Getting A Handle On International Data (And A Cool Giveaway!)

I do a fair amount of international travel and international data is something that I find often costs more than I expect.  Verizon Wireless (my cell provider) used to have a great international plan that you could toggle on and off when you traveled for minimal cost, but it went away a number of years ago.  The new plan they offer is a flat $25 for 100 MB.  Use up 100 MB and they’ll charge you another $25 for the next 100.

I don’t upload a lot of pictures while I travel, but I do send and receive a lot of e-mail, and I like using GPS on my phone to get around.  Using an app like Google Maps can be a big data hog, so I use it sparingly.  And, according to a new survey, I may not be the only one.

International Data

Telestial, a provider of international SIM cards, data plans and cell phone packages, contracted with Serious Insights to poll American-based travelers on their top uses of data while traveling internationally.  Unsurprisingly, the top response was checking e-mail (over 90% of respondents).  A bit more surprising was that one of my pet peeves for hogging data, using GPS to get directions, was noted by 78% of survey respondents.  What shouldn’t have been a surprise to me (but kind of was) were the almost identical number of people, 77%, saying uploading photos and video was a frequent activity while traveling overseas.  That’s just not something I do a lot of when traveling, knowing that it eats up data.

International Data

I’m sure I’m not the only one that alters their behavior when traveling abroad.  I’ve thought about buying local SIMs in the airport or elsewhere, but I’m never quite sure if I’m going to get screwed (and I’m not likely to go back to the airport in the middle of a vacation to try to get my $20 back if I did).  I also find I never get as many updates via e-mail/text about data usage from Verizon Wireless as they promise to deliver, making it harder to track costs.

Telestial appears to be positioned to solve a lot of these concerns.

Their data packages cost as little as 10 cents a MB, less than half of what Verizon Wireless charges me.  They also will rent you a hotspot, though I find I can use my iPhone for this on the fly.  They also have a number of cell phone packages that come with SIMs, prepaid data and European chargers if you need more than just a SIM.

The SIM cards are rechargeable on their website so you can control the budget.

Now, for the giveaway part!  The ideal product for my data usage while traveling is the $99 1GB SIM. For me, 1GB is a lot of data and enough for longer trips like my 10 days in Italy.

Telestial has decided to reward 2 Pizza in Motion readers with a 1GB data SIM ($99 on their website) so you don’t have to worry about getting charged the next time you travel internationally.

To have a chance to win, you just need to leave a comment on this post about how you use data when you travel internationally.  It can be a pet peeve, your favorite thing to do, a funny/frustrating story or a tip on how to conserve data.  Multiple entries are fine as long as they stick to the subject matter in some loose fashion.  I’ll pick winners on Friday, April 3rd, 2015.

I reserve the right to disqualify anyone for spamming the thread or otherwise trying to upset the apple cart.  All decisions by me are final.

Good luck!

The post A Great Shortcut To MGM M Life Gold Status (And Why You Want It)! was published first on Pizza In Motion.

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  1. I try to minimize data use when traveling internationally as most often, its supposed to be “vacation”. That said, there’s always something that comes up and/or a need to have data, mostly related to work, but also because its replaced the “call me when you arrive” call. With that, free wifi or internet cafes are great but generally won’t suffice. Hopefully I can find a new service provider to use when I next travel for a few weeks.

    1. Ryan, I agree that you can use data to keep in touch. Do you use something (Skype, etc) for voice calls over data?

  2. When traveling internationally, I use WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, Skype, iMessaging, or Facebook messenger as substitutes for text messaging. Most of this is done over wifi, unless I’m in a place for an extended period of time, in which case I’ll pick up a local SIM.

    For navigating, I will download an offline version of Google Maps to get me by when wifi isn’t available for downloading turn-by-turn instructions. Unfortunately this isn’t available in all areas, but other maps might be available.

    A service like Telestial provides would be fun to try, and might even be a savings over the amount of coffee I end up buying to use a shop’s wifi!

