Ask LH: What's The Best Data Plan For A Backpacker?

I'm going on a trip to Europe for two months. I'll be backpacking through a number of countries and I'll need to do a lot of research on the road to resolve everyday travel hiccups (even with months worth of advanced travel planning). As a Gen-Y I have a serious internet substance dependency and feel I'll need to be connected beyond the hostel hotspot, which is sketchy at best.

Ideally I want to be able to use my iPhone with a data only plan to access maps, google translate and possibly share a personal hotspot (though this isn't a must) throughout Europe without coming home to a phone plan bill that'll bankrupt me. For this reason I think whatever the solution is, it needs to be prepaid. Is this even possible? Have I asked too much? Please hack my trip, I need your help! Sincerely, Internet Substance Abuser

Young traveller image from Shutterstock

Dear ISA,

You have a few options when it comes to using data overseas. Depending on which telco carrier you're currently with, you can make use of your existing mobile service. For example, Vodafone offers a deal where you can pay $5 extra per day to be able to use global roaming on your existing mobile plan and it will be charged as though you're making calls and using data locally in Australia. That only works with certain Vodafone mobile plans so it's best to check the website for more details on that.

It is imperative that you check the global roaming costs from your existing provider if you do wish to go down this route. Many telcos charge exorbitant prices for their standard roaming arrangements. Do your research first to avoid becoming one of those thousand-dollar bill shock horror story victims.

Another popular way to use data overseas is by using travel SIM cards. There are a bunch of companies out there that specifically cater to the global roaming market and issue SIM cards that can be used overseas. While the plans that are offered through these services are not comparable to the rates you get charged on mobile plans that you use locally in Australia, they are still quite affordable.

Globalgig does offer some competitive data-only global roaming plans. For mobile data usage across Europe, plans start from $20 a month (it's sold as a three-month contract) for 250MB and that will work across 36 European countries.

Bear in mind that you have to consider how much the excess data charges are. For Globalgig, it's $0.25 per MB. The best thing to do is to comb through the terms and conditions carefully before committing to these services to make sure they suit your needs while you're travelling overseas.

You can try getting a prepaid SIM card when you arrive in Europe. The only risk is that the SIM card may not be compatible with your current phone because different countries use different spectrum bands and technologies for their telecommunications networks.

Hope this helps and have a wonderful time exploring Europe!

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Try and find a local prepaid sim, not sure how that works with roaming between EU countries, but surely it's possible. 250mb? $5 per day? Both terrible options unless you barely use data or are travelling for business, definitely not backpacker friendly.

    I had 15gb for $30 that lasted 30 days in Vietnam. Was fantastic. I'd be aiming to do the same with any future travelling.

      Hard to believe any AU plan's international roaming is going to compare to a local pre-paid. That said, there's probably some premium cost benefit involved in not translate tech terms.

        I think the only benefit really is ease and simplicity. Personally I'd rather research on the net and know the number to SMS and codes to punch in to change to the pre paid plan I want in a language I don't know and save buttloads of money.

        Technically foreigners aren't allowed to own a phone number in Vietnam though, luckily none of the vendors care.

        Last edited 02/11/15 7:25 pm

      The 250MB GlobalGig plan mentioned in the article is the smallest one they offer. They go up to 5GB/month for Europe, which is much more reasonable.

      How many countries you're visiting is the real issue here. If you're only going to be in a few different countries, it can be reasonable to get yourself a pre-paid local SIM in each country. If you're going to be in lots of different countries, that's when a service like GlobalGig comes in handy.

    Some roaming SIMS may hook you up with local providers who don't have very much coverage or who drain your funds in hours (hello Lebara in Denmark!).

    http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Prepaid_SIM_with_data is an excellent resource

    Vodafone offers very good deals in the UK. I usually walk out with a virtually unlimited SIM for about GBP20/month . On the other hand, Spain was a friggin' nightmare when I tried to get a local SIM in 2012 due to their paranoia about terrorists. Was sooo much easier in 2005!

    Is that photo for this article shot in Australia? Reminds me that ditty " Dumb ways to die"....

    You want a satellite phone if backpacking in Australia - you'll have coverage deep within those state forests in the event of an impromptu/involuntary 'Eco-tour'.

    Use YouRoam.com. You will be able to make and receive calls on your Australian phone number while anywhere in the world for free or very inexpensively!

    The Vodafone $5 deal is great if you're talking about a short trip, or to cover you between arriving overseas and collecting your overseas SIM. It only charges you on days you use the phone, and once you use it, you have it for 24 hrs before any further charges. Good for calling home cheaply every so often, and for checking voicemail and stuff. But I wouldn't use it for a two-month trip.

    Hi there,
    To stay connected in Europe while traveling you do have cheap prepaid data options: Transatel DataSIM and LeFrenchMobile both have data offers (covering different countries). Either SIM card only or wifi hotspots. Have you looked at it?

    GO-SIM do a European SIM card, and also have mobile WIFI hotspots available. I've always found them to be very reliable, and with a range of providers to choose from, you save the hassle of having to change SIMs each time you cross a border, and you can choose the network with the best signal in the region you're in.

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