Despite best efforts, best intentions and many miles of travel experience, I still get caught out from time to time with a mobile phone that just won’t connect overseas.
The fact is, when you’re travelling in a foreign country, it’s not always going to be plain sailing. None more so than the frustration of not being able to use your phone. Not only have our phones become indispensable – shapeshifting from Sherpa to encyclopedia to dating directory and mobile wallet – they’re also essential in granting female travellers safe passage in unknown lands.
Going off the grid is one thing, but when you rely on your mobile to get you places, lost connectivity is not only frustrating, it can be dangerous.
The scenarios are so relatable, and apart from the soul-crushing devastation of not being able to check your insta feed, no-connection plays out in more serious ways when you’re off home turf.
From not being able conjure an Uber to ferry you out of a tricky situation, or being denied access to Trip Advisor reviews to double check a dodgy location, to being stuck on a lonely platform, with no clue as to which train goes where, or, worst case, desperately needing to call for help in an emergency.
If there’s one thing you need to sort before you embark on your solo trip, it’s your phone. Make sure your phone works. Not only for internet, but for calls and texts too.
So here’s some of the things I’ve learnt, in no particular order, because the bottom line is, the best way to stay connected overseas is to have plans that span the alphabet.
Plan A: Local Sim
It goes without saying that public Wi-Fi is a traveller’s best friend, but there are two reasons why it shouldn’t be your only option. First up, public wifi is public, meaning the networks are open and vulnerable to cyber crims. Secondly, public Wi-Fi doesn’t follow the road less travelled. Hell, it hardly makes it past the airport arrivals hall.
The best thing you can do, thus, is to grab yourself a local sim the minute you touch down.
Remember, your phone needs to be unlocked from your Australian provider in order to use another sim – check this. And you’re going to need to download local internet settings and mess around a bit with top up codes and whatnot, so do the admin in the phone shop or airport, while you have access to Wi-Fi.
Plan B: Get local before you go
Pro travellers to the USA might know that AT&T sims are available to buy – and hook up – at Melbourne and Sydney international departure gates. Another tip is to ask a friend from your future-destination to buy and bring or send you a local sim.
Plan C: Dual Sim Phone
This is a pro-tip, but if it’s back up you need, a dual sim phone is what you want. One slot for your Aussie sim, the second slot for your local sim.
When you’re travelling, you’re going to want your Aussie sim activated for roaming with your network provider, but, with roaming switched off at phone settings. Sim slot 2 is for your local phone number. If, or when, your local number doesn’t work – maybe you’re struggling to top it up – your Aussie faithful is there for you at the flick of a switch. Obviously roaming is expensive – but I can’t count the number of times I needed to quickly activate my home Sim to receive an important message, like a banking security code, or make an urgent call.
Plan D: Bring your bank with you
Back to the security code point, a major frustration when overseas is that your credit cards and internet banking don’t always work like they should.
A big part of this is that credit card transaction and internet banking security is often tied to your mobile phone number, with clearance codes and security measures pinging off via text message or to your mobile banking app.
When your bank can’t reach you on your Aussie number, say bye bye to the funds and functions you take for granted back home. The solution? A two-pronged approach.
One, get thyself a dual phone and stay connected on the text lines as if you were home. Number two, if your bank is hardcore about security, check in with them about registering your device, rather than your phone number, as their point of contact. That means your bank will recognise your phone, no matter which exotic digits you’re rocking – and grant you access to internet shopping security codes, balance checks, fund transfers and the like.
Plan E: Top up like a boss
First, try your best to ‘know’ the pre-paid plan you’re on. They can be tricky beasts, with tons of conditions and caps, so aim for a plan that doesn’t require a calendar and a stopwatch to operate.
Next, top up big – but not too big. You’re going to want to be covered, and when it comes to safety I personally put no price on connectivity. But I’ve also been burnt by top-ups that mysteriously empty out, so while I aim for a decent top-up amount, especially when top-up opportunities are far and few between, I never put in more than say $50 at a time.
Another thing, work out all the top up routes – save the free number used to top up, create a profile with a pin or password for hopefully easier top-ups, download the app if available, etc. A genius level move is to buy a top-up voucher – but not apply it – as a back up to credit when all else fails.
Plan F: Skype credit
In times where you don’t have local sim reception or credit, but where you do have access to public wifi, dust off your Skype app and make that call. Skype credit has on many occasions been a total lifesaver.
It enables you to call landlines and mobiles, and the charges are not too hefty. I keep about $10 in Skype credit, and on most trips, use it.
Plan G: Go offline
Here’s a fun game! Before you embark on your brilliant adventure, switch your phone to airplane mode for a day and see how you go! Your only tools are free wifi, and the clues and offline-apps you’ve pre-loaded onto your mobile. And go!
What you’ll quickly come to know, deep within your soul, is that we rely too heavily on connectivity. So it’s a damn good idea to prepare your phone for times when the juice ain’t flowing. Arm yourself with offline map apps like Maps.me or Google Maps offline downloads.
Save pictures of your vital stats, your flights, bookings, important numbers and hotel locations to your photo album (all hail the screenshot!) There are so many ways you can prep your phone for downtime, and it really does pay to do the work. Because at some point, somewhere, despite all your best efforts, your phone is not going to play ball. And that’s life. So make a plan.
This article was written by Michelle Legge, community manager at Travel with Jane