Written by: Colin
Gauge how connected you want to be. You can get away with not even having a cell phone like our ancestors or you can have access to Netflix streaming all over the world. Choose where you want to be on that spectrum to start off on the right foot. T-Mobile, Google’s Project Fi, and an unlocked phone with a local SIM card are the 3 primary options.
T-Mobile has an impressive international presence with various plans for levels of data use and connectivity needs. At the time of this article, you could get their Cadillac international plan for $75 per month which gives you unlimited data and mobile hotspot capabilities to connect your other devices through your phone. This option is great if you plan to use a lot of data.
Project Fi is Google’s phone network that aims to keep your phone service as simple as possible. Their service bounces between carriers based on whichever one has better coverage in your location. Internationally, that means Google basically uses T-Mobile’s international network so availability by country is nearly identical. The cost model is simple at $25 per month per phone and $10 per gigabyte of data. The caveat is that you have to bring your own Google Nexus or Pixel phone. You aren’t locked into a plan and there are no odd billing practices or phone subsidies. This option is appealing for folks who use 2-3 GB of data each month.
Going local means you buy an unlocked phone and use local SIM cards in it. Each country or region you go to has different carriers and you can buy cards that are preloaded with a certain amount of data. When you run out, you can buy another card. It’s a pay as you go system but you have to sort out local carriers and cell plans as you travel. This will give you the most connectivity at a potentially lower cost but requires a lot of planning and coordination region to region. If you time your travels well, you can end your contract with a carrier like Verizon and have an unlocked phone at the end of your 2 year contract.
The big question is how necessary is your connectivity? $75 per month adds up and eats into your travel budget. If you don’t consume much data, then other options may fit better. You may even be able to get away with no cell service at all and just soak up free wifi in the areas you travel through.
Sara & Colin
We are figuring out our travel as we go along, and we'd love to help you out with yours! Here are some tips, tricks, and how-to guides.