Sunday, July 12, 2009

Consular Registration

When travelling in high risk countries, or when staying for an extended period in a foreign country letting your embassy or consulate know where you are is a great idea. Citizens of a number of countries are able to register with their consulates online, a quick and easy process which gives the authorities a fighting chance to contact you should that be necessary.

We have links to a number of these consular registration services for citizens of various countries on the MyRedFlare website. These are free services offered by governments for their citizens.

Why do this? Sometimes your consulate may want to contact you to advise of a family emergency back home. Sometimes, if the security situation in the country you are travelling in changes significantly for the worse, they may try to get in touch with you to confirm your safety. All in all, letting them know where and when you are is fabulous safety tip, and something we highly recommend.

I was recently advised by Smartraveller (the Australian Government's travel advisory and consular assistance service) that the consular registration service that they offer is, to some extent, constrained by privacy laws. This means that they can use information that you have provided to contact you but they may not be able to provide that information to anyone else.

So, while such registration is a great idea and something which can only enhance your safety, it will not necessarily provide information about you to your friends and family.

In that context I see our Sarwatch service as being complimentary to consular registration, rather than as a replacement. By providing regular location updates and using our MyRedFlare system you will be providing the most up-to-date location information possible to your friends and family. If anything should happen to you when you travel they are immediately "in-the-loop" and are able to contact their consulate on your behalf. This will compliment any information you have provided to your consulate, and also performs the vital step of raising the alarm. After all, no one will start looking for you until someone raises an alarm.

I have no hesitation in recommending that you register with your embassy or consulate, particularly for elevated risk destinations. MyRedFlare's Sarwatch service, while having some similarities to consular registration, is subtly different in that it is able to keep your friends and family involved. They, after all, are the ones who will move heaven and earth to find you should the need arise.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Using your mobile phone overseas

If you are an international globetrotter the best thing you can do when getting a new phone is to make sure it is a “quad-band” phone, so that it will work anywhere in the world. The “band” part of this refers to the radio frequencies used by the phone to connect to the local network and the “quad”, of course, means that the world has been unable to agree on a single standard.

A quad-band phone needn't cost any more than any other, but you do need to check when making the purchase. Reasonable phones are “tri-band”, which are quite broad in their usable areas (pretty much all of the world except Japan and South Korea), but as the quad-band phones are available if you look for them I really wouldn't take anything else.

If you want to find out about your existing phone, check the manufacturer's website for the technical specs for the phone... the guy/girl at the phone shop may not know what the heck you are talking about.

Note particularly that a cellphone purchased in North America may only work in the Americas unless you have made particular efforts to buy something more capable. I would suggest that, if it does not specifically mention tri-band, quad-band or something similar on the packaging then it is probably an “Americas-only” phone.

The next thing to do, once you've checked that your phone has tri-band or quad-band capability, is contact your mobile phone service provider and get them to turn on “global roaming” for your phone. As international phone calls generally cost quite a bit more than local calls the mobile phone service providers may have the global roaming facility (the ability to make/receive calls while in another country) turned off by default. If in doubt, give them a call on their customer service number and ask them.

On the point of money, it is worth a word of warning here... phone call rates are much more expensive when travelling internationally, even for incoming calls where you may well be charged for the international portion of the call. Data costs, for those of you that can't leave the internet alone, can also be high through your phone. Again, check with your phone service provider for details and don't get caught by surprise by a phone bill resembling the defence budget of a small country.

SMS messaging is a cost effective way of staying in touch when overseas although again your phone service provider will most likely charge you more for an international SMS than one sent in your own country. Cheaper than a phone call though. Again, check the cost with your service provider.

In my last post, on the “In Case of Emergency” phone number idea, I mentioned including numbers in an “international” format. One of the great things about mobile phones, when travelling, is that you do not have to remember the international access code just to dial another country. For example, from a home phone in Australia you must precede any call by 0011 just to get an “outside line” to the world. For a mobile, however, putting a “+” at the start of the number is enough to tell the phone to use whatever number is required to dial internationally. You need never know or care. And, just because you have preceded every number in your contacts list with a “+” does not mean that you will be charged international rates when in your own country... the phone will only dial internationally if you are in another country.

So, for a budding traveller, all numbers in your contact list could be in the “international” format.

Love them or hate them, mobile phones work really well in most other countries (with a few exceptions, which we'll discuss another time). Just beware the cost, and save it for the important stuff only.

MyRedFlare allows control of our Sarwatch system using SMS messaging while travelling internationally. See

SMS and Sarwatch
for details.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In Case of Emergency (ICE)

Here is one of the best Ideas I have ever heard. Well done Bob...

