Kate Russell’s Traveller’s Web
Anyone who’s ever taken a smartphone abroad will know you need to turn off roaming data if you want to avoid a phone bill that makes Easy Jet’s excess baggage charges look like good value for money. But if you can’t live without your daily data-fix there are some great tips and workarounds to help reduce your roaming consumption.
Opera’s suite of mobile browsers are a smart traveller’s choice as they crunch websites by up to 90% before they reach your handset and give you the option of turning off data-hungry images while abroad. You’ll find free, dedicated apps in the stores for Android and iPhone, or just visit m.opera.com on any other handset to download the correct version for you.
Another data saver is available from Onavo, with a range of products to suit most Apple and Android handsets and tablets. Depending on your platform and operating system you’ll find free apps linked from their website that give you tighter control over what data goes through when you’re mobile and will also compress content before it reaches your handset. Once set up they operate invisibly, making your data plan last up to 5 times longer, at home or abroad.
Regulators have now put a cap on roaming charges in the EU and enforced a warning message for long-haul travellers when charges approach €50, but from July 2014 you’ll be able to shop around for the best roaming contract without having to quit your contract with your domestic mobile provider and lose your regular phone number. MoneySupermarket.com has a great guide on the latest mobile deals if you want to start looking around.
For the time being your best bet is to buy a roaming SIM card to take advantage of local data packages wherever you are. RiteSIM will sell you a hassle-free, easy to activate pre-paid SIM card for over 45 countries before you leave the UK, so you can make sure it works on your phone and share contact numbers with friends and relatives. Your phone will need to be unlocked – just ask your current mobile provider if you’re unsure whether yours is – and you’ll lose your familiar number while travelling. You can get around this inconvenience by paying about $5 a month for a ‘virtual phone number’ from Skype, which you can then divert all incoming calls to your regular mobile to before you leave the UK. Once you’re abroad just use the Skype ‘call forwarding’ service to direct all incoming calls from your virtual number to your new local SIM card and it will bounce any calls heading to your UK mobile to that number.
If you’d rather not change your number Toggle Mobile is selling SIM cards at £15 with £10 credit that give you a permanent UK number and the option to add up to 9 local numbers while travelling. They claim savings of up to 90% as users can receive free incoming calls while roaming in over 100 countries worldwide. There are other companies that seem to offer this kind of service but make sure you check the number you’re given is truly a local mainland UK-number or you could find those calling you will be charged a premium rate.
One of the best ways to save data costs is only connect from a Wi-Fi access point. Lots of places offer free Wi-Fi, like coffee shops, department stores, libraries and community centres. You can prepare ahead of time by searching Google Maps for ‘free public Wi-Fi in XXX-location’ and asking it to email the details to your web mail account so you can access it while abroad. Or just fire up the Google Maps app when you’re looking for a connection and search for Wi-Fi access points nearby.
My last money-saving tip for your travels this issue is a little bit off the beaten track – which is where you should be if you don’t want to pay extortionate tourist prices for a meal out. Instead, experience the city’s cuisine as a local would by visiting eatwithalocal.com. This is a social site that connects diners with hosts all over the world, to either eat with them in their home or meet up at a local restaurant.
The community is growing all the time and very friendly, but do make sure you take proper precautions when arranging to meet strangers from the Internet. Using common sense tactics like meeting in a public place, always informing someone trusted where you are going and checking what others on the site have said about their dining experience with a host first, is a good start. With a bit of luck you’ll discover that travelling has never tasted so authentic.