer, Fruit of the Loom, Lasik Today and Birkenstock. And if he continues, I’m going to send him a picture of me in the Zaggora Hot Pants. That should do it.


The Best Invention Ever! (Since chocolate, obviously.)

I’ve just found the most brilliant, useful app that the world has ever seen. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s still pretty darn cool.

It’s the Big App from Kodak, which effectively takes any picture (or scan etc.) that you upload (or choose one that Kodak helpfully provides) and turns it into a giant poster divided into A4 rectangles, which you can download as a PDF file, and print at your leisure on your home printer. Genius.

The possibilities are endless. As one whose creativity is greater than her resources, this is manna from heaven. I have already converted my favorite picture of Tom and Martha into a wall sized mural, and am ready to start surrounding them with life-size depictions of zebras, giraffes and the odd baboon, just because I can.

It’s got me thinking about all the other uses – posters, flags, school assignments, Christmas displays, science fair presentations, retirement collages. All very noble and useful projects, indeed. However, I have a teenager in the house, so instead I’m going to use mine to build wall sized instructions for where to find the spare toilet rolls and how to insert them into the holder, how to clean the bath after use, and just what that large white object with a round hole in the front is for. But for now, I’m going to do something purely for my own amusement. I’m off to start trawling through photo albums for all those ill-advised 80’s fashion and hair styling moments to share in glorious Technicolor.  And you thought having your picture posted on Facebook was the worst that could happen…?

Happy Printing!

Adam and Eve and Apple..

The Other Half has finally given up his beloved Blackberry Pearl, which was so worn that the plastic beneath the chrome finish was all that was visible, and the trackball had lost all of it’s magic navigation capabilities and is left only with a sad and redundant clicking sound.

He now has been issued with an iPhone 4S, and I am drooling with envy. He, however, is less impressed. He called me on it yesterday in celebration (he knows how much I covet one), and the call quickly descended into a tirade against the ineptitude of Apple, because he couldn’t hear me, and no-one could hear him properly. The frustration of the next fifteen minutes, as I attempted to teach him how pressing the ‘+’ button on the side  increased the volume was eclipsed only by the time I tried to help my mother do an online real estate search while separated by the Atlantic Ocean, and an insurmountable technological gap.

It has continued at 5am this morning, when I brought him coffee and innocently inquired how he liked his shiny new phone.

“It’s a piece of s**t, I can’t even hear anyone! Tom and I spent ages last night trying to make it work, and even he couldn’t do it.” (Tom , aka the Less Wiggy One, is the Tech Genius of the family, more because of his cavalier willingness to press buttons without any concern for the consequences than any particular skill. I have the less impressive title of Call Center Queen).

Never were the differences between the sexes more apparent. The male version of problem solving was to shout at everyone in the near vicinity, press lots of buttons, curse the inventors, and then assume it must be the fault of the phone. The female version? Look carefully at the phone, remove the large piece of plastic protecting the screen and covering the microphone and speaker, and hand back with a smug grin..

An emergency iPhone training session is currently being run by the Feisty One, should anyone else be experiencing similar problems. She’s teaching him to use Siri, but bearing in mind it a) requires asking for help and b) answers in a female voice, I’m not holding out much hope..

It’s a good day to be a girl.

Too Much Information – The Top 5 ways we make identity theft easier..

It’s not just expats that manage most of their life online – increasingly, we are doing everything from paying bills to car registration via the world wide web. And while we all lock up our houses and cars and warn our children not to talk to strangers, we are far more trusting with the personal details we share electronically. So we have put together a list of the commonest ways we make identity theft far too easy, and security pointers that you may be missing.

1. Facebook. Oh boy. We enter our names, addresses, telephone numbers, birthdays, and then, just to make sure we really can be identified easily, we add photos. And then we tell everyone we are going on holiday, and how long we are going to be away.. It is now commonly used by employers to get an informal picture of who you are out of work, so be aware of not only what you are posting, but also what appears on your wall from friends. Once you have entered information onto your Facebook profile, it can be shared, both with Facebook ‘partners and via your friends. This means that even if you have chosen to keep your relationship with friends private, if they are not similarly inclined, that information is still publicly available. ”Tagging’ of you in photos etc, also allows anyone (known to you or not) viewing that post to see your profile and any information that is ‘public’.