    1. NcSam, how do you download offline versions of Google maps to your phone? Just from your browser or is there a trick I’m missing?

        1. I do this as well and your phones gps will still provide your current location (as that is unrelated to data). Also you can save particular points od interest, like a hotel/attraction/restaurant that you are trying to navigate to.

  3. I also want to add that I really appreciate cities that have publicly available wifi. It doesn’t have to be fast, but instead just has to be sufficient to send a receive messages. A nice example of this is Tel Aviv, where basically anywhere I am in the city I can connect to the Free_TLV network. Depending on the phone you have, you can be automatically connected to the nearest in range router, even as you move about via bus/taxi/bike.

  4. I minimize data when traveling internationally, use alternate email addresses to only get the really important stuff and use iMessage (alot), but I have a horrible sense of direction and cannot give up my Google maps and turn-by-turn!

  5. I use cellular data when travelling internationally mostly for email. When I need GPS (like in Ireland, where the roads are sometimes not much more than cow paths), it killed my AT&T data plan. I moved to T-Mobile a bit over a year ago, so though I don’t get 4G, my data is free. I reserve more data intensive activities (like uploading photos or media streaming) for hotel wi-fi.

  6. I used to use a “travel phone” with a Telestial sim until AT&T came up with what I consider rational international plans late last year. In the past, I didn’t want to put a new sim in my current iPhone, so I would use an old unlocked iPhone and put the Telestial sim (with the US phone number) in it and forward all my calls to that number. It got cumbersome since I still wanted my permanent phone with all the apps and wanted seamless texting. The new AT&T plans really aren’t that bad. You pay $30 for 120 MB of data, unlimited texting, and $1/min calling. Any overage is charged at $.25/mb. They also have $60 for 300 MB of data with $.20/mb overage and $.50/min calling, or $120 for 800MB with $.15/mb overage and $.35/minute calling. The thing that makes it good IMHO is the unlimited texting, decent calling rates for emergency calls and they don’t charge you for the full plan again if you run over (in the past if you signed up for the $60 plan and used 301MB, you got charged $120, now you are just charge $60.20). Oh, and the plans are for any 30 day period, so you don’t have to worry about your billing cycle ending in the middle of your trip, forcing you to pay for 2 months of the international plan. This has been my international strategy since last year and it’s worked out great.

    1. John, 25 cents a MB is just a bit steep, IMO. I might not swap out the SIM in my phone but would definitely consider for my iPad.

  7. I typically update to an international data plan for the duration of the trip. I’m also somewhat judicious where I wouldn’t be when in the US.

  8. I like to stay in touch with family though minimally and keep up with my emails so I don’t have an overwhelming number to deal with when I return. I like to look at Trip Advisor, make hotel reservations when I change my mind about where I am going.

    For the trip we are doing in May/June I would love to win the give away because my daughter will be giving birth while I am gone and I would love to have the opportunity to be able to FaceTime/Skype with her and see the new baby.

      1. Flying into Prague then taking a bus to Vilshofen, Germany where we’;; embark on our Danube River Cruise. Afterward we disembark in Budapest and stay there for a few days, we’ll head to Venice (have read your blog on vaporeto) by overnight train. Finally taking the train to Milan where we’ll do day trips up to the Lakes area.

        1. Jane, sounds like a great trip. Obviously, Venice is one of our favorites. Have you figured out where you’re staying yet?

  9. I used to have an AT&T unlimited international data plan for my Blackberry that was grandfathered even after they discontinued it, but I lost it when I switched to an iPhone. Now I have to use their Passport plans, which are hugely overpriced, so I rarely use cellular data when aboard. Free wifi is readily available in Europe, but not as much elsewhere outside of hotels in my experience. Thanks for the giveaway.

    1. KFM, I would kill for a reliable Blackberry again. The passport plans sound pricey. VZW isn’t horrible but not check either.

