Thoughts on Taking Mobile Technology Abroad

I’m a digital junkie, but when one is travelling to another country, that’s a problem. Here’s my thoughts on what to do, and would like your input as well.

I’m a digital junkie, but when one is travelling to another country, that’s a problem. You only have so much room for carry on the plane, and then you have to worry all about the power adapter stuff. I have more questions than answers, but I’ve outlined them here as I’m preparing for an upcoming trip to the UK.

Do You Take Your Mobile Phone?


Most providers charge a fortune for phone service outside the US. For example, AT&T’s World Passport package gives you 120 MB of data and $1.00 per minute phone calls for $30 over a 30-day period. Each additional MB is 25 cents. The largest plan they have is 800 MB for $120. That gives you calling at 35 cents a minute and additional data at 15 cents per MB. Those charges add up. Verizon has similar pricing– $40 for 100 MB of data. Sprint and T-Mobile have the best plans overall. They offer free 2G data roaming and calls for 20 cents a minute. You can upgrade to 4G LTE speeds for $15 and get 100 MB at that speed.

Not all Verizon or Sprint phones work abroad unless you have the world versions of their phones. You’ll usually need to be on a post-paid, not a pre-paid, plan.

Pros of Taking Your Phone

The minute you arrive at your destination, you can look up directions, check your email, or whatever. People can call you just like they always did. It’s a device you’re already familiar with, and it has all your apps. If you have Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) enabled, your device is always with you for logins at unfamiliar places

Cons of Taking your phone

The rates will kill you. Yes, you can turn off data and just use Wi-Fi. If you’re lost and need directions, the odds are you won’t have Wi-Fi. If you use your phone for work (like I do) and it’s stolen, you’re out of luck.

Expert Opinions and Compromises

Most people I spoke with who are frequent travelers (even a travel agent) were in one of two camps. They took their phone and either took the hit on the rate or made their phone smart only on Wi-Fi. They don’t want the hassle of getting another phone. They like that everyone knows how to reach them.

Other experts say to go ahead and either bring a “burner” style phone and buy a SIM card for the country they are going to. They’ll do that in advance or when they arrive. If you do it in advance, family and friends will have a number to reach you. With a foreign number, your friends will pay extra to call you since it’s an international number. You’re shifting the burden to them (which might be nice if the boss tries to reach you on vacation).

An interesting option is to split the decision: take your phone, disable data roaming, and buy a hotspot. Just like the SIM, you can buy that in advance or at your destination.

What We’re Doing

We doing a little of everything. My phone is staying at home in the States with a friend. If I need 2FA, I can just call a friend. I purchased an Android phone (even though I’m a loyal iPhone user) and loaded all my apps. It took a few hours but wasn’t that hard. I signed up for T-Mobile’s Simply Everything Plan, and I’ll cancel the service when I get back. T-Mobile doesn’t have contracts which are nice. I can give everyone my number right now in case of emergencies.

My spouse is taking his AT&T iPhone. When we arrive, he’ll have his AT&T SIM but will replace it on arrival with a local carrier. Getting AT&T to unlock the iPhone needed a quick call and then a visit to this site. We’re still under contract for that phone, so I’m not complaining. In theory, AT&T shouldn’t mind because if we leave them locked or unlocked, we still have to pay an early termination fee.

What Type of Chargers to Bring?

Most people know that the plugs in the US don’t match most of the rest of the world. You can’t plug your iPhone charger into a plug in Europe. It won’t fit, so don’t try. There are two approaches here: use an existing charger with an adapter or a universal charger that supports USB. Most chargers for electronic devices will work with both US voltages or European ones; it’s just the shape of the plug that is different. This isn’t true for everything, so check to ensure your chargers will work with 110 and 220 volts.

Pros of Taking Your Existing Adapter

This is an adapter you know and trust. Power adapters are cheap, and friends might have them that you can borrow (unless they are traveling at the same time you are).