What to do. Take five minutes to browse through your page, and click on the globe icon next to the various information boxes. If the information is public, you are giving everyone access to your personal details, any unflattering photos of you from 7th grade that your ex-boyfriend has posted, and photos of your children.. Need I say more? It’s also worth browsing through from another computer, to get a birds eye of view of what can be seen. Bottom line – share responsibly, and pick your friends wisely. Check out this article on for a great step by step guide.

Cellphones/Smartphones/iPads etc. If you take a look at the home screen of my iPhone, you will conveniently have access to the login pages for my bank accounts, my contacts (so that if you don’t know my mother’s maiden name, you can just text her and ask for a reminder), my Facebook and Twitter profile, and my home address and telephone number if you were in any doubt which house to burgle. And if you really wanted to add insult to injury, you could take pictures of your naked backside with the built in phone, and post them my Facebook page or send them to everyone I know.. Scary, huh? Increasingly, smart phones are used as computers, but we don’t treat them with the same amount of care, and regularly leave them sitting on tables in cafes and poking out of pockets. We want them within reach at all times, without for a moment thinking that others can reach them too..

What to do. Take care of your phone. Bear in mind that you carry half your life around in it, and think about what damage might be done if it fell into the wrong hands. Use a pass code – they can be broken, but at least you slow the process down. And while you’re at it, chose a decent one (there’s a link below for guidance, if you are struggling) and change it regularly, and then test it on your kids – my kids are able to work out all my passwords with alarming ease, whereas I have to threaten violence to get access to their iPads. Don’t use the ‘remember me’ feature (see below) for any internet applications that you use – it not only helpfully tells the criminal classes where you bank/shop/work – it gets them halfway into your account. And finally, agree with your partner that any texts for sensitive information should either be confirmed by a call or with a special code before that information is shared..

Internet browsing / Chat rooms. We have a horrible habit of using the same usernames and passwords for secure sites and social sites without thinking, making it really, really easy for hackers to access even secure accounts.

What to do. All the banking security in the world can’t protect you from your own stupidity, so follow the golden rule of not mixing business with pleasure, and use different login names, passwords and preferably email addresses for the different parts of your life.

Autofill. Ever started typing your email address, and lo and behold, the whole address magically appears? Or started buying a book from Amazon, and your billing and shipping address is automatically entered one you type the first letters? That’s the incredible convenience of autofill, which also make it equally useful for anyone using the computer after you to know all those juicy details. With your name and address, it’s not so important, but on some sites, credit card details have also been known to be appear.. Not so good.

What to do. Use a password to protect your home computers, so that if it does get lost or stolen, you at least buy a little time before the new use starts buying up Ebay. Try to avoid using public computers for online purchases, but if you can’t avoid it, use a secure third party payment site like Paypal, which keeps your credit card details secure. If you are using a site that allows autofill to remember your credit card details, notify them immediately.

Round Robin emails. You know how it works – a hilarious email comes in that you can’t resist sharing, and so add all your nearest and dearest to the list, and away it goes. And within 24 hours, your email address and that of great aunt Nellie, your hairdresser and your cousin that works for the government is winging it’s way to inboxes throughout the globe. And then you discover that it had a virus attached, and you sent to to everyone’s work email. Or that a friend of a friend of a friend works for a porn website, and now you and all your email contact list have been added as subscribers.

What to do. Have a ‘trash’ email on one of the independent email providers (Google, Yahoo and Hotmail all have free email accounts)  that you use for signing up to email lists and give out freely to people. Keep a separate private one for financial, medical and personal information, and if you are likely to be receiving highly sensitive information, don’t sync it to every device you own. Don’t send out emails to a string of addresses when the content is designed for mass forwarding – address individually, and selectively.. And don’t use work email addresses. Please.


Facebook Data Use Policy –

Paypal –

iPhone Security –

LifeHacker – How I’d hack your weak password –


12 Best Apps for Expats

I love my iPhone. The world is literally at my finger tips – I can now get security reports, book flights, learn languages, keep in contact with loved ones, and even record moments for posterity, all using a device that fits in my pocket. The range of travel applications is already bewildering, and grows by the day, so here’s my selection of 12 best apps for traveling the world slowly. Apps like Tripit, Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon are all well rated, but I have deliberately not included these and others developed for the business or frequent traveller. Instead, for those of us who are adapting to life abroad, the ones listed here work longer term for helping to smooth your transition and make daily life a little easier.  If you have any personal favorites, please feel free to add them to the comments section below.