  10. We typically curtail our use of data/phone/Internet abroad waiting to connect in the evenings via free Internet at the hotels but the connection speed can be spotty. We switched from Verizon to T-Mobile for their unlimited data plan and so far it worked better for us. We also tried to use MagicJack for calls bit quality of calls isn’t very good (you could hear “packets splitting” in this VOIP 🙂 making it hard to have a real conversation.

  11. My wife and I each get a SIM card wherever we travel outside the United States so we can find each other if needed. Our biggest use is always GPS by far. Email is next. Phone calls are very few.
    We usually ask for a plan that sold last for our stay and they are usually pretty good at giving us a suitable plan. Never send pictures while away.

  12. Checking e-mail uses the most data for me – you never know when someone is going to send you some unnecessary e-mail with a large attachement

    1. Erik, I had someone send me a 20MB file while traveling overseas that Apple Mail couldn’t digest. Messed me up until I could get back to my hotel and delete it from the server.

  13. I bought a verizon iPad Air, but switched the SIM to t-mobile for $10. The best part of T-Mobile is that there’s no bill anxiety. If you go over your 4G LTE allotment you’ll just get slowed down until the next bill, allowing you to decide if you want to buy more for that month. It’s nice to know there’s an international backup that can be good for updating emails in the background when you may not need the highest speed. With Verizon I was always worried about going over the allotment, then feeling like a chump if I don’t use the full overage charged.

  14. Usually check-in to hotels and on 4Square, share photos on Flickr, Instagram, and pinterest, communicate with hotels and airlines via twitter, and maintain contact with friends & family through FB posts.

    1. Kalboz, I pretty much shot 4SQ in the head when they split it. I try to get along with FB from time to time. I find the FB app works poorly on 3G.

  15. maps, maps, and mapping! I can wait on photos and email until I find wifi but for getting around having access to online maps is just the bees knees!

  16. Interesting… We are heading to Europe for the first time this summer and I have been trying to look at all my options since my wireless phone will not work there. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jennifer, there’s a lot of options going overseas, so make sure to do some research. You’ll find some pretty good tips from your fellow travelers in this thread.

  17. I love my free international free data/texting from Tmobile. I was a Nextel/Sprint customer for about 10 years and was on the cheap unlimited everything SERO plan. I ditched that cheap plan for Tmobile since the free data/texting was more worth it to me. I’ve been on the plan since Nov. 2014 and from then until now, I’ve used it in Milan, Budapest, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Seoul, Kyoto, Osaka, Nice, London, Dublin etc. and it’s been amazing. The speed when I was overseas was enough for me to upload pictures to instagram/fb as well as use Google maps continuously. I love it and it’s best decision I’ve made even though I gave up unlimited data to my now 2.5 gb monthly. I suggest looking into it.

    1. Ang, I’ve heard from others that they throttle the speed down if you go over your allotment. Have you experienced this?

  18. I use data internationally mostly for gps, getting lost in the US is one thing but getting lost in a foreign country is another especially when I’ve never been there before. Plus I hate looking like the typical tourist with the free guide map frantically trying to figure out what street I’m on. I also use it to text the Uber driver, hoping they won’t in turn try to call me because I don’t want the bill for that call. As far as pictures and keeping in contact with friends and family I do that strictly at the hotel on their wifi.

  19. One tip that’s helped me: To minimize data usage when traveling, there are number of travel guides and other resources that you can download to your device ahead of time so you don’t have to use data to access them when you’re at your international location. For instance, many cities’ metro maps and timetables are downloadable ahead of time.

  20. Normally i just use voice, but with this, i’m going to send all the photos of the hottest spots in moldova.

  21. I typically update my Sprint plan to the Intl Voice plan and turn Data off and use hotel wifi. My out going texts are 50 cents and incoming are 5 cents. Voice charges vary by country. Typically use text to communicate simple things like Arrived, Leaving, etc. to family and supplement with emails from the hotel at night. The Sprint plan is cheap (like $5 for 30 days) and can turned on only for your trip, so if your trip is 5 days then your plan is just prorated for that time period. They have a data plan but I just do use it.