  • In case of emergency (ICE) is a programme that enables first responders, such as paramedics, firefighters, and police officers, to identify victims and contact their next of kin to obtain important medical information. The program was conceived in the mid-2000s and promoted by British paramedic Bob Brotchie in May 2005.

    It encourages people to enter emergency contacts in their cell phone address book under the name "ICE". Alternately, a person can list multiple emergency contacts as "ICE1", "ICE2", etc.

How brilliant is that? Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

Might I suggest, if you are contemplating international travel, you add the ICE number in "international format". In other words, the country code goes in front of the number, the leading zero of the number is dropped, and a "+" is added the start (which tells the phone to call internationally if necessary). For example, an Australian number (country code 61) such as (02) 12345678 would be entered as +61212345678.

See our ICE page for more info.

Other ways of staying in touch

Some interesting and relevant comments on a forum I posted on yesterday raised some valid suggestions for keeping safe while travelling (while getting a little narky that I would post a link to a “commercial” website. Ok, shoot me, I believe people should know about this thing!)

1)I don't want another expensive gizmo to weigh down my backpack
2)Why not just tell the consulate where you're going, and then tell them when you are OK afterwards, and they'll come looking for you if you don't show up.
3)Regular emails to a family member should be enough.
4)Just use your mobile phone and call for help if you need it.

All fair enough points. However, as I replied:

Sarwatch does not add an ounce to your backpack, and is free to use (although it does cost two-fifths of stuff-all if you want to add SMS messaging to run it from your mobile phone).

Telling the consulate is a great idea, and infact something that I recommend strongly on the MyRedFlare website. However, it is a little like a Ranger's logbook... they will only do something if someone jumps up and down and makes a fuss. Who will do this if you go missing in a foreign land, and when will this happen?

I could tell you a story about a young fellow who did indeed send regular emails to his parents, right up to the point where they did not receive their usual 3-day message. Unfortunately when the concerns of the parents were raised with the authorities they discounted this information as being “the unreliability of youth”. No attention was made to the fact that the parents considered this out of character and unusual. Without going into excessive detail, I will say that the delay in the official reaction was unfortunate (in the extreme), and really should never have happened. This example has been a key driver in the continued development of our Sarwatch system... there MUST be more evidence for the authorities that a young traveller wants to be taken seriously. A regular email contact has been shown to NOT be enough.

As for the mobile phone, this is a fantastic suggestion but, as recent events have shown in Australia, even mobile phone contact may not save you. In a recent occurrence a young fellow was lost in the bush but managed to make a few 000 (emergency) phone calls... he was abandoned to his fate because he was not able to provide a cross-street name to the 000 operator. Do you believe it? Our Sarwatch system is designed to get trusted people involved so as not to rely solely on others.

It was suggested by the poster on the forum in question that I was being overly paranoid in my point of view. My reply was that I believe in the “umbrella principle”... “if you take your umbrella then it will not rain” and then you can enjoy a beautiful day. In this context, simple precautions while travelling against the unlikely event of going missing-in-action (for whatever reason) would seem to be a given.

There is no way I can say that our Sarwatch system WILL save you if things go wrong when you travel. In fact, I make it very clear on our website that our system is experimental and must only be considered as a secondary means of notification or information.

However, it is easy to use and just might help. What have you got to lose? Don't be paranoid when you travel but, then again, don't be stupid either. Tell someone where you are going.

Introducing MyRedFlare

If you go missing on your journey would anybody know? How long would it take before anyone came looking for you? And where would they start?

Troubling questions if thought about too deeply. We have recently launched a new travel safety website designed specifically to address these questions, and I invite you to learn a bit about it...

Our Sarwatch system allows you to advise your travel intentions and set an “Alert Time”. Contact us again before that time to tell us you're OK and that's the end of it. If you don't, we'll send your travel details plus a bunch of other useful info, such as your last known location, contact phone numbers and strategy suggestions, to people you have nominated as “Trusted Contacts”.

These responsible people will try to contact you, make such enquiries as they can, and then seek help from the authorities if necessary. Should it get to this, the information we provide will be an invaluable aid in their search.

MyRedFlare will not contact the authorities directly... that is entirely up to your Trusted Contacts. Why? Because we presume that you will stuff up occasionally and forget to call in... better your friends sort it out than the police.

But what if you don't want anyone to know where you are going? No problem... Sarwatch's “Stealth Mode” means that no information about your whereabouts or travel intentions is provided to your contacts unless you go missing (when, it is hoped, the truth will set you free).

This system can be operated from the MyRedFlare website or remotely by SMS text messaging from your mobile phone. Global in reach, MyRedFlare's Sarwatch is an anywhere, anytime travel safety monitoring system. It will give you peace of mind when you travel and may save your bacon if, heaven forbid, you go missing-in-action.

Someone will be told. Someone will know. Visit us at myredflare.com and take a look.