Plan on taking a trip to another country? Don’t feel like fighting with international roaming fees while being able to navigate, translate and keep in touch with your loved ones?
Stick around – I have some advice for you.
My girlfriend and I just got home from a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands – beautiful country with no shortage of sights to see, beer to drink and waffles to gorge on. Neither of us wanted to deal with the burden of an outrageous cellular bill at the end of the trip so we had to get creative.
Firstly, you have to enumerate what challenges you may encounter while abroad if you have no cellular data:
- Where will you stay?
- How will you get there?
- How will you get to the places you wish to visit?
- Do you know the native language? Do the people of that place speak yours?
- How will you reach out to loved ones?
I’m going to go through a few of these and offer solutions to each dilemma.
WHERE WILL YOU STAY?
Before ever leaving home, you need to plan which hotel or AirBnB you wish to stay at. If you have some sights or activities in mind that you wish to do, find a spot closest to the middle or very close to all the places that you wish to visit, depending on how urban or rural it is.
If you have a Google account, “Google My Maps” is a handy tool for visualizing this.
You can triangulate your stops and scroll into the middle to find hotels in the desired area within your price range.
Figure out the distance from your hotel to your destinations beforehand to get perspective on how long it would take to walk, Uber, train, or bike to the places you wish to visit.
Make certain that your hotel offers free WiFi! This is very important. Consider this free WiFi your “diving board” for the rest of your trip.
HOW WILL YOU GET THERE?
Are you flying in? Driving? Traveling by train? This may be easier for you than what we bumped into.
We flew into Brussels and decided not to rent a car, as we are quite unfamiliar with traffic laws in Belgium (or Europe in general). We decided to take a taxi to our hotel, but there are always cheaper alternatives to get you where you need to be.
When departing from your airport or station, you can use the WiFi offered there to get an Uber (iPhone / Android) or Lyft (iPhone / Android) to get you where you need to be. Taxis can be just as good, but the rates tend to be slightly higher.
HOW WILL YOU GET AROUND?
And I don’t mean that in the Tinder way. How will you reach the places you wish to visit?
If the places you want to go are close enough to your hotel, as it was for us, consider walking if the area is safe.
Google Maps (iPhone / Android) offers the ability to download a map of the area you are in and use it offline, but this only applies to driving maps. Not walking or biking. Bummer, right?
Maps.me (iPhone / Android) is a great alternative to Google Maps’ offline feature. It includes the ability to have walking maps offline and is quite reliable.
Simply install the app (while on WiFi of course), launch the app and it will start prompting you as to whether or not you want to download offline maps for that region. Yes please!
DO YOU KNOW THE NATIVE LANGUAGE?
My girlfriend and I are unwashed heathens that only speak English. Luckily for us, the Dutch are taught English in school as a secondary language and they typically speak it very well.
The story could be very different for you if you are going to a place that does not speak your native tongue as a primary or secondary language.
Reading signs, understanding television and listening to radio announcements became much easier for us when we employed the use of Google Translate (iPhone / Android).
Download languages to be available offline:
After doing so, you can now listen to speech in real-time and translate it, or even cooler, use the camera function and translate on the fly! This was an invaluable tool for us.
HOW WILL YOU REACH OUT?
Calling overseas is very expensive. If you are an iPhone user and the person you wish to communicate with is as well, you could easily use iMessage features to communicate over WiFi.
Android users don’t have a common internet messaging feature built-in with the OS, but you can arrange for loved ones to install Google Duo (iPhone / Android) or Google Allo (iPhone / Android) before you leave.
Even easier, Facebook Messenger (iPhone / Android) allows you to communicate over WiFi via text, video or voice. Everyone has Facebook, right?
An alternative that I found very useful for calling hotels to confirm bookings as well as calling family members with dumb phones (yup, people still have them!) is WePhone (iPhone / Android).
Simply purchase credits inside of the app itself and you’re ready to make calls over WiFi to anywhere in the world!
- Keep an eye out for open WiFi networks at Cafes, hotels, tearooms and major stores. You can typically find an open network quickly in larger cities.
- Some open networks may require you to sign in – always try the obvious first. I authenticated to a captive portal by just putting in the name of the restaurant!
- Reserve power-bricks for charging on the go can be a must for those who will be heavily using a GPS-based app such as Maps.Me – keep one handy!
- Make sure you have a power outlet adapter for the country you are going to. You’ll regret it if not.
So that concludes this brief guide to survival without cellular. Hope it comes in handy for you on your next holiday. Cheers and good luck!