5 Ways to Keep Your Internet While Abroad

by Sarah Brooks

It’s that time of year again when many of us are planning our vacations. And although a few travelers may be dreaming of getting “away from the things of man” (as Meg Ryan’s character Patricia Graynamore spoke longingly of in the 1990 movie, “Joe Versus the Volcano”), others want to stay as connected to the Internet as possible, while on holiday. 

That’s understandable; having easy Internet access allows you to keep in touch with family and friends, get work done (yes, even on vacation you sometimes can’t avoid it), and make any necessary hotel, car rental, and last-minute flight reservations, not to mention sharing your experience on social media. You can also plan sightseeing tours and day trips. The availability and quality of Internet service vary greatly from place to place. If reliable Internet service is crucial to you, do your research ahead of time in order to make things as pain-free as possible. This is particularly important if you need to work on your trip. Some extra planning may be necessary to ensure that your itinerary includes connectivity. Here are five ways to keep connected while you’re globetrotting.

1. Use Your Smartphone (but Be Smart About It)

The $$$ Problem. Although most cell service providers have generous or even unlimited data plans for your smart phone, but they generally only apply in your home country. Once you start traveling abroad, things change, and all that data usually comes at a premium. Currently many companies charge as much as $20.00 per MB of data and considering that many folks routinely use several GB of data per month, it is easy to see why this isn’t feasible for the average person. The good news is that there are ways to maintain Internet access everywhere, without being restricted to WiFi zones. The $$$ Solution. You can rent a smartphone to be used in the country where you’re traveling. This can still get pretty costly, but cheaper than your local rates. Another good option is renting or purchasing a SIM card. You can temporarily replace the SIM card in your current phone with the rented one, but you may have to have it unlocked. 

An alternative is to use the replacement SIM in an older smartphone that you don’t regularly use anymore. It can be your “travel phone.” Another option: purchase a cheap phone with an Internet browser. Even though your Internet access will be limited to your phone, it’s much better than no access at all. You might also be able to arrange a fixed data plan with your carrier just for traveling, but keep in mind that overages can be costly. Check with your carrier to see which options are available and which will work best for you.

2. Purchase a Mobile Broadband Access Plan

Many countries now offer prepaid mobile Internet plans that require neither a permanent address nor a contract. The plan typically includes a USB modem. This is not a viable choice everywhere but it might work for you, particularly if you will be spending your time in an urban area with an adequate number of signal towers. Be sure you let the service provider know exactly where you will be traveling so you can verify coverage.

3. Explore Your Options on Planes, Boats, and Trains

It’s getting easier to stay connected while you’re on the move from place to place, but there are still a few bumps in the road (or in the air). The rules and regulations regarding use of mobile devices on aircraft are constantly shifting, with polices differing by country and even by airline. But many airlines, as well as cruise ship and passenger train lines, offer WiFi. On cruise ships, however, the costs may be prohibitive. Always check ahead to see what is available. There may come a point where you just need to disconnect for a while and enjoy the ride. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You can catch up on your Internet activities later.

4. Internet Cafes To the Rescue

No, that’s not a throwback to the 1990s; these are still a viable option. Even in our super-connected world, not all countries have widespread free WiFi access. In some places it can be very difficult to find WiFi in public places. At an Internet cafe you can pay an hourly fee to use one of their computers, and some offer wireless access if you want to use your laptop or other device.

5. Find a Good Hotel or Hostel with Internet

Hotels or hostels that offer good Internet service can be a saving grace. When traveling abroad, check each hotel’s web site or call to find out what their connectivity options are. If you’re traveling with a laptop, ask questions about their wireless router. If they only have one, ask if you can get a room as close as possible to the router so your receive the optimal signal. Many hotels and hostels also maintain public computers or business centers, which serve travelers aptly.

It’s important to keep up with technology, as new devices and apps are continually being introduced to make connectivity easier. There will be factors beyond your control, like local laws and regulations limiting access to the Web (think China and Egypt). They may put a little kink in your plans, but a little research and prep work can keep you connected just about anywhere on Earth.