Cell phones have come very far in the travel world in the last several years. When I first left the country back in 2004, I was reduced to hunting down costly call and internet centers in the major cities in order to let my family know I was still alive! However, with more choices than ever, we’ve also found that charges, data, and texting is more confusing than ever!
Here are some tips and tricks I’ve found along the way…
Before you do anything, contact your current carrier and discuss what options you have. For trips abroad, many carriers will prorate a global package for the time you’ll be spending abroad. Just don’t forget to cancel when you return!
T-Moble currently has a Simple choice plan that costs $50/month with no annual service contract and includes unlimited texting and data in over 120 countries. Sound too good to be true? Well Sort of…. If you plan to make calls on this plan, it’s going to cost you a whopping $0.20 per minute…but hey, the bright side is that there are no roaming charges for data and texting!
If you have an unlocked smart phone, you’re in luck! If you don’t, contact your carrier and inquire if they will unlock your smart phone. With an unlocked phone, you may purchase a SIM card from any carrier in you destination country to use in your phone while abroad. What does this mean? Your phone will not rack up all those staggering roaming charges. Plus, you can likely purchase a prepaid SIM card with various packages that are a one-time charge at convenient locations in the airport or phone store near popular attractions. Otherwise, trusted companies such as National Geographic sells international SIM cards that you can order prior to your departure. Amazon also sells prepaid SIM cards. Just be sure to fully understand what you’re buying!
Plan to use WiFi as much as possible. Europe is becoming increasingly WiFi friendly with many hotels offering free WiFi (usually advertised on their websites) and you’ll be surprised at the number of coffee shops and restaurants willing to give you their WiFi code. It can’t hurt to ask!
When internet is scarce, be sure to take advantage of offline apps and maps that will save your data plans! Download apps such as TripIt for your trip planning purposes and check out Maps such as City Maps 2Go and OsmAnd, or cache your own offline maps in Google Maps….Just zoom in on the area you want to save, type “OK Maps” into the search bar, and press the “search” icon. This will download your map data directly to your phone but be sure you’re in the Google Maps app and not the iphone maps app.
When using your own SIM cards, be sure to TURN OFF DATA ROAMING or plan to keep your phone in airplane mode. Turning off data roaming will still allow you to use WiFi but will prevent your apps from eating up data when not actually on WiFi. It’s good practice to just keep your phone in the Data Roaming off position. A bonus to keeping your phone in airplane mode will be a longer lasting battery. Disabling Push Notifications and manually loading your email will also help but unnecessary if planning to keep your phone in the Data Roaming off position.
Take advantage when you do have Wifi and utilize your smart phone’s calling and texting WiFi apps such as FaceTime and iMessage. Other apps that I’ve used abroad for this purpose are WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger. You may also try Google Voice.
If you’re just not feeling the TripIt app, take screenshots of your flight, hotel and other important travel information to store on your phone for future reference.
If you do have limited data to be used abroad or a certain number of allowable texts, be sure to monitor your usage or risk hefty overage fees. That’s a quick way to sour an awesome vacation!
Don’t rely on WiFi to download those apps you meant to get prior to leaving… it never fails when you need it most, the connection is just too slow for service.
Consider downloading the following apps based on your foreseeable needs:
- Google translate
- Google Maps
- Google Voice
- local map apps
- Packing Pro
- JetLag Genie
- Facebook Messenger
- Booking or Choice Hotels for the last minute backpacker
- Foodspotting for the foodie
- WiFi Finder
- Voice Translate Pro
- Trip Advisor Offline City Guides (great for avoiding tour guide fees! and better yet, FREE!)
And in order for all your planning to actually save you time and money…don’t forget your charger and an appropriate converter/adapter!