Cell Phone Usage in Europe SOL#10

Slice of life

This slice is a bit silly but it is about a topic that I’m slightly concerned about…staying connected to family, friends, and the world while I’m backpacking solo around Europe this summer.  Many places I’ve researched seem to charge for wi-fi in Europe- hostels too!  I’m not really the type of person to hang out at a Starbucks and McDonald’s while I’m traveling so I am a little anxious about being able to cheaply connect while traveling.  Also, because I’m traveling solo for a good portion of my trip, I want to be sure that I have a way of getting help and information when I need it.

Normally, while I’m traveling, I have no problems with only using wi-fi when I travel- even when I travel solo. However, I normally have access to free internet at hostels, cheap restaurants, and (in nearby countries) my Venezuelan carrier still works for calls! I don’t think this will be the case while I’m in Europe.

Has anyone used T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan or another prepaid monthly plan? I’m not quite sure if I can just pay to use the Simple Choice plan for two months over the summer or if I am better off getting a prepaid monthly plan and just adding unlimited data to the plan.

I’ve also thought of buying a local sim card while I’m in Europe, but since I’m changing cities/countries every three days or so I’m not sure which SIM card would work in all of the nine countries I’m going to. Does anyone have an experience doing this?

I would really like to be able to use Google maps, check Facebook, use Skype to call home, check Metro schedules, call my hostel for directions if I get lost (or if they randomly relocate like in Sucre), and upload pictures to Facebook and Instagram while I travel. It would be a huge bonus if I could somehow use my phone as a hotspot and then surf using 3G on my ipad (no laptop since I’m trying to do lightweight carry-on only).

Please help me! Am I being overly paranoid? Is there plenty of free wi-fi in major European cities after all? Have you used a prepaid US cell plan to get service in Europe? 

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14 responses to “Cell Phone Usage in Europe SOL#10

  1. We were in Europe all last summer on T-Mobile’s plan that gives unlimited data and texting abroad. Had NO problems in London, France, or Italy and it was heaven not having to worry about data usage! Calls aren’t free, but they aren’t bad.

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  2. Thanks J! I don’t usually make too many calls on my phone. So if I have to spend a couple dollars during an emergency I’m cool with that. Do you know if the t-mobile plan you used can be paid month to month (since every other month of the year I pay less than $5 for unlimited data and calls in Venezuela)?

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    • Thanks! I live in Venezuela where it is so difficult to find anything, so I have to do a lot of prep ahead of time so that when I go back to the US, I have everything ready to prepare for my trip. So I made my packing list early (though my experience backpacking Peru and Bolivia this December make me want to revise it) and now I am trying to figure out what to do about my phone because I only have one day in the US before I leave again for my trip.

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  3. I have no answers to your questions but I sure do like your problem! What a problem to have! I hope you have safe and wonderful travels! And, yes, I might be just a TAD bit jealous!

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    • It is a great problem to have! I have been slowly preparing for my summer backpacking adventure since September. I feel like teachers are the some of the best people to plan a big trip like this because we are so used to making detailed plans and doing research to solve problems.

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  4. I traveled solo for 3 weeks in Europe this past summer…I had no data or cell phone plan, and I had no problem getting internet at either my place where I stayed (Air B&B a lot) or in public places. Good luck!

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    • I made the mistake of only paying attention to the price of the dorm bed and not the additional charges when I booked my hostels for the summer. Many of them charge for wi-fi by the hour! I’m going to do more research about the wi-fi availability in the specific cities I will visit (Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, Athens, Santorini) before I make any decisions. I’m sure Europe is much safer than Venezuela (duh!), but after being here for three years, I am conditioned to feel insecure without a phone to call for help.

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  5. T-Mobile’s international data and text is part of the reason we are going to Japan! Another point of interest: you can also use Gogo inflight wifi with your T-Mobile plan!

    I read (in regard to Japan) that the free data you get through T-Mobile is closer to 3G or 2G-level speeds – depending on where you are and your phone. T-Mobile charges extra for higher speeds.

    I think if you were in a place with 4G-level coverage, you can expect to be capped at 3G-level speeds without paying extra. A bit slower, but totally usable. If you’re somewhere with 3G coverage only, you’ll probably be stuck with 2G-level speeds. OK for loading websites, but not very useful for maps or navigation.

    The cost to upgrade to higher-level speeds is $25 for 200 MB or $50 for 500 MB. I imagine you could probably upgrade after you arrive and test out the “free” speed for yourself. That’s what we plan to do.

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    • You will have to tell me about your experience using T-Mobile in Japan Brie! I will probably plan on going to T-Mobile as soon as I arrive in Portland and getting it set up for Europe. I like your idea of upgrading if necessary. So excited!

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      • I will be in Europe from June 17-July 14. I will go to Paris, Bruges, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Istanbul, Athens, and Santorini (in that order). I will be spending about three days in each country (though only half a day in Bruges and about 24 hours in Bratislava). You should join me for some of my trip (I know you have to work or I would say all of it)!

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