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Stranded: How I beat the volcano with my mobile phone

Until a couple of days ago I was stranded in Berlin. A friend’s stag do was unexpectedly extended after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, which, in case you haven’t heard, pretty much shut down European airspace for almost a week.

All the flights we booked and rebooked ended up canceled, and we were getting increasingly worried. A back up plan was needed. Luckily we had our mobile phones with us – here’s how they helped to get us home.

When in roam

Data roaming is pretty pricey, even under new EU regulations. I was more inclined to spend my money on giant steins of strong German lager, schnitzel and bockwurst, so I made do with using the hotel Wi-Fi to easily check emails and so on without incurring huge charges.

One of my fellow travellers had an iPhone with Vodafone Passport set up. This meant a 75p connection fee to make an outgoing call to the UK, but then all the minutes would be deducted from his monthly allowance as normal.

Breaking News

The first thing I heard upon waking last Thursday morning was a worried exclamation from one of our party: “Guys, there this volcano in Iceland that’s errupted…” News of impending doom, the end of days and the possibility of flights being cancelled was first brought to us via the BBC News app for iPhone.

As I’d booked my flight online, I was easily able to keep checking my emails on my HTC Magic for updates on cancellations. Consequently we were able to hear about the flight cancellations before anything hit the headlines.

Slightly less helpfully, I was able to check Facebook where I could check helpful messages from friends such as ‘Why don’t you get on the next plane?’ or ‘Buy some pushbikes!’ One other person, apparently seriously, suggested avoiding the ferry terminal chaos by hiring a fishing boat. Cheers guys.

Cabin Fever

Complaining about being stuck overseas and having to extend your holiday might sound churlish to those who can’t wait for their holidays to start but I can tell you it’s no fun once you’ve stretched your already limited budget to breaking point.

We whiled away the hours spent holed up in the hotel by playing various games on my Magic (Gem Miner, Robo Defence, Replica Island) and on a friend’s iPhone (Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Fieldrunners).

Checking Wikipedia on our phones also gave us the name of our nemesis. Eyjafjallajökull is roughly pronounced ‘Eh-ya-fya-la-yokul’ and translates as “island-mountain glacier”.

Getting Back

After our flights had been cancelled we started getting itchy feet. We needed to get moving. We checked for available trains, coaches and car hire companies on our phones and on the sole PC in the foyer. Surfing the web on our phones from the open Wi-Fi point was definitely the cheaper and more convenient option, especially as the sole public computer was in high demand from other travellers.

Once we’d found a car hire company that still had vehicles in stock, it was a simple case of booking online, getting the address of the pick up point and then planning our journey home. Despite not having a sat-nav option on any of our available phones, we checked out Google Maps to get a rough idea of the route which we’d have to take on the Autobahn, through Belgium and then into France.

Could we have got back without using our mobile phones?

Undoubtedly – but it was far cheaper and less frustrating to call home from our mobiles than using a public phone box. Checking for train times and car hire companies using our web-enabled handsets was also much quicker than queueing for the only available PC in the hotel.

There were times when having mobiles felt like more of a hindrance than a help. Checking news reports gave us a wealth of conflicting information; flights could resume tomorrow, flights could be grounded for a month, the volcano might erupt again, the volcano has stopped erupting, volcanic glass actually doesn’t damage plane engines, oh wait, actually it does.

News reports and Facebook feeds had also led us to believe that Calais had descended into anarchy and should be avoided at all costs. Provisionally aiming for another port, Le Harve, we stopped off in Calais on the off-chance that all was clear – and it was. Ignoring the elephant’s graveyard of abandoned hire cars, there were none of the snaking queues and angry scenes painted by the news.

Despite the drawbacks, however, we all agreed that it was far easier to get back using our mobiles than not. Cheaper to call home, able to check maps at a glance and not relegated to checking the internet on the one available computer were among the many advantages.

All the same, I’m relieved to be home. And next time my network offers me an upgrade I’m going to ask for some volcano insurance to be thrown in as well.

[Image credits: HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP/Getty Images, Telegraph]