SmartTraveler. (Free) The US Department of State app which gives comprehensive information, security alerts and updates, maps, US Embassy locations and more. One of the best resources for checking out countries before you travel, or finding help one you are there. An expat must have.

Packing Pro ($2.99) Become a packing perfectionist with this easy tool. Create lists of vital items for every family member and check them off as you go. Brilliant if you have multiple packing needs (i.e. multi-trip vacations, or forgetful family members). And it even tracks the weight for you, so you can decide whether or not those boots are really worth taking. The control freak in me is very, very happy.. Saving Grace Travel Packing Aid is a free version that works nearly as well.

Google Maps. (Free) Comes as standard on iPhones, is global, and will not only search by address, but also by business name. It gives you directions for public transport, driving or of foot, and a little pulsing blue dot shows you exactly where you are, so you’re guaranteed to get where you need to go. The bad news? It requires data, so you will be paying through the nose for the privilege if you are using it abroad.

World Customs & Cultures (Free) Includes custom, cultural information and facts on over 165 locations, has GPS  locations for those who can’t be bothered to browse for their location country by name or flag.. Has a random custom section, which kept me entertained for hours..

Wifi Finder. (Free)  It doesn’t getmuch better than this – the app is free, it has a 4+ star rating, it has 650,000 locations of free or paid WiFi worldwide. (There is a version that finds just free WiFi, but I prefer to keep my options open.) It uses data access to pinpoint your location, so you will be paying data charges, but only for the time it takes to find a free wifi host.

Skype. (Free) I am a huge fan of Skype, and it’s app for iPhone, iPad and iTouch is brilliant, especially now that it lets you access and call your iPhone contacts through the Skype platform. Like many of the others, it requires data access, but if you can get to free wifi, you can make free or inexpensive international calls. Be warned, if you use the video when away from a wifi connection, your data useage will skyrocket. Download it and create your Skype contact list and test the functionality before you go because there are glitches, but the effort is worth it.

World Nomads.(Free)  The 25 language translator apps cover keywords such as please and thank you, numbers up to 10, and a few phrases useful for other travel conundrums (my favorite: “Those drugs aren’t mine!”) in easy-to-scan categories like Introductions and Travel Health. It’s basic, but is designed by experienced travelers, so if great for a quick reference guide.

Lingolook ($4.99 each) – Currently available in 8 languages with additional ones under  development,   Lingolook Travel apps are designed to help English-speaking travelers get by abroad with ease. These clever language guides feature basic keywords helpfully organized on 150 digital flashcards, with over 500 audio translations recorded by native speakers to help users perfect pronunciation. Google Translate translates words between more than 50 languages, and is free, but not specifically designed for travelers, so there is more room for error.

G-park. ($0.99) It’s designed to get you back to your car, but works for finding the quickest route back to anywhere. Fantastic for when  there is a group of you, and you want to meet back at the start point at a later time – just ‘park’ the whole group’s location, and ‘find’ your way back later.

Share-a-bill.(Free for lite version, $3.99 for full) Designed for groups of individuals or families traveling together but wanting to divide the costs fairly. It allows you to define costs and participants for each event, and keep everyone updated by email. Burly debt collectors are not included.. Also fabulous for just keeping track of your general spending.

Moonpig (Free) Send personalized cards or postcards direct from your iPhone. One of my favorite apps for keeping in touch, it allows you to take a photo from your iPhone camera, and instantly create, address and send a postcard to recipients worldwide for a fee. Requires data connection, so take the pictures on the go, and create the cards when you hit a wifi hotspot..

Amazon Kindle (Free) The Kindle’s nice, but why carry two devices when you can download e-books directly to your phone? Have an iPhone AND a Kindle? Once you’ve bought the book, you can read it wherever you want. If only I’d discovered this before..

