Everyone wants to be connected to their electronics and it’s no different when we travel. We want to know what is happening at any given moment, anywhere in the world. How do we do that without incurring outrageous cell phone bills? Can we live without our phones and laptops while traveling? That’s highly unlikely, but we can be smart about our data usage. Staying in touch doesn’t have to break the bank.
5 Best Tips for Staying Connected While Traveling the World
What’s the best way to communicate with loved ones while traveling? How do you keep in touch with the office? People can be overwhelmed when trying to figure out their options, and often choose the easiest choice, using their phone without changing a thing. Unfortunately, this usually turns out to be the most expensive choice as well. Finding the most cost effective way to stay connected can be a challenge, but we have several options we think are the best solutions.
1. Don’t assume the best way to communicate is through an international calling plan.
Many people will choose to contact their phone company before traveling and set up an international calling plan. While your phone company will tell you this is the cheapest, “best”, way to go, don’t listen. Your provider will often limit the amount of data you can use while traveling (which may be different than what your regular plan), which can be a problem if you send and receive a lot of photos and videos. They may also underestimate the amount of data you need, resulting in a “surprise” bill when you return home.
2. Consider buying a SIM card at your destination.
This tiny data card can be purchased at most foreign kiosks and convenience stores and is relatively inexpensive. Once you purchase the card, you have to open your phone and remove the SIM card inside and replace it with the local SIM card. The local one will have pre-paid minutes, and can be reloaded whenever you run out. Essentially this allows you to make phone calls internationally and gives you an international phone number so others can reach you. While this can be an inexpensive option, not all phones are “unlocked”, allowing for foreign SIM cards, so be sure to check with your provider before considering this alternative. There’s also a risk of losing your phone’s SIM card, so be extra careful with this one.
3. Use a portable WiFi device.
This is actually my favorite option. On our last trip we used a TEP wireless device. TEP is a portable WiFi service offering constant internet access for travelers. They will either ship the device to you before you travel or arrange for you to pick up the device at certain airports if that is more convenient. The device is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand (or pocket), so you have a personal hotspot anywhere you travel. When ordering the device, you provide the first day of activation and the last, and the cost to rent the unit depends on your destination. TEP will send an envelope for you to return the unit or you can drop it off at one of their locations when your trip is over.
The TEP device was the perfect solution for staying connected while traveling. We had WiFi wherever we went as long as our electronics were within range. (Note: The more electronics using the device, the slower the connection speed). The WiFi was especially handy when we were lost or looking for something and needed a map. I had downloaded the app, “WhatsApp” on my phone and that allowed me to send and receive calls and texts over WiFi. It was incredible to be walking through the streets of Germany and be able to talk to my mom on the phone. I was able to share with her the sights we were seeing and the foods we were enjoying. I could also send her pictures of what we were doing at that very moment. I definitely would not have sent pictures if I was worrying about data usage.
Every night when I charged my phone I charged the TEP unit with its portable charger and it was ready to go for the next day. I can honestly say we will never travel without a TEP wireless unit again because it really makes a difference when traveling. The unit rents for approximately $10/day and my husband and I would both agree it is worth it.
4. Go old school and send snail mail.
Even though letters are slower than email, our friends and family enjoy receiving the heartfelt messages in their mailboxes. There are postcards all over the world, and more than likely you can find a post office nearby. Nothing conveys the joy of the journey more than a loving note.
5. Find WiFi hotspots along the way.
Restaurants, hotels, cafés, and even some cities offer free WiFi. The problem is, you never know where they will show up, how reliable WiFi will be, or how secure the network might be, making it my least favorite option. You might have to pay for it too, or purchase something to use the “free” WiFi. If you don’t have an international phone plan, you will always want to have your phone in airplane mode to avoid roaming fees. Whenever you find a WiFi hotspot, you will be able to download email and use the internet. This is certainly an option, but it doesn’t help you when you’re out wandering the streets and need to look something up on your phone like the location of the nearest parking garage.
Staying connected while traveling the world can be difficult if you haven’t done your homework. Finding the right tools before you travel will help you enjoy the adventure without additional stress. How do you stay in touch when you travel?
Looking for more travel tips? Check out 9 Budget Travel Tips for Families and 29 Epic International Travel Tips for First Timers Abroad