Having a cell phone on your tour can be extremely helpful, especially if you’re on a self-guided tour and need to reach the tour operator between towns. It’s also great peace of mind so that family can reach you in case of emergency.
Or if you just want to call, text, send photos or videos to friends back home to remind them that you’re on an amazing bike tour and they’re not (or just to say “hi!”).
We found this article from the New York Time’s Frugal Traveler very insightful on this topic, and think you will too.
Here are some options to help you communicate abroad:
- Cell provider options - Contact your cellular provider to let them know you plan to travel abroad and ask for options available. Many smartphones are “unlocked” (such as the iPhone 5 and 6) and you can use them anywhere. But some aren’t compatible with networks outside your home country, and some providers may charge expensive fees for international usage. Currently, we found that the best rates are with T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan, which provides unlimited data and text in nearly 120 countries at no extra charge and phone calls at 20 cents a minute, and with Sprint Worldwide, which offers significant discounts off normal pricing.
- SIM cards - If you have an unlocked smartphone, a great option is to purchase a local SIM card for your phone. The SIM card will allow your phone to operate on the local networks in the country you are visiting. Rates are usually cheaper once you arrive in the country, and SIM cards are usually available at the airport arrival area. Please note that some countries are limiting the purchase of local SIM cards to individuals with fixed addresses in their country. Best to do some online research before you leave.
Options are also available to purchase a SIM card in advance through a service like Cellular Abroad - International Cell Phone Solutions. They offer international SIM cards, data SIM cards, cell phone rentals, and other solutions. (Use promo code "BikeTours"—case sensitive—for a $10 discount!). The advantage of getting a SIM card before your trip is that everything is in English and you have the service ready to go when you land. In addition, you can keep your current number in the US if you want.
- Hotspots - Rent a data “hotspot” device from a service like Cellular Abroad. (Use promo code "BikeTours"—case sensitive—for a $10 discount!) This way, you have a hotspot available wherever you go. You and other friends can log on with a tablet, PC, smartphone – anything that has Wi-Fi. This allows you to take full advantage of an internet connection and use e-mail, web browsing, and all the apps you like, such as Google Maps, Google Translate, Yelp, and other helpful free apps that are super handy when traveling.
- Wi-Fi - Turn off data on your smartphone or tablet and just use Wi-Fi where available. This way, you don’t accidentally accrue any international charges on your data plan.
- Skype - Skype offers options and a mobile app for your smartphone to use with Wi-Fi or anywhere you have Internet/data access. Visit Skype to see their many available options.
- Buy or rent a phone. Don’t have a phone that will work abroad? Check with Cellular Abroad for buying and renting options. (Use promo code "BikeTours"—case sensitive—for a $10 discount!)
- Phone cards. You can usually buy prepaid calling cards in most countries (in post offices, kiosks or stationery stores, depending on the country—ask your hotel host for assistance). Or you may wish to purchase a prepaid card in advance to use while you’re abroad. While it might be difficult to find a working payphone out on the streets, it’s still possible to use phone cards from your hotel room.
- Internet cafes. Many Internet cafés have microphones and webcams and have Skype installed. Register for Skype if you haven’t already. Calls are pennies a minute--or even free if you’re calling another Skype user.