Wondering how you’re going to keep in contact while travelling internationally? This simple, 10-step action plan will show you the best way of using Australian mobile phones overseas, as well as how to best use your iPad or other tablet or laptop cheaply and safely on the road.
Keep in mind, it can be very costly, both financially and in terms of personal data security, if you’re not fully aware of the choices you’re making.
- Step 1: What devices do you want (or need) to take?
- Step 2: Use your existing SIM card or a travel SIM?
- Step 3: Switch on global roaming, or
- Step 4: Purchase a travel SIM card
- Step 5: Use Wifi overseas or tether your devices
- Step 6: Protecting your devices
- Step 7: Protecting your personal information
- Step 8: How much storage will you need?
- Step 9: Have a data back-up plan
- Step 10: Charging your devices
- Useful Links
Step 1: What devices do you want (or need) to take?
Think carefully about what devices you want or need to travel with – mobile phone, laptop or tablet?
Mobile phone (cell phone in North America)
Most people will take their mobile phone when travelling. With this in your pocket, you’ve got access to a GPS, camera, portable bank, music player, local maps, internet access and pretty much everything most travellers will need in a single device that’s light and easy to carry.
Laptop or tablet?
Do you really need to take your laptop? Given the added expense, space and weight, and just plain extra thinking and planning involved, is it worth it? If you don’t need it for work, can you use your mobile, tablet or netbook instead?
TIP: Texting can be a good way to communicate in countries where you don’t speak the language fluently. For example, if you’re communicating with an AirB&B host by text, you can use Google Translate to decipher their answers. It avoids a lot of the hassles of voice calls.
Step 2: Will you use your existing SIM card or a travel SIM?
The difference here is between cost and convenience.
Using your existing home SIM
This is more convenient because you don’t have the hassle of changing SIM cards, using a new number or adding your contacts. The downside is that it can be expensive (find out why in Step 3).
If you choose to use your existing SIM card, you’ll need to switch on global roaming with your telecommunications provider. See Step 3.
Using a travel SIM
These are usually cheaper. The downside is that you will have to use a new phone number and information like contacts stored on your home SIM will not be accessible.
If you choose to purchase a travel SIM, see Step 4.
Step 3: Switch on global roaming
This can usually be done online by going to your telecommunications service provider’s website.
Once you’re on the website log in to your account page. Look for the section or link to global roaming (or international roaming, or similar) settings.
Depending on your provider or phone plan, global roaming might be switched on already.
If you can’t find these settings online, contact your service provider by phone or in store.
Global data plans
Most Australian service providers offer global data plans for travellers. These come with a cap on roaming costs.
Typically, activating this type of plan is as simple as visiting your provider’s website and selecting the plan you want.
Cost is based on the number of days you’ll be away and what countries you’ll be visiting, based on a zone system. Be sure to check the zone for each country you’ll be visiting.
IMPORTANT: People often get into trouble because they don’t understand how global roaming works and how expensive it can be. Check the cost of roaming on your particular phone plan before you leave. This information should be listed when you switch on the service via the website.
Step 4: Purchase a travel SIM card
Travel SIM cards, also known as pre-paid SIM cards, are used while travelling instead of your existing mobile phone SIM card. They are a cheap and easy way to use your phone while you’re away.
A travel SIM card can be brought before you leave or overseas.
Option 1: Buy a travel SIM before you leave
There are many brands and places you can buy a travel SIM in Australia. You’ll find a list of providers here: Travel SIM providers in Australia.
Option 2: Buy a travel SIM overseas
In most countries, you’ll find local pre-paid SIM cards available all over – just take a look in the nearest convenience store, for example.
Some countries make it a little more difficult to purchase one than others. They may require your passport details and a local address, but the savings are worth it.
TIP: Naturally, a travel SIM will enable you to make calls. But it’s the data allowance that comes with it that is most important. It’s data that gives you access to your suite of apps on your phone. You can also use your data allowance to make calls using VOIP (Voice Over IP) with apps such as Skype and WhatsApp.
Is your phone locked or unlocked?
Using a travel SIM depends on if you’ve got a locked or unlocked mobile phone. See the explanation marked Important below, if you’re unsure.
If your phone is unlocked, no worries. You can use a travel SIM card anywhere in the world and take advantage of cheaper calling and data rates. Though it will come with a new phone number.
Like any pre-paid SIM card service, you’ll need to choose how much you initially load onto the SIM and top it up when it runs low.
Multinational data SIM cards
You can also buy pre-paid travel SIM cards that you can use in most countries of the world. MORE?
IMPORTANT: There is a difference between a locked and unlocked phone when it comes to using a different SIM. This is not to be confused with how you gain access to the phone via the keypad. An unlocked phone is typically one that you’ve paid full-price for and allows you to use any SIM card you choose. A locked phone is one that can only use the network you are contracted to. This might be the case if you purchased the phone as part of a 12 or 24-month service package.
To check if your phone is locked or unlocked, either check with your service provider, or do a search on the subject using your favourite search engine.
If you’d like to unlock your phone, first ask your carrier if they will do it. If not, there are third-party unlocking services that can do this. Again, your search engine should help you find one.
Step 5: Will you use Wifi overseas or tether your devices from your SIM?
While travelling your have a few options for accessing data to use on your devices. You can use free or paid Wifi services or tether your devices from your SIM card.
Free or paid Wifi services
The good thing about using Wifi is that, in most countries, it’s freely available in many places, from airports to hotels, cafes and bars, and many more places besides.
The downside of free Wifi is that it might not be as secure as paid Wifi services, such as you find in some hotels, for example, or tethering your devices from your personal SIM or travel SIM.
