Study Abroad Technology Tips Part One, Preparing for Your Trip


Here’s the first installment of technology tips for leading study abroad courses. For this first post in the series on study abroad technology tips, we’ll begin with before you leave for your trip. Imagine that it’s about two weeks before your trip, and you know that you need to get ready for documenting your adventures and your research projects. Here’s what I’d recommend you do to get thinking about how to prepare.

What to Pack, a Bare Bones List

  1. Your smart phone and charger (that’s an obvious one). Bring some earbuds also. An extra pair is probably smart.
  2. At least a couple of universal adapters. Many have USB ports these days; opt for one with at least one USB port.
  3. If you are bringing a camera, make sure to bring extra batteries, especially if the battery is a rechargeable battery pack. Don’t forget your battery charger either. Bringing several SD memory cards are also important.
  4. If you are bringing a computer, make sure to bring your power cable.
  5. Will you need to bring any other special equipment? Audio recorder? Video recorder? Will you need a tripod? Make sure you have batteries, extra memory cards, and cables for all that stuff.
  6. Bring a backup USB hard drive that is charged by your computer’s USB port. You don’t want to lose all your data, and you probably aren’t going to be able to plug in a powered USB drive. These things are super cheap and are really important for anyone recording video or audio and/or taking lots of photos. You can buy a 1TB drive for around $60 today.

Like I said, this list is very bare bones. There may be some other things you need, but the list above should get you started. Please let me know if you can think of other crucial equipment and I’ll add them to my list.

Get Your Smart Phone in Order

Okay, so you’ve got everything. Next step is to make sure your smart phone is prepared for the trip.

A dictionary app can be very useful while abroad.

A dictionary app can be very useful while abroad.

What apps do you need? Travel and study abroad require lots of apps that you may already be using, but maybe not. Here is a list of some of my favorites:

  1. Exif Wizard (iPhone) or Exif Viewer (Android). As long as you turn on location services, these apps allow you to see where your photos were taken, even if your phone service is turned off because you don’t have an international calling plan (more on this later). Knowing the exact geolocation of your photos is great in general, but depending on the research project you’re doing, this feature could be invaluable.
  2. Skype or some other calling app. Skype is my standby. Make sure to put some money on your account before you leave home and you can use Skype anywhere you have WiFi to call other Skype users or any telephone in the world! Keep in touch with Grandma (or not)!
  3. Unless you’re absolutely fluent, download a good dictionary if you’re traveling to a country where they don’t speak English. Keep in mind that most of the free ones are not very good. The good ones cost money but are really worth it. I suggest downloading your dictionary because you will undoubtedly need your dictionary somewhere you don’t have WiFi access.
  4. Google Maps. Google Maps is great and can even work with moderately good results if you don’t have WiFi.
  5. Find My iPhone or Find My Android. You don’t want to lose your phone, I know. You don’t even want to think about losing your phone. If you download and activate this app, there’s a slight chance you will be able to recover your smart phone if you lose it. I dropped mine off a mountain in Iceland, and Find My iPhone was completely useless for that, but hey, it’s worth a shot.
  6. Audio Recording app like Instant Audio Recorder (iPhone) or one of the gazillion audio recorders they make for the Android. This is extremely important if you will be doing any audio interviews or want to record street sounds, music, etc.

There are lots of other cool apps for specific projects, too many to name here, but a few honorable mentions are YouTube Capture (allows you to record, edit, and upload videos to YouTube), iTimeLapse (do cool time lapse videos of street scenes, traffic, you name it), Map My Hike (great for, well, mapping your hike), Google Translate, and maybe a good word processing app. I use the MS Word app, but there are others. Last but not least, I HIGHLY recommend getting a Dropbox account if you don’t already have one and download the Dropbox app to your phone. You can save photos, videos, documents, etc. directly to Dropbox from your phone and share weblinks to those items with the world.

Avoiding Extra Phone Charges

Okay, so you’ve got all your apps loaded onto your phone. If you can think of other cool study abroad/travel related apps I haven’t mentioned here, let me know. But now, for those of you who will not be using their smartphones with an international calling plan, you will want to make sure you turn off the cellular voice and data on your phone, or you can very easily double the cost of your trip in phone charges. Here’s how to do it on an iPhone:

Go to Settings > Cellular > switch Cellular Data to off, then turn Voice Roaming off, and then scroll down to the bottom of that page and Reset Statistics. That will reset your Call Time and Cellular Data Usage to zero. You can check every few days to make sure that those numbers stay at zero (or pretty darn close) to make sure you aren’t going to get a huge bill as a surprise when you get back home.

Okay, that’s all for today. Next time, I’ll talk about how to use some of the equipment you’re bringing.

About Mike Blum

Mike is the Academic Technologist for the Humanities at the College