I’d never been that person who has to perpetually be connected to the internet at all costs. When I go on holiday, I want to switch off and be disconnected from the world for a while. There’s so much crap going on out there, that I don’t want to think about it for a few days and just enjoy myself living in the moment. Not one to keep posting on my social media either about my being on holiday, if you’ve known me long enough – I want to enjoy my holiday, not SHOW people I’m enjoying my holiday LOL!
On my most recent trip however, I broke with tradition. For this trip, because I was travelling alone for an extended period (I’m a bit kiasi), and for work, I wanted to stay connected online for a few reasons:-
- Safety – I was on my own, and I wanted to be sure my family could contact me, or I them
- Communication – I was going shopping, and it was useful to contact friends and family to ask if they wanted an item I thought they might like. Also, I had to communicate and contact my Airbnb host so I wanted to be sure I was able to, or be sleeping on the streets.
- Getting around – I used Google Maps a lot to get around, and it was so helpful! I could figure out the best way to walk to where I wanted to go, to find a specific store or street, and to negotiate public transportation. Also, it allowed me to hail Uber for the first time!
Before I left, I did some research on the best ways to stay connected when you travel abroad on holiday, and I eventually settled on a travel wifi router. I reached out to the lovely people at Travel Recommends, who kindly sponsored my use of their portable pocket wifi router for my week away in Paris recently, and you know what? I’m SOLD on the idea! I know many of you love travelling as much as I do, so let me share with you my experience, and offer some other alternatives for staying connected while out of the country 🙂
Rent a portable pocket wifi router – I used Travel Recommends
This was my first time using a travel pocket wifi router and you know, I don’t know why I didn’t before! The company I used was Travel Recommends (www.travelrecommends.com) and they offer services for travel almost everywhere in the world from Malaysia. I informed them I was headed to Europe, which is what you can do online. All reservations are done online and you can opt to have it delivered to you by courier, or to collect it from the airport (KLIA – Departures Level 5).
Do note that at KLIA they are housed in a kiosk that offers bag wrapping services (took me a while to find it although directions were given). An email with full instructions will be sent to you once your reservation is confirmed and payment made. You then bring your reservation number to the kiosk, and they’ll give you a bright blue pouch with everything in it. I unfortunately returned everything before I took a picture of its contents. Sigh… But I think it’ll change from time to time.
But what you get is a portable travel wifi router as you see in the picture above. The one I got was rather large so it doesn’t fit in my pocket, and I kept it in my bag. I’ve seen some pictures that show a smaller unit, so I think it depends on your luck? Or perhaps it depends on the stock of routers they have.
For Europe, I received the travel wifi router with its charging cable and a powerbank with a cable, and helpfully, a travel adapter! All items were fully charged, and the person at the counter ran me through it so I knew how it could be used. Like a typical router, you will connect your phone or device’s wifi network connection to the network, and key in the password shown on the back of the router. Simple. I appreciated how I was warned to reset the router each day, to ensure seamless coverage so I did, and had no problems at all, after the initial slow connection.
This is how I was able to post to Instagram and Snapchat (both at parisbmws) while out and about, on the fly. Otherwise I’d have to wait till I got back to the hotel
You can connect up to 10 devices each time, so this is useful for those travelling in a group or families travelling together, where the pocket wifi router acts like a hotspot. When I arrived in Paris, it took quite a while for it to connect to the local network, and depending on where you are, it will show 4G or 3G coverage. I found that indoors e.g. a department store or within a building in the city, or underground in the Metro, the coverage was rather weak and it often went offline. When I was travelling out of the city, it was fine. But outdoors, where I used it most, for Google Maps, it was very strong and fast.
What’s great about it, is that the data coverage is unlimited. No fears about running out of credit or out of prepaid data. You can share the connection with a few people, and the battery life was commendable. I charged it up every night, and it would last me all day from early morning to late at night, without my having to connect it to the powerbank at all!
When I got back to Malaysia, I just went back to the same kiosk, dropped off the package and that was it! I later received an email notifying me they had received the item. Seriously, I’m wondering what took me this long to find out how practical a choice this was 🙂
Naturally, there are other companies out there who rent pocket wifi routers, so do your homework. I liked how Travel Recommends offered unlimited data. Some others I came across had a cap on data and with the attendant costs, it would have been easier to just use my roaming charges!
My use of the router was sponsored for a week but I receive no other compensation. This is my personal experience of using the service
Get it from: Travel Recommends (Website here). Delivery by courier service or self-collect and drop off at KLIA Level 5 Departure Hall
Cost: Europe was RM26/day and it is as low as RM9/day for Singapore or RM13/day for Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. If you’re going on an extended holiday, the costs can add up but the unlimited data does make up for it somewhat, since you already know your ultimate cost.
