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Technology, Travel

iPhone + international travel: 7 ways to effectively use wifi and roaming cellular data while traveling

Travel smartphone data cellular roaming wifi

It’s 2015. While it would be nice to truly disconnect while outside of the country, it’s often not realistic. You need your phone. But cell phone carrier don’t always make it easy to use your phone abroad (thank you AT&T grandfathered unlimited data plan, for allowing me to forget the bygone days of monitoring megabytes). Here are some tips that may make your life easier and more productive the next time you get ready to board a 12-hour flight.

  1. Forget data/SIM cards. Go with your carrier’s international data option. Even though third-party SIM cards may seem like a great deal, it can be a huge headache to jailbreak and/or unlock your phone to make the SIM card usable. I once bought a SIM card only to discover that my jailbroken phone had to be “unlocked”, which meant breaking the contract with my carrier. And even if your phone is unlocked, don’t count on being able to use your usual phone number; the new SIM card may allow for forwarding, but you’re given a new international number. While there are cheaper options, I tend to go with AT&T’s Passport Pro ($120), which gives me 800MB, unlimited texts, and $.35/min calling if needed.
  2. Manually turn off cellular data for some apps. Keep cellular data on for email and critical, frequently-used apps but turn off cellular data for apps that consume data unnecessarily—Instagram, SnapChat, Vine, and other social media apps will eat into your data usage quickly, so restrict your use of those to when you have wifi. Additional tip: be sure to turn off automatic downloads as some apps will automatically push updates, resulting in huge data costs.
  3. Keep Google Maps for offline use. If you’re like me, you get lost frequently. Google Maps is a lifesaver, but it can consume lots of data if used frequently. For better utilization, enter your destination, save for offline use, and then put your phone in airplane mode. You’ll still be able to follow along without using roaming cellular data.
  4. Use web-based messaging instead of SMS. SMS usually costs on a per-text basis. Apple’s iMessage uses data rather than charging per text, which is much more cost-effective. Other messenger apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger allow for easy communication with friends without the added cost.
  5. Utilize data management apps to track data usage. Today there are a number of apps that promise to compress data as it comes and goes from your phone, which helps to reduce data usage. Data monitoring apps will tell you exactly how much you’ve used. For example, I usually reset my phone’s usage stats as I board the plane so I know exactly how much data I’ve used (according to my phone)—and then use data management apps like My Data Manager or DataMan Next/DataMan Pro to monitor as I go.
  6. Utilize wifi-hotspot locators. Skype and AT&T have apps for finding wifi all around the world. Use them and thank yourself later for using a hotstop instead of roaming cellular data.
  7. Book hotels that offer wifi and become familiar with the locations with wifi. It seems like a no-brainer, but many people don’t look at the fine print when booking their hotel and often assume that they’ll have complimentary high-speed wifi. If only that was true! If you do work from your hotel, do the math: if it costs you $10 extra per night for reliable wifi, it may be worth it. Slow wifi and cellular data is expensive and difficult to use.

Bonus tip: I highly recommend TripIt Pro — it will keep all of your travel information handy and keep you up-to-date with flight changes, hotel check-ins/outs, and other useful information so that you’re not fumbling through apps or emails.

Did I miss anything? Do you have any other traveling tips? Please share below!

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