You may not automatically have international voice and data service as part of your cellphone contract, so check with your service provider before you leave. A final point to note – international data roaming is often very expensive, so remember to turn off your data roaming as you leave your home country and only turn it on when needed, as many of the apps have a ‘location services’ feature which will be using data to pinpoint your phone location even when the app is not being used. To turn off data roaming, go to Settings ➙Network, and then slide the Data Roaming switch to ‘off’.

Because we’re not immortal..

I’ve had  a wake-up call. Things have happened this week which have prompted me to take a look at the future – the one without me in it. And how my digital life is not very future proofed, and how many records of our life will be lost unless I start to do some digital estate planning. It’s something none of us want to talk  about, but the alternative is unthinkable.

I learned via Facebook that an old school friend had passed away having only reached 40, and his page is covered with tributes from friends he has made throughout his life. It struck me that it is a wonderful way to send thoughts to a family when you have no idea where they are in the world, but want to express your sympathy. But then I realized that they have no way of curating that page or contacting people on it directly, or even choosing how it will continue in the future. And that worried me.

I have religiously followed my own guidelines. I have a will that is valid both in the UK and the US, and details clearly what should happen to my assets when I die. I have an Advanced Directive of Health Care, which states who should make decisions about my care if I am no longer able to make them myself. I can’t remember if I mentioned this to my sister (she of the Sausage Splait, orange trousers and ScottEVest fame) but it’s her.. Ah well, she knows now, and I will be home in November to discuss wardrobe choices, hair colour, and just when she gets to do a semi ‘accidental’ trip over the cable and pull out the plug. I am even in the process of setting up a Living Trust, so that my beneficiaries avoid the lengthy and painful probate process. So on paper, I look like I have it covered.

But what struck me this week was that my online life has not been accounted for, and there is a great deal of it. On the financial front, there are the online bank accounts, which, if undiscovered, would join the hundreds of billions languishing in idle bank accounts worldwide and eventually turned over to the state or government until (if ever)  reclaimed by my executors. As we move around a great deal, all our accounts, including savings, checking and credit cards, are managed online, and the Other Half has no idea of most of the passwords. Yes, he has a checkbook and a debit card, but when you need access to more than that and the nearest branch is 5000 miles away, things become tricky. Any fraud on the accounts would go unnoticed, online payments could not be made, and day-to-day financial management would be hugely disrupted. Other potential accounts that need to be addressed include ones that would continue to have access to your accounts if not dealt with, such as accounting tools (e.g. Mint, Quicken, TurboTax etc), Paypal, and automatic checkout features on sites such as Amazon and iTunes.

But more importantly, in personal terms, all the records of family life are now stored on various hard drives and servers around the world. My computer has all our recent family photos stored on it, but is password protected, my Photobucket account has all the photos since 2003, but is password protected and my emails, my iTunes account, Facebook and Twitter feeds, this website – you’ve guessed it, it’s all password protected. And there is nobody nominated to take care of it once I’m gone, or even able to get access to it at all. I have backed up all our important documents (medical records, bank statements, tax returns) on Dropbox and Evernote, but the Other Half doesn’t even know these exist, and as he has also never read a single page of my website, you now have more information about my online activities than he does.. Whereas once we could pass on our CD or DVD collection just by handing over the boxes, increasingly valuable media collections are stored online or on hard drives and are invisible to those who aren’t aware of their existence. Diaries, blogs, photographic collections, family videos, computer games, software – the list goes on, and will have taken considerable time, effort and expense to accumulate, only to be lost in the shuffle.

So this is my plan this week – I’m doing a digital audit. I am going to spring clean my digital life so that anyone who does happen to be lumbered with the task after I’m gone won’t require therapy for the rest of their life. I’m going to delete everything that isn’t important, back up the essential stuff onto an external hard drive to be kept somewhere safe, and keep a list of just what digital accounts I have (and their passwords) with a copy of my will. I’m going to back up all our photographs and circulate them to various family members, hoping for safety in numbers. And then I’m going to write a message to be put out on Facebook, Twitter etc. in the event of my death, so that someone else doesn’t have to try and come up with the words, and you find out straight from the horse’s mouth. Which just goes to prove that you never will be able to shut me up..


Five Free Financial Favorites

One of the downsides of wandering the world at a very slow pace is the difficulty in managing finances long-term, when your needs, expenses and income radically change every three to five years. So here are my favorite ways to maintain financial sanity, and best of all, they’re free.