Tethering devices from your SIM
This enables one device to use the data allowance of another, say your laptop or tablet accessing data from your mobile phone. It’s also known as a personal hotspot, and you use it in much the same way that you would connect to Wifi, but only you, or people you allow, can access it through a unique password.
Most smartphones have an option to switch on your personal hotspot in the settings menu. Then you simply select the hotspot device from the available Wifi options list on the device you want to use. For example, the word ‘iPhone’ will appear in the Wifi list on your laptop and you simply need to enter the personal password you chose on your phone.
Step 6: Protecting your phone, tablet and laptop while travelling
All of the same precautions you take looking after your devices at home apply when you’re travelling, though they might need a little boosting depending on where and when you’re travelling.
- Protect your devices with some sort of case or protective covering. Think about some form of waterproof protection if it’s likely you’ll be on or near water, or in a very wet or humid environment.
- Keep them away from direct sunlight and never leave them sitting in a hot, parked car.
- Ensure the security features on your devices, such as automatic locking, PIN or fingerprint access and lost/stolen tracking, are activated.
- Keep them out of the public eye.
Step 7: Protecting your personal information
As well as the loss of your expensive devices and your irreplaceable photos, having your identity stolen and your accounts hacked can be another worry, especially with an unlocked, unsecured device.
But there are some precautions you can take to protect your data and avoid common security mistakes.
- Avoid public computers, if you can. The problem is that you don’t know what’s been installed on them or if security updates have been performed.
If you have no other choice but to use a public computer:
- Use the browser’s incognito or private browsing mode to avoid your details being saved;
- Don’t do anything involving money;
- If possible, use two-factor authentication for any online services you do access;
- If you need to print something from your own device, copy the file onto a USB stick and use that rather than logging onto email on a shared computer;
- You can also copy software you’re likely to use onto a USB stick, and use that rather than a potentially dodgy version on the computer;
- Log out of everything you use;
- Reboot the computer when you’re finished.
Be careful with public WiFi. While most people won’t have a problem, the nature of wireless networks means that information can be accessed by anyone with the right tools – password protected or not. That means that any data you haven’t protected can be at risk. But there are some extra precautions you can take to prevent this:
- Use Virtual Private Network (VPN) software. This enables you to connect to a server somewhere else in the world and encrypts the information that passes between you and it. There are many good free and paid options available.
- Protect your web browsing. If you can’t use a VPN, try to use secure sites, those with an address that begins with https rather than http. A padlock icon should appear next to the address in the address bar indicating that the data you send and receive from that site is encrypted.
- Use a mobile network rather than Wifi. If you’re doing something sensitive use a mobile (or cellular) network on your phone, if you can. They are tougher to intercept than Wifi networks.
Step 8: Consider how much device storage you’ll need
Photos and videos can be particularly storage hungry.
How many shots or videos will you take?
It’s worth taking a few test shots before you leave. Check how much storage space they consume and then plan accordingly. Consider how many shots/videos you are likely to take, then double or triple it to be sure.
Will they be stored on the device, uploaded to the cloud or saved on a separate storage device, such as an external hard drive?
If you’re travelling to a remote place or a less developed country, finding additional storage options, such as external hard drives, or finding a decent WiFi connection or mobile signal for uploading your shots, can be difficult. There’s nothing worse than being caught short and missing that perfect shot in a place you might never visit again. Plan ahead.
Both Apple and Android devices enable you to plug in an external SD card reader, so you can transfer your photos and videos to your phone or tablet for storage.
TIP: Make sure you pack the necessary cables to connect your phone, camera or tablet to your computer to upload your shots. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget these things.
Step 9: Have a data back up plan
There would be nothing worse than losing all of those irreplaceable travel photos or details of contacts you’ve made during your travels. But devices do break and get stolen and memory cards corrupted. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan for backing up your data.
There are many different approaches depending on where you’re travelling, the gear you have and what you need to back up. Plan an approach before you leave and stick to it.
- When travelling, copy new files to a different device as soon as possible. Don’t just rely on keeping them on one device;
- Upload them to somewhere online as soon as possible after that. Free options such as iCloud, Dropbox and Google Plus are fine for a limited number of photos.
Travelling with a laptop
- Purchase a portable hard drive before you leave or on the road;
- Each night, copy the day’s photos from your camera or smartphone onto your laptop;
- Then backup your files to the portable hard drive. This way, even if you delete shots from your phone or camera SD card, you’ll still have a copy of them.
- To be completely safe, you also need an online backup. If your storage needs go beyond the free cloud storage options mentioned above, these and plenty of other provides have good paid options to cover your needs.
Not travelling with a laptop
- Copy your photos from your camera to smartphone or tablet. This is a little more complex, and beyond the scope of this article. A little research on your favourite search engine should help.
- Back up your photos to a different device. The easiest option is to buy a wireless hard drive. These create their own wireless hotspot, then you use the included app to copy files over.
- Back up your shots online. This can be done easily by enabling iCloud on Apple devices or using the Camera Upload feature in Dropbox for both Android and Apple users.
Step 10: Keeping your devices charged while travelling
If you charge your device using the standard AC adapter in the wall, the first thing to check is does your destination use the same type of plug and voltage?
If yes, you should be fine. Just double-check the voltage requirements — usually written in tiny letters somewhere on the charger to make sure.
If no, you can buy a travel plug adapter that covers your destination, then you can simply plug your charger and any other electronics into it.
Keeping your devices charged while travelling can be a constant battle. Here some tips to help:
- If your device has a user-replaceable battery, keep a fully-charged spare (or spares) at the ready
- Another option is an external power pack
- To save energy, ditch unneeded apps, reduce the brightness of your screen, turn off Bluetooth when not in use and put the phone in flight mode whenever you’re on a plane or at night