Pros: Good data and wifi coverage, Unlimited data, Easy to operate, Stays connected to my phone without the signal dropping, Good battery life, Can be shared with up to 10 devices, Can be easily picked up at the airport or have it delivered, Good for short trips
Cons: Router was a little bulky and it involves carrying an extra gadget, Took a while to connect after switching on for the first time but was ok thereafter, Indoor network coverage was patchy, Can work out to be a little pricey for extended periods or if you lose the router, Limited number of countries covered
Buy a local prepaid SIM card
Most countries will allow you to purchase a prepaid SIM card with some data coverage and phone calls. I’ve done this in a few places and depending on the package or card you choose, it can work out to be fairly inexpensive, or a little expensive depending on exchange rates and the package picked.
If you are a heavy data user, using Instagram or Snapchat a lot, be warned you will run through your data like water. Some countries offer a tourist SIM card. It will mean however, that you will have to switch out the SIM card for your home number, and that can sometimes pose problems. I received a call from my bank for verification when charging an item to my credit card, and if you switch out your SIM card, I’m not sure if the transaction would go through. You could of course carry 2 phones as some people do. I however, am not so kiasu 😛
I’ve used this method before and it used to be the only way I’d stay connected. It can work out to be cheap or costly, depending on your package and usage, so juggle accordingly. I would opt for this option if I travel to a country that isn’t covered by Travel Recommends e.g. Thailand. You can even purchase the prepaid SIM card from them – which I plan to for an upcoming trip! Saves me the crush at the airport – the lines can be incredibly long at the airport telco counters! I’d pick using a local prepaid SIM card if I was travelling for more than a week because then it makes economic sense. (Thanks for the reminder, Mei Ping!)
Get it from: The local telcos of each country. Find out the info and packages before you go. Usually you can find a telco kiosk at the airports when you arrive
Cost: Varies depending on country and telco provider and package
Pros: Gives you a local number to make and receive phone calls, Could be cost effective depending on the telco package and length of travel period, No additional gadget to carry
Cons: Can work out costly if you use a lot of data, You lose the use of your regular phone number
Telco Overseas Roaming Service
I’ve seen some local telcos offer attractive daily roaming rates (which, in most cases, are still more expensive than using the Travel Recommends travel wifi router service) which can be useful in an emergency. They do however cost quite a bit, and there is a cap of about 500MB a day of data use if I’m not mistaken. I’m not sure how much that is, but if you’re a heavy data user, I doubt it’s sufficient. I haven’t tried it myself, as I’ve always been fearful of high roaming charges so I always deactivate my roaming data option on my phone. But it’s an option, if in an emergency.
Get it from: Your telco service – be sure to activate roaming services
Cost: Varies depending on whether your telco offers the flat one day rate or any other data roaming options
Pros: You can keep your number, Convenient, No need to carry an additional gadget
Cons: Expensive, Data allocated may be insufficient
This is how I usually stay connected a lot of the time – free wifi in hotels or restaurants 😀 These days, most hotels or apartments will offer free wifi connectivity, so I usually pick one that does. The connection to the room maybe patchy depending on their quality, or sometimes, it just doesn’t work.
Many cafes and restaurants now offer free wifi too. In Paris, I was surprised that the Longchamp boutique at Champs Elysee, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette all offer free wifi. Just connect, and you’re done. Most international airports offer free wifi services as well.
So really, there’s no real need to actually pay to stay connected, but I cannot deny that there are benefits, especially if you use phone apps a lot. For me, Google Maps has become quite an essential tool when I travel, and it’s so practical to be able to look up a nearby restaurant or cafe or whether there’s a store you want nearby, or where to get something, right there on your phone, with data connectivity on the go, rather than having to buy a coffee just to leech of the free wifi 🙂 I also got a little lost occasionally, and Google Maps helped me stay on track. So, I’m now starting to get a little dependant on that app. It saves a lot of stress arguing with fellow travellers which way you should go 😛
Get it from: Anywhere that offers free wifi – airports, hotel, apartment, restaurants, cafes
Cost: Usually free with a meal, drink or stay
Pros: It’s free
Cons: Your connectivity is tied to the place you’re getting wifi from, Connectivity maybe poor, You maybe required to provide your phone number or email address or personal details
The thing is, you don’t have to even be connected if you don’t want to be. It’s nice to just steal away from the real world for a few days, and not be bugged by what’s happening out there. Yet, I will have to say that with the world being a little less safe than it used to be, being able to stay in contact with family and loved ones or even just to stay in contact with friends as you’re out and about, at a low cost, can be very useful.
Do you like to stay connected when you’re on holiday or travelling? Which service do you usually use?
I stay connected primarily to use WhatApp, Google Maps and the internet search function. I’m not fussed about posting to or reading social media when I’m on vacation and in fact, unless absolutely necessary, I would rather no one knows where I am at any point in time 😀 Now, what do you usually use if you’re staying connected?