Can you imagine we used to spend $600 for one month of cell service internationally? And we paid that every time we traveled for over a year. Yes, that’s a stupid amount of money and I know what you are thinking.
“SO, MIKE AND DONNA, why don’t you use WiFi since it’s absolutely free?” If I had a penny every time I was asked that question I wouldn’t have to worry about the $600.
The answer is simple. We want to use our phones when we want to use our phones. We don’t want to worry about when and where the next wifi connection is.
So if you’re like us and you want wifi in the UK without fretting over the cost, then read on! (Disclaimer: We travel to the UK frequently which is the focus of the post, but really this info is universal).
Our Old Travel Plan
We have Verizon Wireless for our regular USA cell service which has a “Travel Pass”. Once activated, you are charged $10/day per phone for unlimited text and data to 185+ countries. In theory, that sounds like a great deal, especially if you travel for short periods like most people.
But for us, as slow travelers that usually means 4-5 weeks. I hear your wheels spinning trying to do the math in your head. So 30-35 days, at $10/day x 2 people equal = TOO MUCH MONEY (that’s called easy math).
Alright, it’s $600-700 a month for two of us.
Not only is the cost a HUGE negative, so is the dreaded ‘throttle down’ (more on that later).
(screenshot via Verizon Wireless)
Mobile Hotspots are a Pain Too
We have also tried mobile hotspots but they were a huge pain. For one, you have to keep it turned on and on your person at all times. That’s just too much gear to carry around all day.
Second and even worse is again the ‘throttle down’ which usually happens by lunch for me. It stays like that until the next 24 hour period–so in the meantime you need to find wifi, which brings us back to square one. Basically, your hotspot is useless because it’s so slow.
The Dreaded Bandwith Throttling
So here’s the scoop with the dreaded ‘throttle down’. It is the intentional slowing of bandwidth speed by your internet service provider. I almost want to consider it false advertising because plans advertise “UNLIMITED DATA”, but if you read the fine print it will say something about a reduction in data which once it happens it renders your hotspot or travel pass useless because it is so slow.
For example, the Verizon Travel Pass says:
*High-speed data applies for the first 0.5 GB/day with 2G reduced speeds thereafter.
What that means is after 500MB of data (equivalent to viewing 20 Instagram photos) your bandwidth speed is lowered to 2G which is 100 times slower than your 4G. That is painfully slow and it stays like that until you start your next 24-hour travel period.
The SIM CARD and a Head Slap Moment
Yes, I realize this won’t be a revelation to many of you but it was like the seas parted for us. Obviously, we know what SIM cards are we just couldn’t find enough info to grasp the full concept.
So one day in Scotland we decided to take the leap and walked into the first store that sold SIM cards. Lucky for us it was a Vodafone store with a very nice and PATIENT salesperson. For £30 each we walked out with a ridiculous amount of data:
20GB for 30 days, 3,000 talk minutes and a huge amount of texts.
Did you know with iMessage, you are actually using data so it doesn’t count as texts? Don’t ask me to explain it, because I can’t.
SIM CARD PROS and CONS
- Let’s talk about the obvious PRO here– a $500 savings!
- I think you get better reception because it’s a local carrier. I am sure techies will argue with me about sharing cell phone towers, but whatever. I am talking real life here.
- I noticed no ‘throttle down’ at all
- You can pick a plan that suits your needs and budget.
- Adding more data to the plan is usually easy and can be done online or in-store
- It’s all around a better value for your money.
- There are SIM cards and stores everywhere.
- You will get a UK phone number. For many, it’s not a big deal, but for family across the pond, it could be confusing.
- There will be charges for texting and calling the US and vice versa (unless it’s an iPhone)
- You have to keep track of your US SIM card
- It’s not as convenient as texting your service provider to activate your Travel Pass
- When you run out of data, ‘topping up’ or adding data can be confusing
- You do lose your US phone number until you pop the card back in
SIM Card Tips
We recommend Vodafone and have used it throughout Scotland and Ireland. They have good service and good customer service in the store. Their phone customer service wouldn’t win any awards, but instore they have always been extremely helpful and they are everywhere.
SIM Card Slot
Who knew there was a slot on the side of our phones for the SIM cards. You need a paper clip to open it
20GB of Data was a bargain in my book. I am a heavy data user with Instagram, web, etc., and I never needed more data for an entire month.
Go Into a Store
Personally, I say get your SIM card in-store. Whether it is Carphone Warehouse,Vodafone, or whatever I think you get better service and better deals in-store. Figuring out a plan by phone, online, or chat is so much harder because of language barriers and impatience.
DON’T DO IT! For some reason, it blows through your data. I blew through 8GB in one day because I used my phone as a hotspot. It is a known problem with Vodafone at least, I’m not even sure why.
Find a Safe Spot For Your US Carrier SIM Card
Once you switch out SIM cards be sure to put your US SIM in a very safe spot. You will need to pop that sucker back in when you are on US soil.
There are benefits to using iPhones when traveling. As I mentioned before there are no text charges when you text iPhone to iPhone. What we do when we switch out our cards is text all our family from the UK number. We have them put our new UK phone number in their contacts and only use that number to text each other. *Remember your regular phone number is turned off.
Make Sure Your Phone is Unlocked
I think all phones are these days, but don’t quote me on that. I do know that all service providers, at least in the US are required to unlock your phone if you ask.
I sure wish we had all this info when we first started traveling we could have flown around the world with all the money saved. But you live and learn and like I say over and over…traveling is an education.
Happy Trails 👣,