Traveling with a BlackBerry

This is the gadget that could get me to leave my computer at home someday. Not yet, but maybe someday.

I finally bought a BlackBerry (and have been driving everyone crazy by emailing them from it). I did a ton of research online and when we were in NYC at Christmas, Stella gave me a demonstration of her BlackBerry.

I bought the BlackBerry 8700 from T-Mobile. There is a new BlackBerry 8800, but T-Mobile does not have it yet. I did not want the BlackBerry Pearl (although Stella loves hers), because this is all new to me and I wanted the larger keyboard and screen. Mine is pretty simple – no camera, no wifi, no GPS.

I selected T-Mobile instead of Cingular because T-Mobile has better prices and can be used internationally for a fixed fee. I have the cheapest plan – $50/month. This is a $30/month phone plan plus $20/month for unlimited email and internet access. I use the BlackBerry as my cell phone and use it for email and accessing the web.

This photo shows the main menu on the BlackBerry. You have a separate icon for each email address. Use the scrollwheel on the side to move between icons and click to open the icon.

The BlackBerry gets your email when you are not at home

You can set up the BlackBerry to retrieve email from several addresses. I have it get my slowtrav email, my personal email and Steve’s business email (we are sharing the one BlackBerry). Email for each address goes into a separate folder, so it is easy to keep it separated. Because all email is left on the server, when you go to your computer, you get all the email even if it already went to your BlackBerry. Think of the BlackBerry as a duplicate way of reading and replying to email. If you want to have copies of your replies, you can set the system to email a copy of the reply to you.

Email does not come immediately, but reaches you within a few hours. On our recent trip we were out walking in the woods in Virginia and I would feel my BlackBerry vibrate to let me know it had downloaded email. I have to figure out how to turn off that vibrating feature. It was very surprising at sometimes.

Once you are setup with the BlackBerry, it downloads all past email when you turn it on. I don’t really need this, because I read the email on my computer when not using the BlackBerry, but it is easy to delete email from the BlackBerry, so I just let it do this.

You can also set up an email address for your BlackBerry – email sent to that address goes only to your BlackBerry. To avoid getting all the email that accumulates on your server between times the BlackBerry is turned on, you could set your email to forward to your BlackBerry email address just when traveling. But, when you reply on the BlackBerry, it would be from that BlackBerry email address, so I find it easier to just let all the email go to the BlackBerry as well as to my computer.

Here is how it works

It is really easy to read the email and reply to it on the BlackBerry. Go to the folder, click the scroll wheel to see the email list sorted by date, click to open, click to reply, click to send. It takes a bit of getting used to typing on the small keyboard, but you get used to it.

This photo shows the main email list for one of my accounts. You can see the list of emails. Use the scrollwheel to move down the list, click to open and read an email.

This photo shows me replying to an email from Kim. Use the scrollwheel to click the email and select reply. Type in your message, click the scrollwheel to send. Easy!

The BlackBerry was easy to get working. I bought it at the T-Mobile store, they upgraded my account, I charged the phone, turned it on, set up my email – and that was it. I was BlackBerrying!

How to quickly delete email. In the email list, scroll to the date, click, select Delete Prior. All email from that date and before is deleted.

The BlackBerry works as your PDA

I also set up the BlackBerry to synchronize with Outlook for my notes, tasks and addresses. I used to keep separate Notes folders in Outlook by topic, but it only downloads the main Notes folders, so I changed to have them all in one folder and use categories to separate them by topics. This way I have all my personal notes on my BlackBerry.

Which makes me think – what if it gets stolen? Didn’t Stella lose hers in Rome? Well, that was easy – I just set a “device password” so if it disappears, no one can get at the data. But I think I may delete the notes containing some of my bank information just in case.

The BlackBerry lets you surf the web on your driving trip (from the passenger seat)

You can surf the web on the BlackBerry. Pages are a bit slow to load, but most of them are readable when loaded. Blogs format very well – I was able to read blogs as we were driving on our recent trip. I can also read the message board, but can’t reply (the BlackBerry does not support the javascript the mboard uses for those reply windows).

