Getting Mobile Data and Phone ConnectivityYou have got to have mobile data in this day and age. If you are from outside the US then odds are you have a GSM compatible mobile phone, this is where it begins to get tricky. So your options to get prepaid data for this are fairly limited. AT&T have a GSM network but do you think you can get prepaid data only ... NO! There are at least 3 different data options depending on what you have/want but they are all neatly and monopolistically segmented into iPad, Other tablets and Phone and all radically different prices! I ended up throwing my hands up in despair and went across the street to T-Mobile. For $50 I got unlimited slower data (Edge rather than 3G, say 150 kbs) and spend $10 more and got unlimited txt and free calling to landlines back home in New Zealand. I then had to sort out a fall back data connection for my notebook. 150 kbs was not going to cut it, so I foolishly went back to AT&T and got a usb modem that was meant to be blazingly fast 4G. It was fast but in downtown Sacramento (with an AT&T building across the street!) the connection browned-out and eventually would not even connect from 11:30 - 4pm one day and was at best intermittent the next day. Every local I told about this nodded knowingly and said Verizon was the way to go. I would love to hear anyone else's' experience on this one.
So mobile data recommendations:
- For your GSM Mobile you bring with you: T-Mobile prepay with $10 extra to call home for free.
- For your PC, try Verizon with a USB stick as AT&T did not prove reliable.
Charging your Electric EmpireTake a powerboard so you only need one adapter. You will have to charge your phone, notebook, tablet... just take a 4 plug powerboard that you can plug all these into without an adapter, then just put a single plug adapter on the powerboard cord instead. PLEASE check that your power supplies can handle 100 - 240V input otherwise I am picking there will be fire works :).
Money -Foreign ExchangeCheck out the OneSmart card from Air NZ. If you are from New Zealand, then join their airpoints system and they send you a chipped card that not only allows 'Tap and Go' check in (unfortunately only domestically and to Australia, not the US for security reasons) but most interestingly it is a prepay multi-currency MasterCard. You can transfer New Zealand Dollars into the account overnight by bank transfer, then move your money to US Dollars (or a bunch of other currencies as well) once it shows up in the morning.
The 3 good things about this are:
- by my own reckoning the rates were about 3 cents per dollar better than I saw advertised at the bank/airport
- I did not pay the exorbitant ATM fees for withdrawing US dollars from ATMs.
- It also used the cool wireless payment technology 'PayPass' where you can tap the payment terminal and not have to PIN or sign small purchases, however I didn't find too many retailers with the new terminals yet.
Cash is still KingDespite the coolness of a wireless wallet, this is the US, if you said 'cash-less society' to someone from the US they would think it a joke like the 'paper-less office'. You need to have some cash on you at all times, even if it is just to tip the service staff (which by the way should be about 15% of the PRE-tax amount, or as my good friend @schnicker pointed out, in California you more or less double the sales tax amount of 7.25%).
Phone a friendThat leads nicely to my next tip, call on friends who have gone before you to get advice. They should be able to point you in the right direction. We stopped in and saw everyone at the kiwi landing pad which is full of great Kiwi startups. We also caught up with our old office room mates @litmos who have been in California for the last 4 months or so, and as well as some good advice, it also breaks up the trip to see some familiar faces :)
Keeping it leanThe greenback ain't what it used to be but hey, if you can save a few bucks here and there then it helps.
- Book the hotels that you have to, but if you have some flexibility and are going to be in a big city then try a hotel deals site like: priceline, wotif or hotels.com (in that order).
- Equally if you need a car, look out for good deals. It might be that say, it is the middle of winter, so Mustang convertibles are on rental special. Think Thelma and Louise :)
If you have any other tips that you reckon could/should go here then please contribute.