SIM Card Options: International SIM Cards Vs. Local SIMs

I’ve had this question a lot, people wanting to travel and have access to all those super-useful travel apps. If you use your phone at home plenty and rely on it for data or just want to keep in touch with people at home maybe this is what you will want when you travel but just how hard is it to get your hands on a local SIM card and is it worth your time really?

Today I will discuss the pro’s and con’s of three popular SIM card options for travel: international SIM cards, local SIM cards bought before you land and SIM cards bought after you land.

Well, I guess everyone's going mobile now...

Well, I guess everyone’s going mobile now…

International SIM cards

These are available online or though some travel agents/tour companies. They’re often marketed at people who want to visit whole regions but only spend a short amount of time in each individual country. For example, people backpacking Europe who don’t know how long they will be in any one place and want the ease to send a text message or receive a phone call anywhere. It’s important if you’ll be needing data to check if it’s available and the rates before purchasing your SIM card.

Pro’s

  • Simplicity – put one SIM in your phone and away you go. No having to worry about getting a new SIM every few days’ as you travel and you can give one number to your family back home before you leave and not have to think about it again.
  • Less stress for family – if they know they can reach you anytime sometimes just that knowledge is enough to make some loved ones feel much better.
  • You can call anyone, even those people you thought you wouldn’t – on a stop-over in Thailand I received some good news from home, a friend was now engaged to be married, with the international SIM I had with me I gave her a call, expensive call but so worth it!

Con’s

  • Cost – not the cheapest option by a long shot in some locations.
  • It costs you for other people to call you – when I was in New York City I had one of these SIMs (hung over from another trip) and I missed out on seeing a New York Yankee’s game with some locals because I ran out of credit and didn’t realise it cost me money for others’ to call me.
  • Falling off the grid can be harder – if you’re going on your first solo trip abroad you may want to get caught up in the freedom of backpacking but then being woken by Aunt Mary at six AM just because she wants to say hello and see how you are can be a mood killer.

Getting a SIM before you go

There are plenty of companies online now marketing to travelers who sell SIM cards for multiple countries. With the internet too, you can look up the provider reading reviews on them, checking their coverage and call rates and know everything – even your new number – before you even board the plane. What a way to go!

Pro’s

  • Easy – you just give someone your credit card number and address then pop the little SIM in the back of your phone once it arrives.
  • Know your number before you go – handing out your number to your loved ones before you go abroad can be wonderful, they know how they can contact you should there be any issues and all their numbers are right there for when you need them.
  • Save time – it can be time consuming (especially if there are language barriers) to get a SIM before you go. You need to work out who you want to go with, get the SIM in your phone and activated (often in a language you don’t know) and recharge. Then work out how to recharge as needed. This option cut’s out all that time spent working things out for yourself.

Con’s

  • Cost – companies that provide this service are buying in SIM cards from providers or wholesalers, having them shipped to them and then out to you, have staff and other overheads so of course this isn’t as cheap as buying a SIM card in country.
  • Missed opportunity – if you are going to a country to interact with locals for the experience of a different culture or to practice language skills, you could be missing out on a great opportunity here in finding someone to buy a SIM from, asking them for help in setting it up in your phone, asking how to recharge, etc.
  • Slow shipping times – Ordering with time to spare can help you with this, make sure you’ve given it enough time for incidentals like the company running out of SIM cards and taking longer to get one to you.

Getting a SIM after you arrive

Sometimes people don’t want to do all the running around before they get to a place – or don’t have time to – they either choose to buy their SIM when they arrive. There are of course pro’s and con’s to this method too.

Pro’s

  • Often cheapest method – often this is the cheapest method of the three, especially in a lot of developing nations where a few dollars can buy you plenty of data, calls and SMS messages.
  • Opportunity to interact with locals – buying my local SIM in Vietnam meant I met a whole family, laughed with them as they helped me activating the SIM and recharging it then ended up sharing tea with them. It was a great experience I never would have had if I didn’t buy my SIM there.
  • You know the coverage – with a local provider, you know the coverage (from coverage maps, however accurate they are) before you buy a SIM whereas the international SIM can sometimes be a bit hit and miss depending on which provider it taps into.

