Digital Packing: Carry on the Cloud

Shawn Forno

I’m an analog kinda guy: notebook and pen in my pocket and a paperback book tucked into my stretchy belt. However, carry on travel is all about streamlining your gear, and what’s more streamlined than digital?

Migrating your life to the cloud can be confusing – even scary – but fear not. Below I outline a few simple solutions to common stumbling blocks you’ll face on your first trip abroad with your “digital backpack.” Hopefully it’ll help you shed your fear and permanently embrace a lighter bag than you ever thought possible.

The Basics

Smartphones and International Data Plans

Smartphones are part of the travel landscape, and rightly so. These pocket-sized computers replace dozens of gadgets and connect travelers in ways we are still grappling with. But how do you get the most out of your phone? How do you navigate all the SIM cards and roaming fees. Simple: you ignore them with T-Mobile’s Simple International Choice Plan.

For just $50/month you get unlimited data in over 120 countries. Better yet, no contract. Seriously. Just use the phone you have, and away you go. No SIM cards. No roaming fees. You’ll never wander the streets looking for wifi again.

It’s worth noting that the coverage isn’t perfect and the data plan slows down after 1GB used…so stop watching YouTube and go outside you weirdo! Plus you won’t mind a slowly loading map when you’re lost on the outskirts of a town in Guatemala at 2 a.m. Trust me.

Cloud Storage: Dropbox vs. Google Nearline

Dropbox is the gold standard of cloud storage but in 2015 they got a new competitor – a little upstart company you might have heard of. Namely: Google.

Let’s see how the two services compare:

A Dropbox Basic free account includes 2GB of storage. Free storage is great, but 2GB ain’t what it used to be. That’s about 1,000 iPhone 5 quality pictures OR 20 mins of video (720p at 10 MB/minute). Doesn’t sound like much, does it?

Upgrading to Dropbox Pro ($10/month) gets you 1TB of storage, which is awesome, but it’s frustrating that there’s no middle option between 2GB and 1TB. Now there is.

In March 2015 Google launched an affordable long-term digital storage service aimed at large corporations/law firms that are legally required to maintain records for large amounts of old data – known as “Cold Data.” Since companies don’t need cold data on a regular basis it’s stored in servers offline and takes a few hours to retrieve.

Think of it like a basement storage unit in a massive warehouse in the boonies. The info isn’t built for speedy recovery, so it’s cheaper to store. However, Google has created a new type of cloud storage that marries the increased capacity of offline storage with the speedy recovery of the cloud in what they call “nearline.”

Sounds boring? You betcha! But what’s exciting about this new type of storage is the price:

Google Nearline Cloud Storage only costs $0.01 per GB/month. For everyone. All the time.

Google Nearline lets you scale your storage as you grow, which means if you store 10,000 photos (20GB worth) in the cloud you only pay $0.20/month. Less than a quarter. If you somehow chew through more storage (photographers and videographers) and make it to a 1TB, it’s still the same price as Dropbox ($10).

On the Road

Travel Apps

A few weeks ago, Shannon wrote a great piece about travel apps to replace your travel journal, and I’d like to add a few more apps you should take on the road with you:

AirBnB: I host here in NYC, and I use it when I travel. It’s seamless, streamlined, and everywhere. I never have to worry about where I’ll stay next.

Magic Seaweed: The.Best.Surf.Forecast.Ever. Current reports, break profiles, wind, swell, tidal info, etc. – this app has everything. Plus, the peer reviews of spots give you a human sense of things so you know before you go. I basically used it like Google Maps on my six month surf trip from Mexico to Peru.

Google Translate: It’s far from perfect and you’ll sound like Borat if you cut and paste it into a text, but used in concert with Duolingo practice and the right motivation *cough* Tinder, you can actually get a decent command of a foreign language in a matter of weeks. Get cracking!

XE Currency Converter: A solid staple for country jumping. Input all your destinations and watch the value of the dollar rise and fall. It’s all the thrill of gambling without the betting.

Free Books & Project Gutenberg: These two sites feature over 40,000 public domain and creative commons works of literature available for offline reading. I discovered one of my favorite authors, Cory Doctorow, on this site. Two thumbs up.

Good Offline Maps

Here’s a quick Google Maps hack to replace those hard to fold paper maps on your next trip:

  1. Open Google Maps
  2. Type a City
  3. Tap the city name on the bottom of the screen
  4. Tap the three dots menu icon in the right hand corner of the screen
  5. Select “save to offline maps”
  6. Scale and save the map

The map will be available for 30 days offline before it’s deleted, but if that’s not long enough, just snap a few screenshots of the map at different zoom resolutions. That should get you from A to B if all else fails.

No Fee Global Checking at ATMs

My final tip is about digitizing your finances. Gone are the days of travelers checks and exchanging currency at the airport. All you need now is a debit card.

Most banks have reciprocal relationships with foreign institutions – Bank of America customers can use Deutsche Bank ATMs for free, for instance – but there’s one debit card to rule them all that will reimburse you every month for any atm fee, no matter where you are (even in the US).

Charles Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking Account

Open a Charles Schwab free checking account and enjoy the dual freedom of no minimum balance or fees with monthly ATM reimbursement. That means you can keep your money safer by only withdrawing small amounts of money at a time, and avoid leftover currency and exchange fees if you miscalculated your expenses.

I have Schwab and it’s pretty awesome.

Pro tip: Load $100 into your Paypal account before you go. This digital piggy bank has saved me multiple times.


You can pack lighter than ever if you let the cloud do the heavy lifting. Digitize everything from maps to your money.

  • Google offers cloud storage for $.01/GB
  • Charles Schwab will reimburse all your atm fees
  • T Mobile has a truly international plan for just $50/month
  • Google Translate + Tinder is a powerful combination

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