The news cycle is littered with stories of people who take their smartphones on vacations only to come back to bills worth thousands of dollars for the data they consumed abroad.
Alanna Fero, for example, took her iPhone to Egypt and downloaded about 1.6 gigs of data while pyramiding. She came home to a $37 000 bill.
There are ways, however, to travel smartly with your smartphone: make sure data roaming is turned off, prebuy a travel data plan for your trip, unlock your phone and buy a local plan, or simply leave the phone at home.
TURN OFF DATA ROAMING
First and foremost is to turn off data roaming. It should be off by default, but check your settings to make sure that roaming is turned off. If you live near a border town, you might have your phone skip to foreign towers. When you’re flying, the phone will be trying to connect to the ground, and the moment you land all those emails will come flooding in. Having data roaming turned off will keep the dam the flow data until you are ready to let it loose.
If you’re just taking a quick trip to Las Vegas, or Phoenix for the weekend and want to have enough power to phone your friends on the trip, send texts, and grab a few tweets, look into a prepaid plan. I spent $100 on one when I went to Vegas in January for CES. It was enough for me to last the week and get my emailing, tweeting, and texting done from the show floor.
Prepaid data, text, and voice plans aren’t cheap, but they’re cheaper than coming home to a huge phone bill. The rates for each carrier vary, call your customer service rep to ask them what they can offer you based on what you plan to use while away.
UNLOCK YOUR PHONE
Unlocking your phone changes the baseband of your device to work with any mobile carrier. When you first buy your phone, it is locked to the provider.
Canadian providers will now unlock your mobile phone with a simple phone call to customer service. Each provider has different rules. Some will only unlock phones on contract. Some will only unlock phones out of contract. Some will require you to pay the remaining subsidy. On average, a base rate for unlocking your phone is $50.
Call your provider’s customer service representative to find out the requirements for your specific phone.
Once your phone is unlocked, you can now replace the SIM with a pre-paid one at your destination. Many travel forums are filled with advice on how to find a local provider with a good plan, sometimes you’ll even be able to find them in the airport of your destination. Buy the SIM, load up with pre-paid minutes or data, and you’ll even get a local phone number to blend right in.
For example, my travel data package to Iceland would be $225 for 75 megabytes of data. By paying the $50 fee to unlock my iPhone 3G, I’m now able to buy a prepaid SIM card data plan from Siminn, for $15 including 3 gigs of data.
GO OFF THE GRID
Of course the simplest solution is to leave the phone at home. Enjoy your vacation, the email can wait.
APP OF THE WEEK: Parks Canada’s Learn To Camp
If you really want to unplug, it’s time to go camping. If you’re new to the ‘sport’, check out Parks Canada’s Learn to Camp app.
It’s the ideal app for first-time campers who want to plan a trip to Canada’s national parks. It is packed with the information you need to make your first camping trip a success: camping basics and insider’s tips, packing checklists, national park information and recipes and cooking advice. This app is the perfect companion to the annual Learn to Camp events that take place at national parks and national historic sites across Canada.