Planning a trip abroad and wondering how to stay online? Totally understandable, because just like in real life having a working data connection makes life so much easier. Therefore I wrote this article to help you staying connected on your trip overseas. In this guide I will explain you how a portable WiFi device works, how much it costs per day, how to get one, the pros and the cons and my recommendation.
Am I addicted to my phone? I alway deny that I am, but I admit I probably spend like 8 hours per day on my phone. Or may be even more, I don’t really want to know I guess! However, staying online is vital for me as with this travel blog and my social media accounts I document my journey to visit every country in the world. If a hotel, bar, restaurant or airport is having bad internet I am not amused! And therefore I don't want to rely on other people and I recommend you either to buy a local sim card or get a pocket or portable WiFi device.
Why get WiFi or data when traveling?
Ubers are probably the easiest example to explain why having an internet connection while traveling is vital. Without being connected you can NOT order a taxi through an app, or what about getting directions from Google Maps, finding cool nearby bars or restaurants, etc. Yes disconnecting is the new luxury, I totally agree, but having an internet connection on the road makes life so much easier.
Finding your friends in a city with internet is going to be a challenge or long bus rides where they promise you free WiFi? It hardly ever woks or is super slow. I can come up with a ton of reasons why I always want to have internet while traveling internationally.
How to get internet when traveling
It is a question I get asked many times, probably because I seem to be online constantly. Internet while traveling is something that I really value and I cant go without anymore. That said in 2013 I spent 15 days in the mountains in Nepal and totally loved being offline, although it took me like 4 days to accept there was no phone signal! Anyway I always make sure that I have temporary internet access while traveling and there are a couple ways to make this happen:
- Buying a local sim card
- Renting/buying a portable WiFi device
- Getting an international sim card with global WiFi
Traveltomtom recommends buying a local sim card over renting or buying a portable WiFi device. Portable WiFi devices can be very handy when staying in a country for 1 or 2 days, but in general buying a local sim card is fast, easy AND cheap!
The first thing I do when I get to a new country is buying a local sim card. Over the years I learned that there is often not much difference in price, but the difference in network is sometimes huge. Therefore I started researching and eventually started writing guides for buying local sim cards. That is why on my blog you can find more than 150 local sim card guides from all over the world: USA, Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Israel, Jordan, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and every country and airport in Europe.
But fair enough switching sim cards can be a pain to be honest because you constantly changing phone numbers plus after a long flight it can be a hassle to get in line at the airport and get it done. That is when a portable WiFi device comes in handy as it does NOT require you to get a local sim card.
Traveltomtom does NOT recommend travel sim cards with global coverage. Most of these international sim cards are incredibly expensive and not worth it. Check out my article in where I compare and review all the international sim cards one by one and you will see that most of them are NOT worth it.
Temporary internet service without a contract
As I am a fan of local sim cards, I did never try a portable WiFi device, until someone gave me a TEP Wireless pocket Wifi to try it out. When looking for WiFi when traveling then this must be the best way I guess. Later I also tried the Vision Global pocket Wifi, the same thing, different brand. Let's see... here is my honest review about these pocket WiFi devices for getting WiFi when traveling.
What does it exactly do? It is like a take-away router I would say. Everywhere you go the device finds a phone signal and and converts it into a WiFi signal locked with a unique password. You simply login to this WiFi signal available with your phone, laptop or tablet and you are online. The great thing about a pocket WiFi is that you can connect up to 5 devices at the same time!
How to use a portable WiFi device
A portable WiFi device is the easiest thing to use. Online you sign up through the website of the provider and either rent one or buy one. If you decide to rent a pocket WiFi it will be send to you before your trip. You then choose your plan, like for example 15 or 30 days and the amount of internet/data per day.
If you travel a lot just like me I would definitely advice you to buy a device yourself rather than renting one every time you go on a trip. The huge benefit of this is that you only pay when you connect, so if you are looking for temporary internet access without a contract a pocket Wifi is then a convenient travel item.
Where can you use portable WiFi devices?
Not everywhere, but quite close. Take a look at this map down below from TEP Wireless for example. It shows that you can get temporary internet access without a contract in most parts of the world. The Global Vision pocket Wifi coverage map looks more or less the same.
My experiences using a portable WiFi device
In the short time I owned a TEP Wireless portable WiFi device I have been benefiting a lot from it. On my sailing trip through the Raja Ampat islands in West Papua I was locked on a luxury yacht for 10 days. Finding a phone signal was already super hard, but once there was a signal at least I had my own WiFi device for my phone and my Macbook.
While living and working in Australia I used it a couple times when traveling over the weekends and also took it for a test to Europe. In Europe there is nowadays free roaming and a TEP Wireless portable WiFi device supports that. This shows that this definitely is the best way to get WiFi when traveling.
When country hopping for a very short time, a pocket WiFi is a great way to stay connected. When in a country for just 24 hours you don;t want to buy a local sim card. I |used the portable WiFi when I stayed for 2 days in Istanbul as well as for my 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur.
After that I started living the Australian dream living in Sydney on a working Holiday visa for a couple months so I stopped using it. However, in those months that I had a TEP Wireless pocket WiFi I actually quite like it, especially for short visits to a country.
However, I also realised these things are just not for me! Local sim cards will always do the job for me and they are getting cheaper and cheaper everywhere. Where you would pay 5 years ago about $10 for 1 GB data, there are now countries that you can already find UNLIMITED data for $10.
Buying a local sim card is easy, it literally takes just 5 minutes.
That said I the recent years I have never used a portable WiFi device anymore. Personally I think it is not something from this time anymore. I ALWAYS buy a local sim card, even if it is just for a couple days. Prepaid sim cards for tourists are mostly the BEST way to stay connected and they are cheap nowadays.
Best thing about a pocket WiFi
The main reasson why people want to get Wifi on the road instead of buying a local sim card is to NOT change phone numbers. AND I AGREE! That is for sure the number 1 advantage of a portable WiFi device over a local sim card. Changing phone number in every country can be a hassle and that is where a pocket WiFi is a winner!
Another big advantage of having a portable WiFi device is that you can connect up to 5 devices at the same time. So in case you are traveling with children I can definitely recommend using a portable WiFi device as they can all connect at the same time. Laptop, phone, tablet, no problem.
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