Q: Hello Playground! We’re heading to England for a week on vacation and I want to know the most affordable way to use my phone while I’m traveling. We have Verizon as our mobile carrier. Thanks! ~ LK
A: Hi LK! This is a great question, and one I get asked about a lot. Everyone has heard horror stories about astronomical data roaming charges and ridiculous international phone bills. But the good news is, with the right plan, this no longer has to be the case.
Since your trip is relatively short, my advice is to use your carrier’s international plan on your personal phone. I have Verizon as well, and they have two basic international plans (AT&T offers almost identical plans, although Sprint’s are a little more complicated).
The first one is a Pay-As-You-Go which lets you turn on international capabilities for $25 for a month which activates your phone. Then, you can make calls for $1.79 minute, pay 50 cents for outbound texts and 5 cents for inbound ones, and you’re charged for data as you go. In my opinion, this is literally for emergencies only, and I don’t recommend it.
Instead, my favorite is the $10 a day TravelPass. This has been a lifesaver for me and I’ve been able to use it everywhere from Norway to Thailand to South Africa (where I used to rent a phone to save money). In this plan, you pay $10 a day to use all of your regular data, no extra charges. (Note that in Mexico and Canada this plan is only $5 a day.) So if you turn your phone on, and you’re traveling, you automatically get charged $10 for 24 hours of usage (don’t turn it on, you don’t get charged). During this time, you’re free to use your data, calling, and texting plan anyway you’d like. So you can turn on your phone, use Google Maps, pull up a dinner menu at a local restaurant, find out what time the museum is open, and check into your flight, and not incur ANY roaming charges as long as you still have data left in your plan. Magic, right? Same goes for phone calls: Dial home, talk for 10 minutes, no additional charges. For trips of 10 days or less, I truly believe this is a no-brainer.
Note, though, that if you were spending more than two weeks abroad, and staying in the same region, buying a SIM card is significantly cheaper, and gives you a local number on your phone, which makes it easier for people who are based in that country to get in touch with you without having to make an international call (if you do this, consider downloading WhatsApp to message friends back home since your usual personal phone number won’t be active).
Have a family travel question? Email Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo credit: Jose Felise @ Unsplash)