Con’s

  • Wasted time – if you have to find someone to buy a SIM off then purchase, activate and recharge the SIM when you could be on the beach sipping cocktails, are you really going to be that interested?
  • Getting the right SIM for your phone – when I was in Laos, I met a guy who went down the local SIM route who’d gotten frustrated because at the time the providers there didn’t have SIM cards that fit his smart phone, so he had to get scissors and cut the SIM down to size. Not sure what he did wrong but it only worked sometimes, so he couldn’t call, only text which he was very frustrated about.
  • Not having a SIM when you touch down – not having a SIM card when you arrive in-country can be a big deal for some people who want to text or call their loved ones ASAP about their adventure so far or that they’re in their hostel safe to ease concerns. If this is you, perhaps you want to consider one of the other options.

Over to you! What do you do about your phone when you travel? Do you have advice for other travellers about SIM cards? Please tell us in the comments below!

Apps For Moving To London

Lost in London I was asking people in the street for directions. Everyone I asked must have been a local as they kept walking. I managed to stop one girl, an Eastern European who helped me with my map. Thank god for immigration!

But you dear reader, you don’t need to have this experience. Through careful research I’ve found the best apps for moving to London (or visiting, if you’re going there with a smart phone) so you don’t have to be asking directions of local’s who’re busy pretending they didn’t hear you, paying too much for a black cab, missing out on great travel deals, lonely in the big city, hungry and unable to find decent take-away or one thousand other problems you face when new to such a huge city!

UK-England-London-Tourist-Photo-Big-Ben-Adventurer-Stacey

Uber

This seemed to be at the top of all my friends’ lists and I was a little sad to see that as London has the best taxi’s in the world however, It’s a very popular app in London for a reason! When you sign up with Uber use the code uberAdventurerStaceyue to get a free ride (I get one too when you use the code)

City Mapper

Everyone has this! It’s a London must with its maps for walking, cycling and public transport you’ll be using it constantly when you’re new (or if you visit new areas, which feels like it’s always happening in London!)

Google Maps

I’ve previously mentioned this in my list of apps for independent travellers, here’s just one more place it’s useful.

Tube Tamer

The network can be confusing, especially when you’re new so this app has been great for me!

Whatsapp

This seems super popular in the London and if you don’t have it before your move, you’ll need it soon enough!

Meetup App

Meetups are quite popular in London as London is a super transient city with plenty of people coming here for work and losing their old communities. A great way to meet new people or just to connect with others’ who share your interest. Totally keen to jump into London photography groups as those seem the right ones to meet other people who love the city just as much as I do and who notice all those little things that I might miss!

Excuses2Meet

Kind of like the appy equivalent of going to a real-life meetup event, you can put things in you’re looking to do with your new friends like “someone to play videogames with” and find other’s who’ve said they’re looking for the same thing. I’ve downloaded it (along with all the others) however, it feels like it might take more time to meet people than just showing up at a MeetUp event. We’ll see what happens!

Fever

This is a great idea! An app that helps you find things to do in London this week. It tailors its suggestions to you based on preferences you put into the app really good for wanting to show your knowledge of what’s on without having to do much work. Also great for when you make those early friends everyone makes when moving to a new city who don’t really know what’s going on and aren’t very good tour guides at all.

YPlan

Similar concept to Fever, I’ve still not decided which I prefer so have listed both.

Groupon

This is quite popular in London for loads of stuff (as the high rent prices mean everyone is pretty skint and needs discounts). Also has great travel deals on it from time to time.

Spareroom

How everyone finds their flatmates – now in an app!

Just Eat

Want to know if that place on the corner is any good to eat at? Going out with friends all spur of the moment and don’t know anywhere good? (Of course you don’t! You’re new to London!) Here’s a simple solution.

Do you have any recommendations for apps that London Newbies should have that are not listed? Please leave those awesome recommendations in the comments below!

Travelers: Tablets vs. Readers

Last week I spoke about travel gadgets that make travel easier but didn’t talk about two very popular travel gadgets, tablets and ereaders on purpose as I wanted to dedicate more space to this so I can go more in-depth than I could in a general post.

Personally I’ve travelled with my laptop, tablet and ereader (not all at the same time) and have found that it really depends on what I am hoping to get out of the trip and how much time I think I will actually be spending on each device.

Before I launch into the pro’s and con’s of each, it’s important to note that I’m not too much of a tech head. To give some perspective: I do run my own website which I built entirely on my own however, I don’t know what type of computer I’m currently typing this on. I know it’s a laptop and I know it’s black, that’s about it. If you want expert advice on the most modern tech, this isn’t the space for it. For general pro’s and con’s however:

Things you can never leave home without! ... Or not?

Things you can never leave home without! … Or not?