    GPS, I typically just take my Garmin. Much easier to use, bigger screen, better setup in the car, and I prefer over using my phone for that kind of activity. Plus, I usually have my way points marked before I leave the country.

    1. vc3, I know some folks that bring a GPS device with them. It’s a good strategy, though my backpack is already heavy enough!

  22. I try to limit the use to checking in a few times a day, rather than the on-demand I’m used to in the US. Most of the time I can find wifi, but if it has been a few hours without me checking work email etc, I’ll turn on the data for a little.

    1. Craig, I’ve used this strategy as well to save money. Don’t love it, though. I prefer to be connected, obsessively so my wife would tell you.

  23. Mostly just for email and the occasional directions if I am truly in need for it. Otherwise airplane mode is on conserving data for when i really need it.

    1. Jim, how do you purchase your local SIM cards? Do you have a preferred provider or do you wait until you arrive?

  24. I need my data for Uber so that my kids don’t have to watch me argue with (yet another) cab driver that tries to rip us off.

      1. I’m a NYer as well. After a few recent weeks in Thailand my 2 year old began to scream “turn on the meter” every time we got into a cab and my 5 year old refused to ride in the pink ones because “they try to steal the most”. Sad. Sad. Sad. Fortunately the rest of the Thai people made up for the cabbies.

  25. I typically fall back on the relatively expensive $30 for 100mb ATT plan for international data, and just use it sparingly. I’m rarely gone long enough to make local sims worth it. A multi-country solution such as Telestial is offering is attractive, especially for Europe where I might stop in 3 countries and would use one sim for all.

    1. Ben, I bounce around enough that I don’t think I’d use up a whole local SIM before leaving a country.

  26. I, too, switched to T-Mobile back in December of 2013 and have never looked back. International data speed has been fast enough for my needs. I was getting 3G speeds in Canada and Mexico but can always upgrade to LTE for a small fee. But free is great…and in most major cities WiFi is prevalent, even on public transportation…which makes free even better!

  27. I rely on the free wifi of the hotel or airbnb host for my travelling mainly for staying in touch with family. But next month, I headed to Italy and may have to sms or call the host when I get there. So I am checking for free wifi at FCO and train stations if wifi is available so I can Whatsapp the Host when I get there to meet at the meeting point. So far FCO do have wifi serviced by Boingo. STill checking on the train stations. Looks like they need to sms you a code which I cant receive bcos my phone wont work there. 🙁

  28. When I travel internationally, I primarily use data for Google maps and Google search (top ten restaurants in Bali…). On our upcoming honeymoon in June, my fiancée is demanding we get international data plans, as she’d rather not be lost on the island of Koh Samui with no sense of direction… Haha

    Thanks Pizza in Motion! I might have to try out Telestial, whether I win or not!

  29. My phone stays in airplane mode, except for emergencies. I text my wife when I land, then leave things shut down from there.

    1. Christian, is she mad about the data charge or that you’re too busy checking travel blogs? My wife gets mad that I’m too busy writing a travel blog on vacation. 😉

  30. I mostly use the free wifi at hotels and restaurants for data when traveling internationally. This includes using my Google Voice number for calling services. I would like to use more data services – especially Google Maps and Uber – when I’m not around wifi, but so far have gotten by mostly without.

  31. Last year we were in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, India and UAE and T-Mobile voice and data were more than adequate and no extra charges.

  32. The best benefit with data is ability to use GPS when driving or walking around to make sure I never get lost. Just drop a pin on the map to track where I’m going or need to return! Can also get pictures of destination if it’s a building to help you identify where you’re going.

  33. I like to also save offline maps with wifi in hotels if I don’t have international data set up. That way I get a lot of benefit of a smart phone with data without any of the cost. The free wifi benefit with elite status is huge in these situations.

