Travel Data

Travel data

Four cities, three countries, two weeks, one problem.

I usually travel via yoga retreats, where I turn my phone OFF. This trip was a European exploration, where I wanted to search and communicate online. How do you set up your phone for international travel? Here are my notes for next time.

Adding an international plan for a month = a fixed amount of data for a flat fee. It’s simple, but exorbitant: AT&T is $40 for 200MB, $60 for 300MB, $120 for 800MB. You can blow that in a day (and I did, when Spotify synced in the background). Congratulations, I now have an $80 playlist.

Option two is to replace your SIM card, which is way cheaper, but you’ll have to buy/rent one in each country. (Until 2017 in the EU, when they scrap roaming charges and you’ll be able to use one SIM card across the EU.) In Amsterdam it was 10 Euros for the card, plus 10E for 500MB (or 20E for 1GB). But, you have to have an unlocked phone, and carriers take days to authorize that.

The third option is to try to get by on wifi only. Museums, grocery stores, and some coffee shops had free wifi (tho you often had to create an account at each), so you can definitely get by with that (and offline maps). But it was harder to make or change plans with friends who didn’t have data plans, and even when I’m wandering I like to search online as well.

So, checklists:

To get data through your carrier:

  1. Buy a “Passport” plan or something similar (I did 300MB, and with careful use that would have been ok for two weeks)

To get data outside your carrier:

  1. Contact your carrier to unlock your phone (days/weeks in advance of the trip — they don’t like to do it)
  2. Buy a SIM card and data in each country (from a reputable dealer, like KLM, ht @jonnygotham) — you won’t have to transfer your contacts like in the olden days, just save your current SIM card in a very safe place
  3. Let the dealer replace your SIM card and set up the new one, or you can ask them how to do it yourself later.

And before your trip:

  1. In Google Maps, download offline maps of each area you’ll visit (zoom to the appropriate area, then Menu > Offline Map)
  2. Get Google Translate, and download the languages you’ll need — its live-camera translation was really helpful with menus!
  3. Download any music or other large files you want accessible during travel

Then once you arrive:

  1. In Settings > Cellular > Use Cellular Data For, turn off ALL apps except Google Maps, WhatsApp, FourSquare, and other essentials. Some apps also have settings for “use wifi only” that might be good to enable.
  2. Note: If you have an instance where you want to use cellular data for a blacklisted app, turn it back on in Settings and then off again after. But be sure to close the apps once you’re done, so they don’t run in the background and check for mail etc.
  3. On Settings > Cellular, tap “Reset Statistics” so your stats are tracked for the trip
  4. Put your phone into Airplane mode (so cellular data is totally off), but then turn on wifi. (I didn’t know this was possible). Swipe up from the bottom of your screen, tap the airplane icon and then the wifi icon, ht @jonnygotham.

Happy travels!

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