It’s not uncommon to see me feverishly plugging in directions in Google Maps on Scott’s phone when we’re traveling and driving internationally. Generally speaking, until a few months ago, my phone was a glorified notepad when we’d travel so I found myself relying heavily on his international data plan with T-Mobile to keep us connected. Sometimes it would work like a dream, and other times the connectivity was thin with just enough juice to allow data to trickle in.
After years of playing this game, I finally decided to take a few steps to stay connected when we travel internationally: a wireless hotspot + an international SIM card focused on data usage. If you travel internationally regularly, both are awesome tools for allowing connection on the go. I used these tools in conjunction with one another but you could easily work with just one depending on where you’re headed, your objectives, and your group size. Keep reading to see my two favorite options and how they’ve helped us during our international escapades.
This was the first time ever that my phone was the useful one! I partnered with GoSim to head to France with an international data SIM Card prior to this trip. If calls are a priority for you, there are options that include outbound calls as well. With access to apps like Skype for calling, I find that data alone is most useful personally. The data SIM card selections include options for what they dub ‘Zone A’ and ‘Zone B’ so you’ll want to check the list based on your destination. I opted for Zone A, knowing I’d be using it in Europe (there are 65+ countries part of ‘Zone A’). Zone B expands upon Zone A for a hefty surcharge. You’ll have the option of anything from 250MB up to 5GB depending on how heavily you’ll be relying on your phone. I knew I’d be using it for mapping destinations daily, for checking emails, posting to social media, etc., etc. so chose the 5GB plan. It’s worth noting that once you active the card, you have 30 days to use the data so you’ll want to be thoughtful about how much data you’ll realistically need.
After coming back from France, of the 5000MB that I had started with, I’d used 3054MB, leaving nearly 2GB on the table. That said, I used my GoSim in conjunction with my SkyRoam (below) and with WiFi throughout France so that cut down on my usage a fair bit. If I were operating exclusively with my data I would have undoubtedly worked my way through all 5GB, maybe before the end of the trip.
It only takes a quick trip overseas without data to realize how much we rely on our phones for everything. Social channels aside, there’s an incredibly practically aspect to having data. As I mentioned above, I used it every single day for mapping our walking routes on Google Maps, finding restaurants nearby, checking TripAdvisor on the fly, and even making outbound calls via Skype when were in a bind. Worth every penny for all the time – and stress! – we saved by not getting lost.
For those who do purchase a card through GoSim, note that you’ll have to activate Data Roaming once you’ve put the card in. The words ‘Data Roaming’ scare the life out of me after a few hefty bills in my past but that setting is required to allow your GoSim to work while you’re traveling.
Secondly, there’s SkyRoam, which has become my loyal travel companion. Some people argue that it’s not compact enough but it’s perfectly compact for me. I can fit my SkyRoam in a purse and take on the go, and I travel almost exclusively carry-on only and never find it an issue. The device fits in the palm of your hand and acts as a WiFi hub (for up to 5 devices) and a power bank for quick charging your phone in a pinch. It holds a charge for a while — they say up to 16 hours and I routinely used it up for 12 or more. I activated it a couple of times on our trip to Haiti in February and used it every day during our week in Alsace.
There are two parts to the SkyRoam: 1) the device itself, which you can buy or rent, and 2) the daily WiFi fee when you choose to activate it. If you travel internationally regularly, I’d suggest buying the SkyRoam so you have it for all of your travels ($149.99 — click here and use code ‘SKYROAMTWE‘ to save 10%). The second part is the daily fee to activate the device, $9 per day for 24 hours of use. For me, that’s 100% worth it to stay connected on the go, but it’s even more valuable if you’re traveling with others. On this trip to France for example, there were 4 of us with phones connected to the SkyRoam which meant my parents and husband could use WiFi for their own needs, too. My details are loaded into the SkyRoam Solis app on my phone and I’m auto-charged for the days I choose to activate it.
And, just like with the data on my GoSim, we found that internet access on the fly made life infinitely easier and saved lots of stress and fights. I mean, how many times have you gotten lost driving or walking from Point A to Point B in a new city and just wish that you could connect to your maps for a second to figure it all out? It also gave us data access on the go so we could use apps like Uber to jet around when need be. The list of countries where your SkyRoam will work is long so you can stay connected in most international destinations, though SkyRoam’s effectiveness is based on the local network that it pulls from, too.
It’s also worth mentioning that you’re billed for a 24 hour window and you can cross country borders during that 24 hours with no issue if SkyRoam has a network it can work with there. So, for those traveling in Europe for example, you can keep your device on as you cross from France to Germany to Switzerland with no issue or extra cost (I kept mine on from France to Switzerland during our day in Basel with no issue). The 24 hours starts from the time zone you’ve activated it in, though, so if you’re traveling across a variety of time zones that’s worth bearing in mind.
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How do you stay connected when you travel internationally?