Why I Don’t Pay for Phone or Data When Traveling Internationally

Once upon a time, we lived in a world without smartphones. It’s getting hard to remember, but there was a time not too long ago where we didn’t feel the need to be constantly connected. Vacation was truly vacation – from work, life, and social media. When traveling internationally, I like to recapture some of that magic by choosing not to buy an international phone or data plan. Vacation can still be a vacation if you let it be. You don’t have to tether yourself to your life back home, so enjoy a few days or weeks of freedom. It is a luxury in this day and age! There are several reasons why I don’t pay for phone service while traveling internationally. I’d love to hear your opinions, so please comment on this post with how you do or don’t stay connected during trips!

REASONS I DON’T PAY FOR PHONE SERVICE WHEN TRAVELING INTERNATIONALLY:

  • You’ll enjoy the moment more. A few years ago, I read about a study that suggested that taking photos of an event or sight diminishes the actual memory of the experience. You’re more likely to have a clearer and more accurate memory of an event if you are fully present, not witnessing the event through your camera lens. I would never go so far as to say that you shouldn’t bring your phone or camera to record your travel experiences, but I suggest making a point to stop for a moment to appreciate the view without electronics, and certainly do not get distracted by email, text, or posting your current view on instagram stories when you’re having a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I’ve also read that closing your eyes and focusing on your other senses, like smell and sound can help preserve your memory of a place. Because your mind will associate the salty smell of ocean air in Australia or the scent of fresh-baked bread in Paris, the memory is more complete and easier to recall later.

A great example of this phenomenon for me was my experience skydiving in New Zealand. Electronics were prohibited during the jump. Since I could fully focus on  the experience, I can clearly remember the ice-cold wind as we jumped out of the plane, the phenomenal view of snow-capped mountains, and the sound of the air whipping against my flight suit. I can instantly transport myself back to those few minutes just by thinking about it.

  • You’ll be safer. It’s not a good idea to walk around with your phone in your face not paying attention to your surroundings in your own hometown. It’s even more dangerous in a city or country that you are unfamiliar with. You could end up lost, or worse, put yourself in danger of being attacked or robbed. It’s always best to have all of your senses available for your personal safety!
  • Offline maps are available. If your primary reason for paying for phone service when traveling is for navigational purposes, there are several workarounds. First, you can buy a GPS for your destination for a very reasonable price on ebay. If you don’t plan to use it in the future, you can resell it or lend it to a friend. Second, there are several apps available on smartphones that do not require internet connectivity. For example, Google maps can be enabled for offline use and if you’re a planner, you can actually set up all of your destinations in advance. Finally, paper maps are almost always still available and can actually be fun to use!
  • You can still connect to wi-fi. Your instagram post can wait until you’re relaxing back at your hotel/hostel/airbnb before bed. And if you have any important emails from family, friends, or work, you can always deal with them at that time. You can also use wi-fi to FaceTime, iMessage/WhatsApp, set up your maps for the next day, research where to go to dinner nearby, and much more. I’ve generally found that I never really need the internet while traveling, and certainly there is no immediacy if I do need it. Waiting to use it at a hotel or popping into a cafe if necessary during the day usually seems to suffice.
  • You won’t be distracted by untimely texts or emails. If bad news comes your way, you probably don’t need to hear it while you’re exploring a castle in Ireland or hiking the Inka Trail. News can wait, whether it is good or bad. Plus, if you do receive negative news while traveling, you probably don’t want to try to handle it in a public crowd. It’s better to wait until you’re settled in for the evening or if possible, home from your trip.

This is particularly relevant in regards to work emails. No matter how important your job is, things can be handled without you. Don’t let your vacation be ruined by reading about a work emergency that you likely can do nothing about. I usually delete my work email off of my phone while traveling and then add it back when I get home. If it’s truly an emergency, your boss and coworkers know your phone number and you can reply at your convenience.

  • You can still make a call in case of an emergency. Your phone will always let you make SOS calls and even if you didn’t pay for phone service, you can make a call if you are in a dire situation and pay for that use. There is most likely a phone around, whether it be a payphone, restaurant landline, stranger’s cell phone, etc. Collect calling still exists and can be useful if you need to reach someone. And on a related note, make sure you know the emergency number for the country you’re in and the information for your country’s embassy just in case.
  • You’ll save a little money. Although the cost these days is not exorbitant, it does tend to add up, especially if you are traveling for a long period of time. Carriers like AT&T offer monthly packages for less than $50, day passes for $10 a day, or you can pay per use for about $2/MB of data, but I personally prefer to spend my money at my destination rather than spend my money to be unnecessarily connected to the internet.

Besides the aforementioned, you can activate an international day pass with certain carriers like AT&T if you absolutely need the internet for one day. I think this might be helpful in a situation where your travel plans have changed or been canceled and the internet could make resolve them much easier. For $10, AT&T will give you service for 24 hours and all you have to do activate it is add it to your plan before your trip and then once you are out of the country, accept a call, listen to a voicemail, send a text, or use data.

If you are on the same page as me as far as wanting to disconnect while traveling or if I’ve convinced you to take your next international trip without paying for data, make sure you know how to turn off your data so you don’t get charged for roaming. With Apple products, go to Settings –> Cellular –> Cellular Data OFF. I also sometimes just keep my phone on airplane mode. Either way, you can still connect to wi-fi when it is available.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts about whether or not to stay connected while traveling! Do you or don’t you? What are your tips and tricks? Comment below with your answers!

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2 comments

  1. I have traveled to many countries and have never paid for international service. I also don’t answer E-mails on vacation. That is what vacation is for, to get away from it all, to relax and detox.

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