Traveling With Your Smartphone
When traveling it's getting more difficult to jump off the grid for extended periods of time. While I still see this happen, it's few and far between given the advanced technology we now have to keep in contact with family and friends as we travel the world.
There are a lot of things to consider when choosing how to use your phone as you backpack. You must first know how long you will be traveling and to what regions you'll be visiting. There are many different approaches to take regarding a mobile phone when traveling abroad based off of these two criteria.
First step is to make sure you have an International Phone and to ensure that the phone is unlocked for international usage. I would not recommend using your home data plan unless you are willing to spend an unnecessary amount of money to keep in touch.
For starters, Europe differs from the US because most places have Wi-Fi where as in the US most people use data plans. European airports, train stations, accommodations, and restaurants usually offer free Wi-Fi. You can use this free Wi-Fi to call or text family and friends for free. Check out my apps post to see how to text and call for free.
Keeping your current plan : The only time I keep my current data plan is when I am traveling for a short period of time or am prepared to only use my phone in Wi-Fi enabled areas. I do have an international data plan through Verizon that allows me make calls and use 1GB of data a month when abroad, but once I go over that 1GB it's $2.19/MB. To let you know how quickly it adds up, I receive the text from Verizon that I hit my 1GB threshold followed by a message stating that I was being charged an additional $250 because of the videos size over the 1GB.
What US companies are the best for traveling? T-Mobile had an amazing plan available for international travelers, but this plan was only available until 2017 so we'll have to update this once the new plan comes out. The best available plan at this time is through Sprint, though Verizon is beginning to offer better international plans as the years go on. I am personally fond of my plan through Verizon but that's also because it's a corporate plan that isn't available outside of the company. Plans are always changing, but start with T-Mobile and Sprint for the best rates for US travelers.
Purchasing A New Plan : Many people that travel may have a "home base" in which they'll spend the majority of their time in that one country. If you're traveling to the US or Australia, I would recommend purchasing a plan since you'll get all the perks without roaming fee's. If you are in Europe, it may be that you'll be at home during the week and traveling on the weekends. In this case it would make sense to go the route of a company such as Vodafone that will work throughout all the countries with minimal roaming fee's. If you purchase the plan in your home country you'll only pay roaming fee's once you leave the country on the weekends, in which case you can still use the free Wi-Fi provided and pay for the minimal usage when not in those zones.
New Single SIM Card : The single SIM card route can work very well if you are backpacking multiple countries for a short amount of time. I purchased an Ekit card which gave me fantastic call back rates to the US and Australia while traveling throughout Europe. This plan also allowed me to purchase a data plan which I used for emergencies. I was also able to receive free incoming calls and text messages, in which case I would return the call or message once I found a Wi-Fi zone.
Multiple SIM Cards : SIM cards can be purchased in each country for the most favorable rates. This can be a great way to go about using your mobile phone cheaply, but I would only recommend this if you are hitting a select few countries. If you are only spending a few days in each country, you will end up losing money on the plans you don't fully use and also spend a decent amount of time shopping around for a new card each time you travel.