You’ve probably heard the horror stories. A happy family returns from their trip overseas, only to find a massive cell phone bill in the mail later that month. Roaming charges can get very expensive, very quickly, but you still want to have the convenience and power of your smartphone on your vacation. Fear not, because there’s a smarter way to travel with your smartphone that won’t end up costing you thousands of dollars in roaming charges.
As you prepare for that incredible journey through Japan or you get ready to backpack through Europe, you’ll want to do some careful planning and you’ll want to make sure that you come prepared. You’ll want those great phrasebook and translation apps so you can communicate with the locals, but smartphone travel requires more than knowing how to ask for a cup of coffee in a Parisien cafe.
Buy a Local Prepaid SIM Card
By the far the simplest and most affordable way to avoid roaming charges with your smartphone is to buy a local prepaid SIM card. This starts with having an unlocked GSM phone or at least one that’s able to accept international SIM cards for service. Shop around for not only which local provider has the best rates, but also the one that’s the easiest to acquire and activate. If you’re going to travel with your smartphone to multiple countries, you’ll typically need a new SIM and new service in each location. That can be troublesome, so the more universal service from Truphone may be a better option, even if it’s a little more expensive in general.
Rent a Wi-Fi Mobile Hotspot
I don’t know about you, but I don’t use a heck of a lot of voice minutes. For me, data is king. I want that data to find my way around town, to translate local phrases, to update my social media, and so much more. Depending on where you go, the prepaid SIM with a prepaid service as described above may be the best way to do it, but that’s not necessarily the case either. Renting a mobile hotspot (or “MiFi”) may be a better option, particularly if you’re traveling as a couple or a small group where you can share the data bucket. Just as Truphone can work across multiple countries, the hotspot from Tep Wireless can be compatible across Europe as well. Again, shop around for the best deal. And when you have data, you can use instant messenger apps like WhatsApp in lieu of text messages.
Seek Out Free Public Wi-Fi Access Points
Yes, it’s absolutely more convenient when you can take advantage of cellular data, but it may not always be possible or particularly affordable. Before you make your trip, do some research to see if there are places near your hotel or other attractions that offer free public Wi-Fi. This is not as secure or convenient, of course, but it’s definitely more affordable when you can travel with your smartphone for free!
Preload Your Most Important Information
Whether you’re using a prepaid SIM or you’re renting a mobile hotspot, there’s a significant possibility that you won’t have unlimited data to use. That’s why it helps to preload whatever offline data you can ahead of time, either from home or from the (hopefully free) Wi-Fi at your hotel. For example, several travel apps for the iPad (like OffMaps 2 shown here) let you save maps locally. Do the same with any hotel confirmations, flight information, and whatever else you want to keep close at hand.
Leverage the Cloud to Your Advantage
No matter how careful you may be, there’s still the distinct possibility that you could lose your iPhone, Android, or whatever other mobile device you may have. Don’t be stuck without the data that you really need, like a copy of your passport, flight information, or hotel reservation. Use any number of cloud storage solutions for this kind of stuff. That way, no matter where you are, you can still get access to those precious files in a pinch.
Image credit: travelstar / Flickr