Tablets

Pro’s over an ereader

  • Can do more – tired of reading War and Peace? You can switch to facebook and chat to your friends or play candy crush.
  • Pictures – my ereader’s getting old and pictures (for books that have them) don’t show up whereas in the tablet they do, which is great.
  • Doubles as a camera – not always appropriate having someone hold up their tablet in public but is great for when you want great shots you can enjoy right away and upload everywhere.
  • Take your work with you – digital nomad or workaholic, you can work on the go with a tablet, something you cannot do with an ereader.

Ereaders

Pro’s over a tablet

  • Price – these are cheaper to buy outright (usually no more than $150 to tablets that can easily be over $500)
  • Less likely to be stolen – sadly, I’ve seen those people in hostels who look longingly at others’ belongings as if they would prefer they were theirs, to date however, I’ve never seen anyone look twice at an old kindle.
  • Better battery life – I had an ipad for an old job of mine which would need to be charged all the time however, my little reader if it’s not being used lasts for months. If it is being used it lasts for less but still I have plenty of warning before I have to charge it.
  • Easier to fall off the grid – I know plenty of travellers who hate tech because it keeps them (they feel) tethered to home. They know if they have more ease of communication with loved ones back home, they are less likely to immerse themselves in the culture they’ve come to experience so they prefer to use tech that isn’t linked to their facebook accounts.

Keeping your tech safe

A quick note on keeping your tech safe – when you check into a hostel/hotel ensure there is a locker or somewhere to put your tech (and moneybelt, etc.) before you take it out of your bag so others’ don’t see it then see you slip it back into your easy-to-steal bag. It’s also a great idea to not flash your tech around too much in countries where theft and mugging is common. All someone needs is to see your valuables and follow you when you wonder off on your own to use a bathroom for example.

I had plenty of tech with me in South and Central America and I was really weary of it to the point where I wouldn’t take it out or even reference it in conversation with other travellers. Although this may sound a bit over-the-top it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How about you? Do you travel with a tablet on a ereader? Why/why not?

Backpacker’s Best Friends: Gadgets, Gizmo’s And The Rest

The most useful things I own also happen to take up the least amount of space in my backpack. I’ve chosen eight of my favorites I think every backpacker should take with them when traveling.

The Mayan people sharing their favorite gadgets before the internet.

The Mayan people sharing their favorite gadgets before the internet.

Clothes-pegless clothesline – these are widely available at camping stores and I do not remember where I got mine but it’s easily the most useful thing for me backpacking. I have used mine in countless countries to dry my clothes (both after being washed and after being caught in the rain) and even used it with I lived in Canada and the university clothes dryers were dodgy. Very small and very useful. Should be part of anyone’s kit.

Sewing kit – I’ve used mine a number of times and sadly one of those was when my backpack broke. Even for someone like me who’s never had any skill for needle work can use these to fix some pretty daunting problems.

Sleep sheet – I didn’t have one of these before I went to Asia for the first time and I regretted it when I stayed in places that didn’t offer sheets to travelers. They’re also useful to wrap around fragile souvenirs when you’re going home.

Sarong – used this in place of a sleep sheet before I had one. Also used it for my hair, as a towel at the beach, as a skirt, a top, to cover up for temples and after tubing in Laos. I could keep going but I won’t. Just make sure you have one.

Travel towel – best thing ever! I actually now have two, I loved mine so much! They are towels that are super absorbent to dry you off easily but also dry easily themselves and don’t take up as much space in your bag as a regular towel would.

Toiletries bag that has a hook – sounds so simple, and it is! I’ve appreciated the little hook on my toiletries bag so much over the years. Goes everywhere, no drama. As you’re using it daily in different locations you will grow to love it!

Ear plugs – lifesaver! Mine are special ones for the plane that do something weird to you so your ears don’t pop – not complaining and don’t totally understand them but recommend ear plugs for all that plane/bus/train/car travel with crying babies/drunk backpackers/locals playing their music at unsociable hours and for the hostel room when you’re sleeping right under the snorer.

Money belt – I don’t always use mine as a money belt but it does have RFID blocking technologies so has often just been there to protect my passport (from theft and from having water spilt on it in my bag)

RFID wallet – I have one of these and love it, it’s small but great. Everyone should have one. As someone who’s had their card compromised while overseas I can tell you, getting cash when you have no card, don’t speak the language and are not sure what’s going on is tough.

 

What about you? What gadgets have saved you over the years’? OR, what gadget do you think you would get the most use out of while traveling?