  34. I like to use data to find restaurants. YELP or TripAdvisor is always a good way to help find somewhere to eat if I’m unsure of what to get. Does anyone else have recommendations of websites or user generated forums/reviews that have been consistent with what to do, what to eat, etc?

  35. I use international data to post pictures to Instagram, check maps and search for local restaurants and activities.

  36. Primarily to check e-mail, but I’m also guilty of using data for two of your peeves: uploading pictures and using GPS for directions.

  37. If I absolutely must use data it would be for short emails or messages but wifi is the way to go whenever I travel out of the area

  38. I use data to double check hours of operation for museums, churches, and other tourist sites. I find Yelp to be particularly helpful when looking for a good open restaurant within walking distance.

    1. Chris, I used to rely on 4SQ for restaurant reviews until they blew it up. Now I mostly rely on Google reviews. May need to consider Yelp more often.

  39. My data usage while traveling is about the same — email, Facebook, Instagram, google maps and whatsapp. Fortunately I switch to T-mobile and take advantage of the free international data and don’t need to worry about get a SIM card or a hotspot. Although slower, still usable for most things I do while exploring.

    And it’s great for my short international excursions to not worry or plan ahead for coverage.

  40. I really like the Tripadvisor Cityguide app. It is amazing how you can navigate around a city just using this app! It has landmarks and a compass included!

    One trip, I entered “Opera house” in Vienna, and we were right across the street! The building had scaffolding so it was unrecognisable, but the App found it!

    1. Candace, interesting. I haven’t used them, but I’ll have to download one for our next trip! Thanks for the tip.

    1. SJ, do you normally buy the local SIM cards before you leave the US? If not, how do you select a vendor when you buy them abroad?

  41. I’ve never actually used data internationally. I have always relied on wifi when I’m back at the hotel, and saving offline maps for when I’m walking around a city.

  42. I use as much data as usual wherever I am. Local Sim except Japan where I rent a hotspot. I’d like a multi-country option if the price was right.

  43. When I travel internationally, I exclusively use WiFi for data and all other internet needs. Finding wifi in hotels, restaurants – and even shopping venues – has been easier each time I travel. I’ll gladly buy a cup of coffee and sit in a cafe to use the internet (and enjoy the surroundings too).
    Thank you for the opportunity to enter your giveaway. Looks like a great product and one I could definitely use.

      1. Google Hangouts Dialer allows you to call any number in the US for free through wifi. Makes for an easy way to check in at home.

  44. I always add a data plan and texting plan when going abroad. I also try to use wifi whenever possible ( thanks to Amex and bingo this has gotten easier).

  45. As others have said, airplane mode + turn on wifi keeps you (or your company) from getting huge cell phone bills. I mentioned hotels and restaurants previously, but many airports and/or lounges have free wifi as well. Those work well for the “arrived fine” notices to those back home.

  46. I’m kind of a big Rick Steves nerd and appreciate his ‘walking-around’ approach to travel guides. He has a free app with a bunch of city/attraction audio tours that you download to your phone in advance. I recently used his audio guide through the Acropolis in Athens (even though i had his book in my backpack) and it was quite entertaining. Also was nice to be able to look at stuff rather than reading in a book.

  47. I rarely travel internationally these days, but I do have a trip to Istanbul coming in May. And I was very pleased to see that .tk is now a part of Yelp so for sure, I’ll be using my data to check in to Yelp venues like the Blue Mosque and such!

  48. When the america’s cup was going on we had wi-if but it kept cutting out. So my spouse would switch to data usage; on Att’s 100 mg plan, we used a lot of date. Whoops!

  49. I used the Verizon $25 for 100 MB international plan once in Hong Kong – worked fined – and my company graciously covered the cost. The only downside is that I’m used to essentially unlimited data in the States (group plan), so I was always overly conscious of my usage. And my two tracking methods gave me vastly different usage totals at the end of my trip: Onavo app said 32, phone itself said 88. The official usage was 59 MB. So my peeve is that data usage tracking needs to be more accurate!

