Keeping connected abroad without paying a fortune

Most of us now carry a smartphone and many travellers have realised it is much lighter to carry a bundle of books on holiday in an iPad or e-reader.

The trouble is, only the foolish or the very wealthy, would dare to turn on data roaming abroad because of the cost of roaming. Recently in the news, one woman was faced with a £2,600 bill for downloading an album from iTunes when roaming in South Africa.

But having no data access renders your smartphone rather un-smart and your tablet effectively becomes little more than an offline e-reader.


Sadly many destinations around the world don’t offer much in the way of free wi-fi. Many hotels, at home and abroad, persist in viewing wi-fi as an additional revenue source, rather than a way to encourage travellers to chose to them over the competition.

I can’t imagine I am alone in ticking the internet box when searching for a hotel. It is an exception when chose to stay in a hotel that doesn’t offer free internet.

But – even if you do have internet in your hotel – that still means your smartphone is not very smart when you are out and about, with data roaming turned off.

Without a mobile internet connection you will probably not be able to use:

  • Your maps app at the time it would be most useful, to navigate around a place you don’t know.
  • Apps or search engines to find out more about local restaurants, hotels and places of interest.
  • Social media to keep in touch with friends.
  • Email if you still want to be contactable.

But there may be an inexpensive option.

If you want a flexible solution that offers you a lower rate than roaming, companies like Roamline offer a SIM that you can use in 135 countries worldwide, with data costing as little as 39p per megabyte in Europe and the USA.

On a recent trip to the USA, I purchased a 3GB prepaid SIM which was delivered to the hotel we stayed at for the first night. I popped that in to my iPad and was delighted to find that most of the main roads, cities and towns across California my SIM card offered a good strong 4G signal. We even used it in a few hotels where the promised “high-speed” internet turned out to be stuttery and slow.

I chose to put the SIM in the iPad because I did not want to change my telephone number. Using the iPad we were able to use the online maps and navigation, search for local information and even book our hotels on the move.

More recently, in New Zealand, I bought a pre-paid SIM card for the iPad. Most of the North Island and substantial areas of the South Island gave good data speeds over 3G connections.

So, if you want to keep connected abroad, take a look at the options of a pre-paid SIM for the country you are visiting. If your SIM provider allows you to create a hot spot, you can then use that to connect smartphones and other devices.

Another option I have considered, but not tried, is to buy one of the portable wi-fi hotspot devices that are now on the market. If you put a prepaid data SIM in that, you could presumably create your own mobile wi-fi hotspot for a whole family.
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