Traveling With Your Phone

It used to be that traveling was your escape. When you went abroad or simply on a trip somewhere not too long ago you just about left your life and your worries behind. You could maybe check your email somewhere along the way or call your relatives or the office if you wanted, but it was very understandable that you would not be in communication with people. However now we live on our smartphones more than ever and for some being out of communication just isn’t a possibility. Some of us are on call 24/7 or simply need to be in communication with people at all times and so things like a stop at a Starbucks for wifi or an extra long stay at the hostel to book tomorrow’s tour just become the way you travel. If you are an Urban Traveler these sorts of hot spots often aren’t too hard to find.

With the world becoming increasingly (or would it be decreasingly) smaller and the number of things we do with apps or on the internet increasing more and more things using our phones while we travel is starting to be necessary. There are a number of ways to use your phone while overseas and so I will go through a few of them quickly with a bit of commentary on which strategy would work best for which situation.

No Plan

The first way to get away with a cheap phone bill when you get back is to, like I said earlier, stick to areas with wifi and make sure to turn your phone on airplane mode for the most of your trip. Make sure that you turn off data roaming or the usage of 3G and you can just use wifi when it is available. One thing to remember about this strategy is that your gps location will still work without data on most if not all phones and that you can save maps in apps like google maps. This means that you can still use your phone to find things and places, but you lose all of the spontaneity that a data plan would afford you.

If you have got the bulk of your trip planned out already and have a job that will let you shirk responsibility for days at a time then this strategy might just be for you. Finding free wifi can be easy in some countries and nearly nonexistent in others, so do your homework beforehand. If you can’t see yourself absolutely needing internet for your whole trip and you think you’ll just use it for things like Facebook and email, then going without is certainly the way to go.

Keep Your Carrier & Plan

Nearly all the carriers in your home country have realized that people travel and use their phones while they do. This means that they will often still provide service while you are abroad but at an increased cost. The European Union has been pushing for roaming charges to be done away with within their member states, but for now they are just restricted to (somewhat) reasonable prices. However, for carriers from other countries like the states, Canada and Australia your carriers will be charging you a pretty large sum per MB as soon as your data starts up. Using your phone while abroad without looking at international plans is probably the worst way to use your phone while traveling.

You’ll incur different charges in different countries, but unless you are going to send one email your whole trip while away from wifi this strategy just doesn’t make sense. You will most likely be welcomed home with a larger than expected bill from most carriers and will have really just saved yourself from doing minimal research on your carrier’s plans.

Roaming Plans

The carrier you use for your monthly mobile plan should have an option to add international roaming to your plan for a limited amount of time, if not multiple plans depending on your usage.  T-Mobile has integrated international roaming into some of their plans letting you use your data block, texts and call local numbers at surprisingly good rates. If you aren’t with T-Mobile however this won’t be an option for you and so it is best to look into what countries your carrier covers and how much these plans cost. Usually minimal data usage won’t end up costing you too much money and you will just need to make sure that you remember to remove international roaming from your plan when you are done traveling.

If you do your homework you should look to see if you will need to use your phone as a hot spot, as this is often something that carriers block with these sorts of plans. The total cost of using this type of plan shouldn’t be over $25 in addition to your usual plan and will give you a lot of peace of mind while traveling. This strategy is best for those who are planning to visit a number of countries and won’t to be able to go without the use of their phone for that long.

Global/Regional Plans

Sadly there is no one carrier that provides cheap service for every country, but there are some carriers that provide relatively good services to a variety of countries or regions at a relatively reasonable rate. These rates won’t be as cheap as local carriers, and the coverage may not be as consistent, but what you are paying for with these companies is the ease of having one phone number that will work in a multitude of countries. There are a number of providers of this type of service and for the most part you will most likely only really care about the data plans and to make sure that you can use them for mobile hot spots but they still do require some research. These plans may cover a lot of countries but it is important that they cover the right countries for you.

This type of strategy is for those that are near constant travelers for their jobs or business. If your work takes you to a group of countries relatively regularly this can be a worthwhile investment to make sure that you are connected whenever you need to be with minimal hassle. These plans can be costly, but for someone who is hopping between countries often it is the only way to save yourself from massive charges or having to cary around a bag full of sim cards.

Local SIM

When in Rome do as the Romans do, or in this case it’d be just Italians in general, but regardless. Local carriers in other countries should provide the best value for you while traveling and should also have the best coverage. Getting a local sim card means that you may need to ask fellow travelers or locals for recommendations, but this shouldn’t require too much research. Most countries have a handful of main carriers that can give you reasonable rates, just make sure that you choose plan that is month to month or go with prepaid. Using a local carrier will also give you a local phone number allowing you to communicate with locals more easily, but also requires you to go into a store and physically get a sim.

The local sim option is best for those who are going to be traveling in a single country for an extended period of time. If you aren’t spending at least a week in a single country the countless sim cards and phone plans can really get quite complex and costly. If you do your research before entering a country you should be able to go directly to a local store, grab a sim card and get on with your travels with a working phone. It is best to research what carrier you should get before arriving as you may not have full command of the language, or may not be able to get a sim card without certain things having been taken care of beforehand in order to get the best rates and coverage.

Proud lock

Unlock Your Phone

As carriers begin to move away from buying your phone for you this will hopefully become less of a problem, but for now it is important to make sure that your phone can be unlocked or is already unlocked if you go for a global sim or a local sim when traveling. Most carriers will be reasonably understanding if you have been with them for a while and will unlock your phone with a call as to why you need to do so. Others will try and charge you if you are trying to get out of your plan so this may need to be factored into the cost of your international phone plan.

There’s no one sim card or carrier that is gonna serve you best, but ignorance isn’t going to serve you too well when you’ve got a work project you need to upload and the nearest wifi hotspot was in the last town 20 miles ago. If you need your phone or want to be able to use your phone to make traveling easier for you then have a think about what option might be best for you and do some research. Feel free to comment below about your experiences with local carriers, data saving apps, or huge roaming charges.