Reliable roaming ... easy access overseas. Photo: Reuters
I am travelling to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, France and Italy in May and June, with the gateway city being Vienna. As this trip is partially business, I need to have reliable, low-cost internet to access emails and my virtual private network. On previous trips I have simply purchased a local prepaid USB modem and plugged it into my laptop. This time I'd like to travel sans laptop. Are prepaid mobile wi-fi devices available to allow me reliable internet access across these countries?
- P. Gustafson, Condell Park.
Assuming your smartphone and tablet both have Bluetooth you can tether your devices, which will give you internet connectivity from your tablet via the phone. This is a solution that I use regularly throughout Europe and it's simple and effective.
The next issue is to work out the best SIM card to satisfy your low-cost objective. You could go with a prepaid SIM that offers pan-European coverage and there are several products such as GO-SIM (gosim.com), One SimCard (onesimcard.com) and TravelSIM (travelsim.net.au).
Costs are reasonably low, especially compared with the cost of calling from Europe with a SIM card from an Australian telco. For example, with GO-SIM, a call from Germany to Australia costs 61¢ a minute. The GO-SIM rate for data usage in Germany is 51¢ a Mb.
Cheaper still would be to buy a local SIM card in each of the countries you'll be visiting but unless you're staying in each for several days at least, the single-SIM option wins out for convenience.
If you only want to connect your tablet and retain your Australian telco's SIM card, another option is Boingo (boingo.com), the world's largest wi-fi network for mobile devices. Boingo's Europe Plus plan gives you unlimited connectivity for your tablet at more than 200,000 hotspots in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, at a price of $US34.95 ($32.77) a month.
Finally, based on my own recent travels, most small hotels in Europe have wi-fi, often free of charge.
Car hire insurance headache
I'm travelling to the US in August and our car rental company suggested we find some sort of insurance for their car, as they only have cover up to $5000. I'm unable to find any company that offers this type of cover.
- S. Watson, Adelaide.
When you hire a car in the US, you need to make sure you are covered by collision damage waiver and loss damage waiver. It is unusual for a car-hire operator not to offer you insurance on their vehicle.
However, if the company you are hiring from does not offer that option, in the case of the US I can't find any third-party insurers that will cover you.
Unless you're already locked in with this particular operator, I recommend you hire from a major agency that does offer hire-car insurance. One way around this involves paying for your hire with an American Express Platinum card.
The literature for the card states that, "Regardless of the car rental company you selected, when you reserve and pay for a car rental with the Platinum Card, you will be covered against damage to, or theft of, most rental vehicles".
Strong dollar opens up the options for Peru
I am a university student wanting to travel to Peru at the end of the year. I have decided to join an organised tour for part of my holiday. What are the most reliable tour companies that operate in Peru? I have looked at a few companies already: is Peru for Less, or any other American-based tour operator, a better option than an Australian-based company like Peregrine or World Expeditions?
- N. Hardy, Balmain.
Both Peregrine Adventures (peregrineadventures.com) and World Expeditions (worldexpeditions.com) are respected adventure tour operators with a well-deserved reputation for taking Australian travellers to extraordinary places, including Peru, pictured. You could have every confidence that either of these would give you a wonderful experience. However, given the strength of the Australian dollar, the tours offered by some overseas-based operators are highly competitive. Peru for Less (peruforless.com) is one of these but don't be guided by price alone. Other operators include ECS Travel (www.ecstravel.com), Mountain Travel Sobek (mtsobek.com), Gate 1 Travel (gate1travel.com) and Peru Best Tours (perubesttours.com). On the internet you can find plenty of feedback from travellers on each.
If you choose an Australia-based operator, their clientele will be largely Australian. The product they deliver in terms of guiding, accommodation and food is more likely to line up with expectations of an Australian traveller.
This cover applies when you use the Amex Platinum charge card only, not the credit card.
A spokesman for American Express advises that you will be covered for a maximum hire period of 31 days, to a value of $70,000.
Make sure that you also have travel insurance with additional liability insurance, which insures you against claims made by third parties for injury or death and property damage caused by your rental vehicle.
Greek disruptions likely
My wife and I are planning to travel to Greece in August-September 2012. We will be in Athens for four days, then spend 12 days on Naxos and Santorini before moving on to Turkey. Given the current problems in Greece, is the timing of our visit recommended? What are the likely downfalls?
- G. Rhodes, Engadine.
It's hard to predict what the situation might be in Greece so far down the track but the most likely problem that could affect your travel plans is strikes. There is a slight chance that ferries and flights would be disrupted.
In the worst-case scenario, you might find yourself spending longer in the islands than you had planned but being marooned on a Greek island is hardly a curse.
August is the peak season for travel in Greece and all the places you propose to visit are major tourist spots. You need to book your accommodation as soon as possible.