Whenever I travel, I have to decide what to do about connectivity. I AM (according to at least some definitions) a Millennial, after all, and I don’t function well without the world at my fingertips. In fact, like many of us, I would suffer from symptoms of withdrawal were I to find myself without my smartphone for any real length of time. So, I need to figure out how to get my fix when I am away from home.
As far as I see it, I have
five 2.5 options.
Option 1: Go Without Internet
Who am I kidding?!? This is not an option.
In today’s world, I cannot imagine checking into or boarding my flight without internet. I use it to check into and even unlock my hotel’s door with an app. I use it to book tickets to attractions, find opening hours, directions, transit connections, and so much more. Even if I ignore social media, I would, quite literally, be lost without it.
Option 2: Use Public Wifi
This is almost as bad as going without internet.
Sure, I can spend a few hours nursing a latte in a cafe somewhere, but did I really travel all that way just to see if Starbucks is the same shade of green everywhere in the world, or did I come to see the world?
Try contacting your hotel to say you’re going to be a day late due to flight delays, but please hold the reservation, while trying to find out if the airport actually has free wifi, or if it’s just a scam to get your email address (I’m looking at you FRA!), but you’ll never know because just as you’re about to connect, the airport train takes you to another terminal out of range.
Maybe you don’t mind staying up half the night struggling with spotty hotel wifi, reading reviews or searching for that blog post that told you the secret ways to skip the lines at that really popular tourist attraction, so your travel partner can wake you up bright and early and rely on you knowing where you’re going the next day, but I’d rather just relax and be able to figure it out over breakfast or along the way.
Option 3: Use My Own Cell Provider
Nope, nope nope!
Maybe you have found the holy grail of cell providers and they give you an amazing amount of data for a reasonable price, AND they let you use it without penalty anywhere in the world. But me, I live in Canada, and that just doesn’t exist here (Prove me wrong in the comments. I’m open to a new provider.)
Most plans here in Canada charge an arm and a leg for roaming, even with a “travel pass”, AND they often eat into your regular monthly allotment of data.
For me, I go over my regular monthly data allotment about 2-3 weeks in, just with regular use. That’s just my day-to-day, non-working hours, away from my home wifi.
When I travel, I am using a LOT more data. I am using my phone more, in general, and I am using it for more data-intensive things, like uploading photos and videos, making VOIP calls, using maps for directions, etc.
So, using my regular service just isn’t going to cut it.
Option 4: Buy a Local SIM
This CAN be a good option, because you’ll have internet (and sometimes phone/text) connections with you wherever you go. However, it may not be the best option for your particular circumstances.
First, you need to determine if there are any cell providers that can offer coverage everywhere (or at least in most places) that you want to go.
Do they offer pre-paid, daily rate plans?
Do those plans give you enough data for your needs? Can you top them up if you run out?
How much is it going to cost you?
Then, if you find out that it’s going to cost you more than that beer you made the mistake of ordering on the patio rather than at the bar that time in Paris, you have to decide if both you and your travel partner REALLY need to be connected, or maybe you could just rock-paper-scissors it out to decide who gets the SIM (and maybe tether it?). Or, just move on to Option 4.
Option 5: Mobile/Pocket Wifi
Like Option 4, pocket wifi can also be a very good option.
You can take it with you everywhere you go, so you’re always connected wherever there is coverage, just like with a SIM card. Think of it like a mute cellphone in your pocket that you can tether your own devices to.
The advantage here is that you pay for one plan, but can usually connect multiple devices to it. So, if you travel with someone else, you can split the cost, AND you can each use your phones, tablets, laptops, etc, all at the same time!
Just keep in mind that you have to stay in range of the person carrying the device. It’s a good way to keep the other person from taking off on you in a crowd. They’ll notice that their live video is unable to stream when they get too far away to receive your iMessages.
And, you have to remember to keep it charged (but it usually comes with a portable charger).
You can arrange these devices on your own, or they can sometimes be an add-on to your car rental.
You can read about my experience using pocket wifi from Alldaywifi here, and get an exclusive discount code to use on your next trip to Turkey.
Figuring out how to stay connected while travelling means that you first have to determine what your personal connectivity needs are. Some people are happy to do a digital detox while on holiday, others needs unlimited data for work trips. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Be honest with yourself about how much data you will really use, how much you’re willing to pay for it, and whether you need it available at all times, then choose the option that’s right for you.