We all rely heavily the Internet for access to maps, travel guides, restaurant reviews, social media and other tools for travel, even in and around our home neighborhood. Unfortunately that data usage adds up – especially overseas. Rest assured, it is possible to travel abroad with a smartphone without breaking the bank. Healthy competition among smartphone service providers and a recent onslaught of free communication apps is making on-the-grid travel increasingly affordable for the everyday globetrotter.
Even so, before you set off for vacation or that destination wedding – you’ll want to plan your trip around these five considerations.
Capitalize on Local Wi-Fi
Keeping your phone on airplane mode until you stumble across free Wi-Fi is hands-down, the most cost-effective method of connecting to the Internet abroad. You’ll avoid roaming charges and you won’t be charged anytime a friend or family member back home tries to contact you overseas.
Even if you aren’t relying entirely on public Wi-Fi, whenever available, use it for all of your heavy data lifting. Wi-Fi access will enable you to upload any pictures to Facebook, check your email, and surf the web for local eateries, hotels, and other resources. Plus, you can connect to free calling apps such as Google Voice, FaceTime, WhatsApp or Skype.
Be the master of finding Wi-Fi: look for a sign and ask around. Hotels and resorts, local cafes and public parks or libraries are never-fail hubs for free Wi-Fi.
Just be sure that you’re exercising the proper safety measures when you connect to public Wi-Fi. You wouldn’t want to accidentally compromise any of your personal information to cybercriminal in exchange for the Wi-Fi. Check here for additional safety tips.
Invest in Free Communication Apps
Speaking of apps, here’s a few to consider as a means of minimizing your costs when you travel abroad with a smartphone. The following are great for keeping in touch with your friends and family back home. Remember to use them while connected to Wi-Fi:
FB Messenger allows you to text, video-call, and share photos with any and all of your Facebook friends. Note that this is a separate app from Facebook although it requires a Facebook login to access.
Google+ Hangouts – If you have a Gmail or GooglePlus account, this app will allow you to make phone calls from your computer and video chat up to ten people.
Line – Line is very similar to Facebook in that it allow you to message your family and friends for free and make voice/video calls.
Skype – Skype allows you to chat simultaneously chat and video or voice call your friend.
WhatsApp – WhatsApp uses the same data you use for email and Internet-browsing, so there are no additional messaging costs. In essence, you bypass having to pay for text messaging, so long as you’ve accessed the app via free Wi-Fi.
All of these apps are comparable in terms of usability and cost-effectiveness. Really, your choice will boil down to personal preference and whether or not you’ve already downloaded any on your phone to use at home!
Subscribe to Your Domestic Carrier’s International Plan
This may prove to be the most expensive option, but well worth it if your international travel plans are prolonged. If you are only planning to be away for a week or two, it may be worth it to pay a little extra so you don’t have to deal with the hassle of being limited solely to Wi-Fi, finding a local SIM card, or pre-purchasing a SIM before your trip. It’s also the best option for people who are only taking their cell phone on their travels so that loved ones or work colleagues can reach them in an emergency.
You’ll have constant access to all of your loved ones back home and you’ll get to keep your existing phone number. Your local service provider likely will offer a variety of plan options, so it’s up to you to research your best option, depending on the length of your travel plans.
For international rates for calls and messages to Canada and Mexico, check your carrier’s website.
Invest in a Local SIM card Once You Arrive
A SIM card is a little chip that stores personal information like your mobile number and carrier services. You can usually find it on the side of your handset (look for a little slot with a pinhole) or behind the battery cover.
If you’re going to be in a country for an extended period of time, one of the cheapest options for using your smartphone overseas is to buy a local SIM card once you arrive at your destination. This way you can take advantage of local calling rates, and usually get a larger data allotment and faster speeds for less than what you’d pay by adding an international plan with your domestic carrier.
You also need to make sure your phone will work with the local SIM. First, you’ll have to make sure your phone supports the technologies used while you’re abroad and is unlocked. Be sure to check with your operator to see if you can get your device unlocked. Lastly, you want to make sure the SIM card you are buying fits your phone. Again, your carrier can help you with any questions.
Put Your Phone Away
It is wise, when traveling, to know how to turn off your cellular data. Go into your smartphone’s settings and restrict all data usage—including emails, browsing and push notifications—to simply Wi-Fi or keep that phone turned off, altogether.
While your data is off you may be worried about getting lost, finding your hotel or even just a good spot to eat. Remember to download offline maps from Google or City Maps 2Go Pro app for iOS in case you encounter an area with spotty data coverage. For those of you who enjoy going off grid – there’s no easier way to save on your smartphone data usage than by not relying on your smartphone to travel.
Questions? Connect with us at TechHelpBoston.com for further guidance and resources. We’re happy as always to help you prepare for your trip!