Self-made spreadsheet from OpenOffice

Yes, I know it’s boring, but the need to keep track of just how much everything really costs is vital to staying solvent.  I’ve put more detail here, but in a nutshell, you need to track your spending for two or three months to see where the money goes, and then start working on categories and a spending plan. And if the budget word fills you with horror, remember that it is your money, and you can spend it wherever you want. I don’t peek.  Here’s a copy of my  moneyminder spreadsheet to amuse you – worth noting are the ‘Reluctant Invitations” and “Bloopers” categories.. (You will need to ‘enable macros’ to open the spreadsheet.) Finally, here’s a set of tutorials, for those of you who are using that as an excuse..

Once you have put together a spending plan,  be prepared to get it badly wrong for at least six months, but the clarity you eventually gain is well worth it. My own spreadsheets have an ‘adjustment’ column, which allows you alter your spending allocation, without losing sight of what you initially thought you would spend. At first, my lack of accuracy was hugely frustrating; two years on, my adjustments are smaller, but the freedom to change my mind about where the money will go is liberating, especially when the children keep coming home with endless requests for sports equipment, book fairs, and other such ’emergencies’..

Internet Banking

Frankly, I hate most banks. (And for the record, Bank of America tops that list.) However, internet banking is right up there with email in terms of improving quality of life for global nomads, working families and insomniacs. It means that you can track your spending in real-time, manage savings, make bill payments and spot fraudulent transactions at 1 am in your pyjamas if you so choose. So when you choose which bank to open your new account with, make sure that it has a secure online banking facility with the ability to view transactions, pay bills and make fund transfers. It also helps if you have checking and savings accounts with the same bank so that  last-minute transfers to cover unexpected payments are possible – I have saved hundreds of dollars in bank fees with this facility alone. I have internet banking for both my home and host country accounts and my credit cards, so keeping track is a breeze. Remembering all the password, not so much..

Smartypig / ING

I have a credit union savings account, which makes it easy to move money between checking and savings. For the kids, however, the needs are different. I need them to easily see how much money they have, to learn to set savings goals, and for us to be able to deposit relatively small amounts of money frequently. Oh, and to make it interesting, and hopefully educational. My favorites for this are Smartypig, and ING. Smartypig is a savings account available to the residents of the US and Australia, with two key features; you can subdivide your savings goals into specific categories (e.g. Christmas, flights home, car, etc.) and you can share those goals via social media like Facebook and Twitter, so that others can contribute. For Third Culture Kids, who often miss out on birthday gifts, or for family and friends who struggle with postage or currency issues, this is a fantastic tool. ING offer a wider range of services and are global, but still have the convenience of internet based banking, and the ability to subdivide goals. They also offer child accounts, which allow transfers of funds either electronically, or by mail.

Credit Karma

A free credit history website which “allows consumers to get access to their credit score anytime they want for free without the sneaky “free” trials or subscription requirements”. It also suggests a million and one financial products that ‘might be of interest’, but I’m willing to ignore these to get what is a very good overview of my credit, and an understanding of how different financial behaviors (e.g. keeping my balance below 20% of my credit limit, opening another card) will affect my score. As I am currently preparing to buy a house, and my credit score affects my mortgage rate offers, I am finding it invaluable.

Learnvest / Mint / Quicken

All three of these bring all your financial accounts together online or on your mobile device, automatically categorize your transactions, let you set budgets and help you meet your savings goals. You have to be comfortable with letting a third-party access your accounts and transaction, but for those of you who hate inputting data into spreadsheets, they do the hard work for you. They take time to set up effectively, as you need to set budgets, but they do help you gain an understanding of where your money is really going. The first two are free, but if you don’t want your information stored online, Quicken does the same job for a fee, and will let you download information from your account so you don’t have to do everything the long way. Take note though; if you don’t take the time to set up a spending plan /budget, these only tell you where your money has gone, which is a little like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The first recommendation forms the backbone of your financial management – making decisions about your spending, and maintaining clarity and control over your finances.  The others are the icing on the cake, and make the process simpler by allowing you to track / manage / save your money more easily. They also all have the advantage of being portable – as long as you have a laptop / mobile device and internet access, financial wizardry is at your fingertips. Now if we could just make money magically appear…