Firstly, 2013 was not that long ago; a mere 6 years and yet when referencing travelling internationally and how much data and mobile usage have changed in that time, it might as well be a lifetime!
My first major experience of travelling internationally was in 2010 and we used hostel computers to send emails back home. The idea of mobile data was still a foreign concept to me, as I still had a basic flip phone and therefore, not having data access was not at all out of the ordinary for me. Flash forward to 2013 and my first iPhone (yes, I waited until the 5 to get onboard from my Blackberry) was practically glued to me at all times. The novelty of a smartphone had just been experienced and I was hooked. This new found freedom to Google wherever and whenever and download app after app to play addictive games to waste hours upon hours was such a new experience for me. Which is what made my 2013 trip that much more difficult to get through without the easy access I was now accustomed to. At the time, Rogers who is my service provider, had 3 package options while travelling. I can’t remember the specifics but each one came with talk and text plans but no data whatsoever. I easily blew through my plans each month I was away (4 in total) and would have to get another and sometimes another still. If you used one plan up, you had to wait until your next billing cycle to get that same plan again, which meant I’d have to get the increasingly less talk and text plans as the month went on. Calling cards worked too but they can be a hassle to purchase and dial in a rush, so out of convenience I’d use my cell phone. My biggest reasons for using the talk and text up was of course due to travelling alone, I’d call my mother or a friend to chat or tell them about some amazing thing I saw that day. But often, I’d also use up my plans to call my mother for help finding a place or a phone number I needed if lost. I had written out loads of directions to my hostels, etc. before leaving and yet, inevitably, I’d end up lost or confused and need help. Asking strangers for directions in a place you can’t speak the language, sometimes very early in the morning or late in the night, is not the best of ideas as a female travelling alone. About halfway through my trip I was introduced to City Maps which is an offline GPS mapping app that allows you to search for addresses or places, gives directions and shows you which direction you are walking. The issue was you had to download the maps while using Wifi so if you forgot (like I did in Bilbao at 11pm) then you were screwed and would have to use your data to download or find a traditional map. I had used maps prior to learning about the app but sometimes the map wouldn’t show enough of the city and would be essentially useless for me to find my hostel. Also, nothing screams #tourist more than a giant map. That evening in Bilbao nothing was even open to find a map, so I opted to download the map and was hit with a $65 charge at home for the 2 mins it took to download. It’s also worrisome until you get your updated usage to know if you’ve properly turned off all the data roaming and mobile data so you would not be accidentally charged. The whole experience was a dance of plans and phone calls and map downloading and timing it all as best as I could and there was much room for error. In total, I spent upwards of $1500 in extra charges and plan fees during that trip and remember I had no data usage except that one charge either.
A while ago Rogers announced a “roam like home” feature which essentially allows you to use your current plan to travel to the US and Europe for an additional charge per day. For the US it is $7 /day and to Europe, it is $12/ day up to a maximum charge of 15 days per billing cycle. After 15 days, you do not pay more and keep using your current plan as normal! That means in comparison my trip to Europe now would result in a bill of only $720 with data usage for 4 months. I only just got to use this new option as I hadn’t been away in some time and so I was a bit nervous and apprehensive that I’d somehow come home to a crazy bill again. I read and re-read the description and small print to verify I didn’t have to turn off anything while travelling or that I’d have a hidden limit. I still nervously checked my account during the first 24 hours for any extra charges but I was completely safe and was able to search, Google, use my phones GPS, hire Lyft rides and call my mom all for a fraction of the price it was in 2013. My mind was blown!
Now, if you do not have a large data or talk plan then you still might need calling cards, maps and Wifi or if you are travelling somewhere not covered by this feature. I also cannot comment on other service providers and their travel options but I was pleasantly surprised by Rogers on this one. I only wish this was around in 2013! #rogersroamlikehome
This blog was not written to promote Rogers as a service provider, as I’m sure other companies offer similar travel options (or they should), but only to acknowledge how technology has changed in the last decade in one particular way (as it’s changed in many other ways too).
I hope this post helps you in your travels and if you don’t have data options, then I highly recommend City Maps to easily get around and not stand out like an obvious tourist.
Of course, if you are like me and take a hundred photos a day, you still might stand out! #sorrynotsorry
Comment below if you’ve had similar experiences or any tips you have for getting around in other countries, I’d love to hear about it!