Getting Your Phone Ready For The Adventure

The first things we grab on our way out the door in the morning is our phone and wallet.  No matter where life takes us, those two items will most likely be joining.  I’d like to dive into how we can rig our phone so that we can use it regardless of where our journey goes.

Back when I first started traveling, phones needed to be unlocked to accept a different sim card to work on other networks.  While this is usually not the case these days, the first and most important step for us to take is to guarantee that our phone is unlocked for travel purposes.  If confirmed, great, you're ready to go!  If not, then you either need to have it unlocked by your provider or pick up a new phone.

Once we’re all settled here, our next step is to understand our travel plan.  Where will we be traveling to?

  • Multiple continents?
  • Multiple countries within the same area
  • Settling in a specific country?
  • These are pivotal for making a decision on how we will approach our phone usage abroad.  What will we be using our phone for?  I always use data while abroad, but some people opt to only have voice and text in case of emergency.  In those cases, the traveler uses Wi-Fi as needed.  In Europe and Asia I found that Wi-Fi worked great everywhere, though unfortunately I can't say the same about Australia where they charge you for shitty Wi-Fi at every hostel. 

    Before we jump to conclusions, make sure that you keep your current SIM card safe!  I personally leave mine at home, but if you decide to bring it with you I’d recommend taping it to a card so that it doesn’t get broken.

    Alright, let’s get started!


    Single SIM Card: The single SIM card route can work very well if you are backpacking multiple countries.  I used this method when traveling throughout Europe since I was never in the same country for an extended period of time.  It was too expensive and time consuming to purchase a SIM card in every country, plus I didn’t need data since I was always using Wi-Fi.  The Ekit card I purchased gave me fantastic call back rates to the US and Australia, the two places I needed to call on a weekly basis.  Although it was expensive, I was still able to purchase data in case of emergencies that could be used in all the EU countries.  The benefit here is that I had one card that could do it all, but the downfall is that it was not an economical option if I needed data on the go.

    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.  I used this route when traveling Asia.  I spent a few weeks in each country, so it was cheaper to purchase a card for each country.  Not any downfalls I could find, as long as you’re spending enough time to get your moneys worth it’s perfect.  I have yet to find an international airport that didn’t have stands right outside selling SIMs, so you won’t be without your favorite toy for long.

    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.  I purchased a long term Telstra plan in Australia and used it throughout my travels.  Even if I didn’t have service when making a short trip, it was cheaper in the long run.


    Google Fi:  I was very exciting when this project became available to the public a few years back.  Project Fi is run by Google as an international plan utilizing minimal fee’s for talk while offering a standard data rate and free SMS.  In my opinion, it’s the divine plan for business travelers.  For others, it’s just too damn expensive.  What are the benefits of picking up this plan? 

  • Never pay extra data fee’s when traveling throughout their ridiculous amount of coverage
  • Never have to change your phone number
  • Don’t need to worry about buying a SIM card everywhere you go
  • Know exactly how much you’ll spend every month
  • With all the added benefits also comes its downfalls:

  • It’s expensive. I spent $10 for 3GB of data in Thailand for the month versus $80 on Google Fi. That’s not even comparable.
  • You will still have to pay for calls at $.20 per minute. That’s a lot of money for making a standard phone call.
  • You’ll need to purchase one of the select phones that comes with Google Fi.
  • Google doesn't work in China. Although I haven't tried it, I'd take a lucky guess that this plan will not either.
  • I personally feel that there are only a few reasons why someone would purchase this plan.  The first is that you use an absurd amount of data and utilize the Google Fi plan that doesn’t allow you to pay more than $80 per month.  Second is if you travel for work and have to be on your phone.  You can’t be switching your phone number every couple of weeks, so this plan will give you the consistency needed to continue working abroad.  Lastly, you only use this phone for data purposes while hitting multiple countries as a frequent traveler throughout the year.  It only works for me every so often.  It’s great if I’m working at home for a year and expect to travel about 2 months.  Way over the top if I expect to be out of the country the entire time.