Let's face it, in today's world having cell service and Wi-Fi is pretty much a lifeline. But things can get tricky when you're traveling abroad, and suddenly your trusty smartphone becomes as useful as a paperweight.
Over the years, I've experimented with all sorts of methods to stay connected while globe-trotting, from only using Wi-Fi to diving into the world of SIM cards. Along the way, I've picked up some handy tips that I wish I'd known right from the get-go.
Before sharing my insights, it should be noted that you should always talk with your cell phone service provider before making any purchases or changes to your phone. The information shared below is also geared toward people with smartphones, specifically iPhones (sorry Android).
Now, with the “cover my a** legal jargon” out of the way let’s talk about the many options you have to still use your phone while traveling outside of the United States.
1. Using Wi-fi Only Capabilities
Believe it or not, I traveled for 3.5 weeks across 7 different countries in Europe without any cell phone service. Thanks to the innovative iPhone design and a world obsessed with the internet, it was rare to be in a situation where I didn’t have wifi. With iPhones, as long as you have wif you can still send iMessages to other iPhone users as well as Facetime (which you could choose to do audio only and treat it like a normal phone call). If you need to reach a non-iPhone user you have the option of using Whatsapp as long as both people have this app downloaded. Google Maps also allows you to download offline maps so that you can still navigate directions without cell service.
We made sure that all of our accommodations had Wi-Fi and since we were traveling between major cities, it was common for tourist areas and restaurants to have wifi. So, if we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to reach someone, we would simply pop into a café order a drink and get the wifi.
The only downfall of this is that it is harder for people to reach you if they are having an emergency since it is reliant on you being near wifi.
2. Using your Cell-Phone Provider’s International Plan
This used to be our go-to option until we learned more about E-SIM cards. I obviously can’t speak for everyone’s phone plan but generally, the standard companies have options where if you turn your phone on in an international area where you don’t have coverage, you would be charged approximately $10 for a 24-hour period and your phone would work just as normal. You would, of course, need to set this up ahead of your trip with your phone company.
We always liked this option in combination with the Wi-Fi. We thought of this as an “emergency only” situation or if there was a long travel day where we knew getting wi-fi wouldn’t be easy, my husband or I would turn our phone on for that one day and then return it to airplane mode once the 24 hours were up and we were back near wifi opportunities.
If using this option for emergency situations or short trips, I think the cost is reasonable. However, if you plan to have your phone on the entirety of your trip then you will want to look into SIM cards.
3. Purchasing a SIM or E-SIM Cards
Over the years, my husband and I have both transitioned into entrepreneur roles where having access to our work platforms and being reachable by clients is vital to our businesses. In preparation for our most recent trip, a Virgin Voyage Cruise throughout the Mediterranean, we did more research on SIM cards.
When we previously traveled across Australia for a month we had purchased a SIM card and it was great, but there were aspects about it that were kind of challenging; most importantly being a brand new phone number that we had to communicate to friends/family/work contacts. For our cruise, we discovered the wonderful creation of an E-SIM card.
There are many providers out there but we used Airalo and since I haven’t used other providers I can’t say if Airalo is the best but it worked great for us! As the name states, it is a digital SIM card (so no physical card) that with the switch of a setting on your phone becomes active. We paid $5 for the entire week! We traveled to 3 different countries with our Cruise and never had an issue switching between them. The best part? Your phone number doesn’t change!
It is very important that you test this out and understand how to use it before you leave the country as we ran into a few snags/learner curves, but now that we know how easy this is, I don’t think we will ever travel out of the country without one again.
So, whether you're a casual traveler or a globetrotting entrepreneur, there's a method that suits your needs. Staying connected while exploring the world has never been easier – just choose the approach that fits your style and destination, and you'll be ready to share your journey with the world. Happy travels!
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