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Tech Matters: International travel tips to make the most of your trip

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 30, 2022

Photo supplied

Leslie Meredith

This year was a Thanksgiving like no other, celebrated in South Korea without turkey and all its trimmings (chicken katsu was as close as we could get), mild temperatures and no football games playing in the background. My oldest daughter had been invited to give a weeklong workshop on Jeju Island, Korea’s equivalent to our Hawaii, to the DeafBlind Center staff and other special education staff from across the country. With a 1-year-old, Dad and Grandma in tow, we took three flights to reach our destination. The 10-day trip underscored a number of travel preparations that are essential for an overseas trip — some we did and others we missed — that will make any holiday travel much easier.

Check the travel document requirements for your destination country. Visa-free for South Korea did not mean document free. In addition to COVID tracking information, the government also required a form to be submitted and approved before check-in at the airport. Had we completed the form the day before, we would not have had to reschedule our flight for the next day. You will not be able to check into an international flight less than an hour before take-off.

Most countries have apps for these procedures, which allow you to take the required photos of your passport and yourself in the app for automatic upload. If you’ve ever deposited a check on your mobile banking app, it’s a similar process. You’ll find it much easier than taking photos, emailing to yourself and then uploading to the government website.

Plan your itinerary in advance, including making a list of the places you’d like to go along with their addresses. Check for Uber or similar services like Bolt, but be prepared to use taxis and public transportation if ride apps are not available. If your taxi driver does not speak English, you can show the address. Further, do not rely on Google Maps in certain parts of the world, including South Korea. While we could open Google Maps, few places were designated in our area. Our host said that the government had asked Google to locate its servers in-country because of security concerns around North Korea. Google refused and its maps here are woefully incomplete.

The solution was to use a local pair of apps, KakaoMap and KakaoT. The first was a replacement for Google Maps and the second a transport app that allowed you to call for a taxi, find a bus route to your destination as well as other public transportation if available. Costs, length of trip in kilometers and duration are included. You can add a credit card to the app as you would do with Uber or pay in cash. Note that with these apps you can navigate in English but most of the information in is Korean. If you have a contact at your destination, ask what apps they use to get around or do some online research. Because public transportation is typically more widely used outside of metropolitan areas in the U.S., local apps are the way to go.

While Google Maps may not be as helpful as a local alternative, you’ll find that Google Translate is an essential travel companion anywhere you find yourself needing to communicate with someone who does not speak English. Over the last decade or so, use of Google Translate has increased around the world, especially in areas that attract tourists. Your cab driver is just as likely to hand you his phone to listen to his translated question as the other way around. On this trip, we discovered you can use the app to translate type by photo as well as using it with texting and typing. Think signs, handwritten notes and menus. Just open the app, select the camera and you’ll see the words translated in the image — English words replace the foreign ones on your screen. This was a lifesaver for us when ordering in small local restaurants!

If you are traveling to a rural or more remote place, exchange enough cash to see you through the trip for taxi rides, entrance fees to attractions and incidentals, Here on Jeju Island, there were few ATMs to be found even in larger resorts. Plan ahead, so you don’t find yourself short of cash and stranded.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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