One of the biggest issues people have when traveling is using their smart phones internationally without massive charges that cost more than your trip. You’re gonna be seeing some amazing things that you will not only want to document but share with all your friends and family also! I’m a big believer of actually living in the moment and not spending your time with a screen staring back at you 24/7, but I also think it’s important to know your options for phone/internet use while abroad, for various reasons.
1. Social Media: This is probably the biggest reason for most people. Sharing your experiences is always fun and is a good way to “immortalize” your trip, oh and making your friends jelly #wishyouwerehere.
2. Getting Around: This should be the main reason you use your phone/internet while abroad. Based on my personal experience, I needed this badly to know where I was going and how I was getting there. This was what I had the most issues with on my most recent trip around the world.
3. Safety: I have to say, in my trip to Europe and Asia, I never once not felt safe. I think overall I felt the safest in Hong Kong because there were so many people constantly out and about at all times of the day/night and it’s a very well lit city. Either way, having phone/internet access to let your friends/family know where you are is important.
So, how can you use your phone and data while abroad? The last thing you want is a crazy high phone bill for roaming. If you’re just going on your typical 1-2 week vacation, then the best thing I would recommend is using a SIM card for your phone instead of getting some sort of global data plan through your carrier.
I have Verizon and when I checked the global data plans, they really didn’t seem worth it for the price. The next option (which is the one I went with, to my deepest regret) was turning off my data completely while abroad and only using wifi. For me using an iPhone, I did this by setting my phone to airplane mode for the entire duration of my trip (besides Oahu of course). Once airplane mode was on, I turned on my wifi; this way my phone only connected to the internet in a way that my carrier would not charge me.
This sounds like a great plan in theory because it ensures that you wont use your data while roaming, but unless you’re staying at a resort the entire time you’re there, or you have awesome luck at finding unsecured networks, you’re gonna have a hard time finding free wifi while you’re constantly on the move. However when you do have wifi, I’d recommend using something like WhatsApp to text and make calls via your internet connection instead of your carrier’s data.
There was one point in Hong Kong when we first arrived where we hailed a cab and got a driver who didn’t really understand us and vice versa. When I gave him the address, he didn’t sound very sure about where we were going, so when he dropped us off hurredly and left us in the middle of the street with our luggage, I got a little worried. Not because I didn’t feel safe, but because I had no way of communicating with anyone there or through the internet. Needless to say we finally found our building which was around the corner and the security guard let me use the phone to call our AirBnB host, but we lost HOURS waiting out on the street for him to get there and let us in.
So back to the SIM card. The reason a pre-paid SIM card is super useful is because you can buy one locally, many times at your destination airport, and they allow you to use a local carrier’s network without the international roaming charges. So basically you can still use your apps and have access to your contacts and use your phone exactly as you would at home, but you’ll have a (temporary) local phone number without paying crazy amounts to your own carrier for all of this. If only I knew then what I know now!
What is your preferred method? What’s worked for you?