As early as 2014, the Wi-Fi Alliance reported that about 71 percent of all mobile communication happens over Wi-Fi—that's a lot of FaceTime, a ton of e-mailing, and a whole bunch of Snapchats. It’s hard to break your phone addiction just because you’re traveling, but you can run up a large, unpleasant phone bill if you don’t plan carefully. Here are some tips to keep costs down when using your phone abroad.
Upgrade Your International Package
Before you pack your bags, contact your phone service provider to make sure that your phone will work abroad and, if necessary, add an international plan to your service. Check for deals like free international texting, cents-per-minute calls or a few allotted gigs of international data service. If a foreign plan isn't technically feasible or just doesn't fit the budget, find out exactly how much you'll be charged per minute if you pick up a call while overseas, and be sure to turn off your smartphone's international data roaming as soon as you reach your destination.
SIM Cards and Apps
If you’ve changed your phone settings to allow for multiple cellular carriers (or “unlocked” your phone), pick up a foreign SIM card when you arrive in the airport. Switching out the SIM card will effectively set you up with a local phone number, allowing you to make calls and send text messages.
Before you leave, use your cozy home Wi-Fi to do a little pre-trip app downloading, and search the iTunes App Store or Google Play for a data-efficient browser like Opera Mini or TextOnly. These specialized mobile browsers compress pages and only display the essentials to cut back on data usage. Likewise, seek data-saving apps and use your device settings to limit high-consuming apps—or remove them.
As you travel, manually change your smartphone or tablet's settings to prevent auto-updates, restrict background data, and limit your app usage to cut back on battery drain. Disable key culprits such as email and push notifications, which you can restrict to Wi-Fi only.
No matter how vibrant the Champs-Elysees looks in the moment, avoid the temptation to upload pics or videos unless you're on free Wi-Fi. Your HD video might just cost you a few hundred megabytes of data, and a pretty penny.
Embrace Airplane Mode
Depending on your service plan, data often equals money. Whenever possible, set your device to airplane mode and, when needed, connect only to local Wi-Fi networks to avoid eating through allotted data or facing overage charges when you get home. This is especially important when getting directions—map apps consume high amounts of data if you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network while using them.
You can find free Wi-Fi at cafes, restaurants, bars, libraries, and other public spaces (however, avoid sending sensitive data such as bank account info over these public networks). You can also keep the cost of phone calls down by using messaging apps such as Skype, WhatsApp or Viber to stay in touch without dipping into your minutes or SMS limits.
Put Your Phone Down
If you're investing the time and money to travel internationally, step away from the screen and soak up the local culture. It's a fool proof way to enhance your trip and keep extra data charges to a minimum.
When you absolutely have to plug back in, trim your data usage and rely on Wi-Fi as much as possible. Doing so means putting money right back into your vacation fund—and you'll probably enjoy that extra snorkeling trip a bit more than downloading another slide presentation from your boss.