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Ways to use your cell phone responsibly while abroad

In this day and age, we are all tied to our cell phones and tablets. We don’t just make phone calls and text. We search the web, stay in touch with social media, stream movies and songs, read books, find directions and much more. When we leave the country, this habit can become very expensive, quickly. While most people will not be able to completely leave the phone at home, there are ways to control your usage.
Change your plan
Most mobile phone companies have some sort of international calling and data plan. The easiest first step is to change you plan while you are away. This can be done by calling your cell phone company and/or checking out the options they have online. Most options will vary based on your destination. Note that all service is not created equally and there are many areas of the world that do not have great cell service.
Find other ways to get online
Finding alternatives is going to be the best way to cut down on a large bill when you return home. This does not mean take change and find a pay phone (if they even exist anymore). A few great ways of finding alternates are to:
  • Hotel WI-Fi – Having a base with free or inexpensive Wi-Fi is a very important first step. Most hotels do offer Wi-Fi, but a Travel Specialist like me can assure that you are in the right place. With Wi-Fi in your hotel, you can download information to your devices, chat with friends on Wi-Fi calling and share photos with your friends while at the hotel.
  • Buy a hotspot – If you are going to be out and about quite a bit, purchase a Wi-Fi hotspot that you can use to connect your devices to the Internet. You can buy an inexpensive hotspot at any local mobile phone company for much less than you would pay for the same amount of data with your home company. One note of caution here is that this only works if you will be in one country. If you are on a cruise or tour that takes you to several countries the one hot spot might not work in every destination.
  • Unlock you phone and buy a SIM card – Just like buying a hotspot, if your phone is unlocked, you can remove your SIM card and replace it with one from a local mobile phone company. Make sure to keep your SIM card in a safe place so you don’t loose it!

Control when and how much data your phone/tablet uses
You will still probably want to use your phone or tablet while you are abroad. After all that is why you added the international plan. Changing just a few settings on your device will help you control how much of the plan you use throughout your vacation.

  • Turn off Data Roaming – Data roaming gives your phone the ok to use data whenever and wherever it would like. By turning this off, you choose when you use your data. This is helpful for people like me that forget and check Facebook when abroad. With data roaming off, your phone will not let you use the sites that require data. When you want to use the sites, all you have to do is turn the data roaming on for that period of time and then turn it back off. Note that when this is off all of the other functions that I will talk about will also be automatically deactivated. Turning everything else off will save you on data for those times when you turn your data roaming on for select functions and don’t want everything to turn on all at once.
  • Turn off cellular data for specific apps – This is actually good practice all around for saving data. It tells specific apps that they can’t use data and can only work on Wi-Fi.
  • Turn off automatic email – Many people have email automatically sent to their phones. You will want to turn your email to Fetch new data manually. Now your email will only come through when you open the mail app and if you have already selected mail to be an application that does not use cellular data, it will only do this on wifi.
  • Enable Wi-Fi calling – With this feature you can make calls over Wi-Fi (for instance at your great hotel with free Wi-Fi) without using your minutes.
  • Turn Siri/Cortana off – Personal assistants use data to understand you and then talk with you. Turn her off!
  • Turn off background app refresh – This function allows apps to update in the background when you are not using them and it means they are constantly using data.
  • Turn off location services – This feature is what makes GPS work so well. It also eats up data. It is important to remember this one if you turn it off because you will want to turn it back on if you need GPS. A helpful GPS tip is to download your maps while on Wi-Fi. Here is a link on how to use google maps without using your data
Check up on how much data/minutes you have used
After you have taken all the measure to conserve, you will want to check on your progress against the allotment in your international plan. You will be able to see this on your mobile phone carriers app and/or website, but I find that the apps/websites are delayed in posting usage. I prefer to just let my phone tell me. Under cellular data usage you will see current period roaming. These numbers will probably be high if you have never used this feature as the current period is from the last reset. Before you take off, select reset statistics. Now the phone will display your call minutes and data used since you did the reset.
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