Dear Fathom: I'm traveling abroad next month and want to stay connected. But I'm afraid that if I go with my carrier's international plan, I'll go way over my data limit and get insane overcharges. Is there a better way to get WiFi on the road?
There has been some buzz on the topic in the office this week. A good friend, fresh from a trip around the French countryside, raved about Travel WiFi, a portable hotspot you can rent and use all over the country (you play a flat fee per day, plus shipping). Even if you're not traveling to France, there are plenty of options. Here's a breakdown of how to stay plugged in:
Travel Scenario: You want to keep in touch with friends.
There are great messaging apps out there that work internationally (Viber, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Line, WeChat), but without access to WiFi, you're still stuck. For €10, ChatSim is a SIM card that allows you unlimited messaging for a year using any messaging app around the world.
If messaging isn't enough, OneSimCard gives you data and free incoming calls in over 100 countries. You pay $29.95 for the card and anywhere from $10-$200 for credit. Note: These options only work if your phone's SIM card is unlocked.
If your cell phone is locked, the Q5.5 smartphone from Icon Q is nice option. You purchase the phone ($199), upload all your apps, and easily switch local SIM cards between two slots. You can also keep your personal cell number for emergencies.
Travel Scenario: The whole family wants to stay connected.
Travel routers (MiFis) are pocket-sized portable WiFi hotspots that run on a battery and give you personal and secure access to the Internet. An option like Tep is cheapest at $9.95 per day (it also includes a car charger). XCOMGlobal costs $14.95 per day but can connect up to ten devices —& great if everyone is bringing a laptop or iPad. The only downside to both devices is the charge for shipping on delivery and return.
Travel Scenario: You're a travel warrior and the world is your office.
If you're traveling abroad multiple times a year, paying a shipping fee every time you rent a mobile hotspot can become costly. Karma Go has pay-as-you-go data at $14 per 1GB and costs $149 for the device. Keep Go charges $130 for the device, but the first GB is free.
Travel Scenario: All that gear is too fussy.
AT&T has coverage in 190 countries. Their three passport plans ($30, $60, and $90 per month) allow unlimited texting and varying data/talk rates. Figure out which plan is best for you by using their data calculator.
Verizon breaks up their data in 100MB increments per month, plus talk and text fees, but if you know you're going to need more, your best bet is pay $50 per month for 250 MB. The plus side of sticking with your wireless carrier is that you don't have to keep running out to buy SIM cards and any overage gets put on your monthly phone bill. Just make sure to keep tabs so you're not surprised at the end of the month.
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