On the first night of our recent trip we were heading into Asheville around 9pm and were not sure if the restaurant we were going to would be open, so I went online with the BlackBerry and found the information!! It was open and we got takeout to take to the hotel.

The BlackBerry displays photos

On the main menu, there is an “Images” icon. Any images you save from a website or from email are in that folder. You can buy a program that sends images from your desktop to your BlackBerry or you can just email them to yourself. I did the latter. I emailed 10 favorite photos as attachments to my BlackBerry email address. When reading the email, click on the attachments link to open then. Then open each attachment, click the wheel, and select “Save”. The photos are stored on your BlackBerry. View them from the Images icon on the main menu.

Pauline and Colleen in Santa Cruz, summer 2006 – I loaded this onto my BlackBerry!!

The BlackBerry works as a modem

I have not tried this yet, but I have the instructions and have done this with other mobile phones. You can connect your computer to the BlackBerry via BlueTooth or a cable and have your computer go online using the BlackBerry. This does not cost any more, as you are using the unlimited data plan on the BlackBerry.

Using my BlackBerry in Europe

I will be taking the BlackBerry to Europe this summer, so will be able to report on receiving email in Switzerland, Italy, France, and England. Before we leave, I will add the extra $20/month option for unlimited email and web internationally. T-Mobile uses the EDGE network, which some have said is not as good as 3G, but we will see.

. For an extra $20/month, which you can turn on unlimited international email and web access for the months you are traveling. You do not get cheap phone calls in Europe with that price, just the email and the web.

UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2007: The BlackBerry worked great in Europe. I added the International data plan and used the BlackBerry all through Switzerland and Italy to receive email. The EDGE system that it uses to connect to the Internet was available nearly everywhere.

We also used it as a modem with our computers the few times we did not have WiFi at our hotels or vacation rentals.

Is the BlackBerry always connected to the Internet?

No, it isn’t. On our trip to North Carolina and Virginia, only once was it not connected. I could still make phone calls, but I could not send or receive email. A message on the main menu tells you that you are not connected.

T-Mobile uses the EDGE internet connection. Some say that in Europe the 3G connection works better. I will find out this summer.

Oh yeah, it also works as a phone

The BlackBerry is a phone. It is easy to forget that with all the email and web stuff. It comes with small headphones or you can just hold it to your ear like a regular phone. It also has a good speaker phone which you turn on once you make the call.

But, aren’t you now tied to your work?

No – this frees me from my work! I used it on our recent trip to North Carolina/Virginia and it worked very well. I always travel with a computer, because I have to go online each day to check email. Steve and I are both self-employed and there is no one back in the office to check email for us when we travel. We have to check email every day.

My usual routine is to get to a hotel and setup my computer. Once I am online doing my email, it is easy for me to pop over to the message board and before you know it three hours have passed. With the BlackBerry on our recent trip, I did not even set up my computer in some places. I did all my email on the BlackBerry. During the day, when we stop for a coffee, I get out the BlackBerry and spend five minutes doing email. For me this is much better than spending most of the evening on the computer.

A good electronic gadget makes your life easier! This is what the BlackBerry does for me. I don’t know how much I will use it when we are at home, but when traveling it will get used a lot.

Resources BlackBerry BlackBerry Forums, these are a great resource to answer any questions about how the BlackBerry works. Blog with good information BBHub, the BlackBerry Weblog T-mobile

The help section on the BlackBerry desktop software is good and you will find many answers there.

Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

4 thoughts on “Traveling with a BlackBerry”

  1. I agree, neither of are that important. But we both have jobs where we have to be available during the day and having the BlackBerry lets us take days away from the office easily.

  2. Excellent article! The first commenter does not get the point of a BB. 🙂

    It’s great to find a well-written, detailed BB description written in lay terms. Most BB articles are written by & for geeks like me, and they assume a lot of knowledge that might turn off a general audience… I will remember this page and send people here when they’re looking for a clear, basic intro.

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