Going abroad for business, pleasure or bl-easure (patent-pending) is grand, but staying connected to the real world while you're there is not only a frustrating experience, but one that's also frightfully-expensive. Here are our best gadgets and tips for staying connected while abroad in a fashion that won't have you setting fire to large piles of money.
Paris phone picture from Shutterstock
The Globalgig Wi-Fi hotspot is a marvellous piece of tech that essentially makes huge data-roaming bills a thing of the past. That sounds like a huge gimmick, but after a few trials abroad we can attest to the fact that the Globalgig does, in fact, work.
Basically, you buy or rent the Globalgig pre-paid Wi-Fi hotspot, throw some credit at your account and you're away! Connect to it like you would any Wi-Fi hotspot on your mobile phone, tablet or laptop. The data rates are infinitely cheaper than anything Telstra, Optus or Vodafone can offer, and it potentially beats out buying a SIM your destination city -- both in cost and hassle.
The only issue with the Globalgig is that the company backing it only has roaming agreements in Australia (Optus), the United States (Sprint) and the UK (3). More countries are coming, though.
You could be forgiven for thinking that -- on first glance -- the Kogan Agora smartphone is fairly unremarkable. That is until you get into the guts of the proposition, however.
The Agora smartphone will only set you back $149 for a device laden with specs that normally would see you pay several hundred dollars more for, and it packs not one, but two SIM slots to make travelling a lot more conducive to those needing to stay connected.
Admittedly, you won't get full functionality out of both SIM slots, but it's the easiest way to get your hands on a great dual-SIM smartphone that won't see you dipping into your travel money.
It might seem counter-intuitive to take a router away with you on your holiday, and it would be if you're tearing one out of your wall at home. However, taking a Wi-Fi router away with you allows you to get away from the shoddy ad-hoc solution you've been using to connect you and your friends to the internet on the last few trips.
Usually you can head down to your local Dick Smith Electronics, JB Hi-Fi or other gadget retailer to get one for less than $120. That will keep you and your friends and colleagues connected better than any hotspot or smartphone can.
If it's just you travelling by yourself, a Wi-Fi router probably won't do you a whole lot of good, especially if you get into the hotel room to find that the ethernet cable has been nicked from inside the room.
Get yourself a metre-long ethernet cable and a relevant adaptor for your laptop so that you never need to be at the mercy of hotel thieves again. Plus, because it's only a metre, you'll only be able to use your laptop at your desk, preventing the trap of working in bed.
We've already touched on the merciless tyrant that is the data roaming bill and how to best it, but phone calls and text messages sent abroad are also frightfully expensive. To get that beast off your back, you'll need a TravelSIM.
With roaming agreements all over the world, TravelSIM sets up a new pre-paid number for you to call from that makes everything super-cheap. Might be an idea to stick it in your dual-SIM smartphone so you can keep your number active in case of emergencies, though.
Hunt Down A Prepaid SIM
If there's just one country on your destination list but you'll be there for a while, then using a prepaid SIM is the easiest option to avoid excessive bills. To locate the available options in your chosen location, we love the Pay-As-You-Go SIM With Data Wiki. The emphasis on data is very welcome; it's just about possible to cope with roaming charges for text messages, but no-one wants to pay $15/MB just to read their email.
Learn To Hunt Free Wi-Fi
A good free Wi-Fi connection can make life much simpler. Check out both the obvious targets (cafes, hotel lobbies) and the less obvious (many retailers now have free in-store Wi-Fi for customers). Look at Lifehacker's guide to seeking out free Wi-Fi for more ideas. One key point: make sure your device is up to date and running security software, use secure sites whenever possibly, and don't use free Wi-Fi for highly risky transactions.
Disable Data Roaming While Overseas
It's an obvious hint but definitely worth reiterating: if you do decide to keep your existing SIM in your phone while travelling, make sure you have data services disabled. There are definitely scenarios where remaining contactable is worthwhile, but not many where paying those data rates is worth it, especially if you have Wi-Fi at your hotel.
Depending on your carrier, you may be able to set this option by logging in to your online account; in other cases, you'll have to ring up. That's a hassle, but worth it for the savings.
Examine Roaming Data Bundles
If you're determined to have data accessible on your phone (and haven't gone dual-SIM), then look into whether your provider offers discount bundles for overseas roaming. For instance, Optus' Bridge bundles are great value for some Asian destinations, while Telstra's data packs slightly reduce its high roaming charges. We wouldn't recommend going this route with your own money in preference to using a different local SIM, but it's a way of reducing expenses if your employer insists on you sticking with your existing connection.
Use Hotel Wi-Fi And Skype For Outbound Calls
If you're using hotel Wi-Fi (either because it's free or because you need it), double up the value by using Skype to make outbound calls, rather than your handset. Skype's call rates are lower than your provider is likely to be, especially for calling back to Australia. Given time differences, chances are you'll be in your hotel room rather than out when it's time to make calls in Aussie business hours.