Electronics and vacations don’t always mix well

I just returned from an enjoyable eight-day trip to Todos Santos and San Jose del Cabo on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Served by Southwest, Alaska and a few other airlines, it’s a quick 2 ½ hour trip from my home in San Diego.

With 5 adults and two children, 9 and 13, we carried fourteen electronic devices among the group. 7 cellphones, 5 tablets, a computer and a Kindle. As the resident techie among the group, I noticed how challenging it can be to use some of these products in a new environment and foreign country. We seemed to have more than our share of issues that made using these products more challenging than necessary.

Two of the cellphones were with T-Mobile service and the other 5 were Verizon. Both carriers’ plans promote seamless use of your phone in Mexico, positioned as essentially an extension of your home plan. That’s a big improvement compared to what once required extra fees, yet neither worked quite as advertised.

One T-Mobile phone, a Samsung Note 5, stopped connecting to the Internet a few days after arriving and required a call back to T-Mobile for them to reset the connection remotely. The other T-Mobile iPhone 6 Plus worked fine in urban areas but couldn’t get data when the local carrier changed. Customer support from T-Mobile was excellent, but no one wants to trade beach time for troubleshooting, no matter how nice the agent was.

Verizon service worked well except when we’d get messages saying our data speeds are slowing down because we used our allotments of LTE data, something never mentioned to me when I checked to be sure I could use my Verizon phones in Mexico.

And then there were a few times when data didn’t work at all. That was fixed when I toggled an obscure setting in the cellular menu to enable or disable CDMA – don’t remember which – when using international roaming. The menus could certainly be improved, or better yet, why can’t the phone auto select the settings to optimize performance?

With the tablets, we ran into the limitations of downloading videos for the kids to watch, when one Netflix program refused to download at all. After trouble-shooting. I found it to be caused by too many devices connected to that Netflix account. It was not obvious because Netflix didn’t explain why the download stalled or offer me the option of deleting another authorized device..

Yet, the issues we encountered can’t all be attributed just to the carriers or content companies; we created our own share of problems. Two devices never made it through the trip in working order. One phone carried in a beach bag ended up with a damaged screen, and the Kindle failed when it encountered a water bottle with a loose cap in the same bag.

But technology did come to the rescue when the iPhone belonging to the 13-year old, was misplaced during a ride from our first hotel to the second, an hour away. He thought he had his phone with him in the car, but we couldn’t find it.

We finally tried using the Find my iPhone app, entering his Apple account info using the app on my phone, and, like magic, it showed it to be 43 miles away at the street address of the first hotel.

The app prompted me to add a message, asking whoever had the phone to call me. I was then able to cause the phone to ring and display my message. Thirty seconds later I got a call from an employee at the hotel saying he had the phone, and we arranged to retrieve it a few days later.

So, one may ask why even bother to take electronics on a trip? Because, of course, the devices do provide great value and convenience when traveling to a new area, using the built-in cameras, Google Maps, Trip Advisor, providing access to local information and entertainment along the way. The lesson learned, however, is that electronics are still way too complicated, too fragile and have a long way go to be managed by those with less technical skills.



by Phil Baker