  50. Oh man, overseas data from US is expensive. I minimize my data use, but have definitely used maps a lot. When we move overseas this summer I’ll be picking up a GPS…but this would be great as a backup!

  51. Watch out on Patch Tuesday (second Tuesday of each month, occasionally fourth Tuesday also) when Microsoft releases patches for Windows, Office, and other Microsoft software. You don’t want to download tens of megabytes of data on an international data SIM if you can avoid it. To avoid, you can temporarily re-configure Windows to notify you when there are patches to be downloaded instead of automatically downloading them, or use the hotel WiFi or other connectivity to pre-emptively download the patches when you’re paying less per megabyte or not paying per megabyte at all.

  52. Lucky for me my phone is provided by the company and they care the ATT unlimited international data plan on it. So I’m good there. The sad the thing is the wife is on verizon and we have to get that sad $25 plan.

  53. I travel to oversea twice per year and I tried to count on ATT international plan ($30/month). ATT global plan is not as good as the local free wifi offered by hotels or business. This international sim card program will be an interesting option for my future travel plans.

  54. We travel with friends, and each group grabs a prepaid phone so that way we don’t need to make elaborate “meeting up” plans later. A quick text/email and everyone knows what to do!

  55. Generally I don’t have data when I travel so I rely on Apple Maps for the iPhone which is vector based, that small file size allows them to be cached, so once you download the maps they are available offline. And location services still works so you can see yourself on the map!

  56. I use data when traveling in new cities so I don’t need to whip out a map and look like a tourist. And to check train/bus schedules.

  57. “As little as 10 cents per MB” equals $100 (or more) per GB. So, watching one movie on your laptop will cost several hundred dollars.

  58. I always try and pick up a local prepaid SIM when traveling abroad, but also have an active Skype number so people can have one number to call when they need to. I have an iPhone, so I really just need the data to navigate, WhatsApp, iMessage, and Skype takes care of the calls. I can’t remember the last time I had to pull out a map to get around! Data is truly a godsend in our world now a days.

  59. Overseas I use my phone much as at home but sparingly. Because I use a wheelchair & ventilator I use it as a fail safe to keep in touch with my fellow travelers and to get directions or to ask for help when needed. I also use translation apps in a pinch.

  60. Just a tip on wifi calling for those in the Android world who haven’t yet migrated to the Google Hangouts app (or don’t want to) – you might try using one of the several pre-Hangouts apps with an existing Google Voice phone number. The big G was to have disabled third-party access in May 2014, but my GrooveIP Lite app continues to chug along! Maybe mine slipped through the cracks somehow, but I’ve used it successfully in three countries since then.

  61. Last comment from me. All of my above experiences, tips, and suggestions would be moot (for some time at least), if I were to win the giveaway; Cheers and thanks for offering the prize.

  62. Getting a sim card for data use when traveling to multiple countries can be a pain. Last time I was in Germany I had a German speaking friend come with us to get a sim card. It was such a pain. It even sounded like they couldn’t figure things out and they spoke the same language! Argh! Then, we weren’t even covered when we went to a different country. I’d love to find a better way to get data! Maybe this is it? 🙂

  63. Planning a two week trip to Italy, which will consist of driving around back roads in Tuscany for most of the stay. I’ve seen some comments about data access being limited in parts of Tuscany and so am wary of complete reliance on Google Google lets you save maps for off line use but the size is limited to 5ox50 km. I’ve found an app called Maps.Me, which lets you download country maps to your smartphone, either to storage or an SD card if you have one. It has detail almost as good as Google, including where to park. It does not do voice directions, but will plot a route from where you are (if you have a GPS signal) to where you are going. I’m also downloading turn by turn directions to an Evernote offline note so I can read them if needed, and when all else fails, I have a big Italian Touring Club paper map of Tuscany.

    I do plan to get a SIM, primarily for emergencies if needed and so will look for a low cost version with pay as you go data. For the most part I’ll hope Wi-Fi in hotels will be sufficient.

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