Cons of Taking Your Existing Adapter

The charger situation means more to carry with you on your trip and more to lose. If you have to buy a plug adapter, why not buy one that works everywhere? Unlike country-specific power adapters, universal adapters have USB ports and power ports that work with all power plugs. After you’re done with your trip, you can still use them in the United States.

Expert opinions and compromises

The experts told me that the biggest problem with using your existing adapter is space. Plugs are tight and the plug converter plus your adapter takes more space. With a universal adapter, you can usually do a pass through and charge more stuff. That means more outlets without having to unplug stuff.

What We’re Doing

Like most things, my spouse and I disagree. He’s borrowing a power converter and bringing his Apple adapters. I found this handy Kensington Adapter that has 2 USB ports for charging and a direct power plug. I also bought a PlugBug World. It was only $10 more to get the international adapters, and I wanted a PlugBug anyway.

Tablets (Plus a Keyboard) or Laptops?

Here’s where I need some help. Tablets have a long battery life, but so do many laptops today. It’s no secret I love my Chromebook. I’ve tested it, and my iPad and Chromebook have the same active battery life. I’m torn about which to bring on my trip. I need either an external keyboard or a laptop since I need to respond to emails and maybe get some writing in.

Pros of iPad + keyboard

Since I won’t have my iPhone, the iPad gives me the ability to respond to iMessage and text messages sent to that phone. I also have my iTunes music subscription, so I can jam to music on the plane and in other places. My portable keyboard is small and battery-powered. Unlike a laptop, I don’t need to bring an extra power charger. All I need is a USB cable, and I can charge it with a battery pack.

Pros of Chromebook or Another Thin Laptop

The Chromebook is about the same weight and size as my iPad and keyboard and does a ton more. I have a larger screen and a better keyboard. Some apps just aren’t made for the iPad. If a client issue arises, I can remote control their system much more easily. Although this isn’t true for all laptops, my Chromebook is about a third of the price of the iPad. If something happens to it abroad, I’m not out that much money.

What We’re Doing

I go back and forth on this. I’m already taking a plug adapter, so the Chromebook power adapter won’t take up that much space. Space is still space, and with international travel, every bit helps. Speaking of space, I have more storage space on my iPad for movies to watch on the plane. The iPad is easier to use on a tight plane — anyone who has had the seat in front of them recline knows this. If I turn off Bluetooth on my iPad, I’ll get an even longer battery life.

What are your thoughts? Should I take the Chromebook or the iPad keyboard? What suggestions do you have for taking your technology abroad? What am I forgetting?



  1. Noel Hayward

    July 27, 2015 at 8:25 am

    We are a retired couple living in Sweden who have family both in the USA and Australia and our solution to communications is simple. Buy a cheap unlocked android phone and a prepaid SIM card for the countries you visit and send an SMS to those people who need to know your foreign number. Why bother using your home phone and get junk calls you have to pay for..

    For us in the US I have had maintained an account with T-Mobile for 6 years. There so long as you have a positive balance, the account runs for 12 months from the last charging.

    For internet we have relied on my family’s wifi or free wifi at a hotel

    For power we take our standard chargers together with a plugboard and I just wire on the appropriate power plug. Then it is good for all our electrical needs (including hair driers etc)

    • Dave Greenbaum

      July 27, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      Great suggestions. Like I said, we’re kinda doing both. I agree about junk calls on the mobile phone. That kinda scares me. I hear wifi is harder to find cheap in Europe–do you agree?

      • Noel Hayward

        July 27, 2015 at 10:51 pm

        Not sure on that question, you can get a basic Samsung Android mobile phone for about 80USD here from the big electrical chains and a little Samsung phone with push buttons for about 20USD from at least one phone chain here.

  2. Noel Hayward

    July 27, 2015 at 8:41 am

    We are a retired couple who live in Sweden and have family in both the US and Australia and are well aware of the problems and pitfalls of mobile communications when travelling.

    Our phone solution is simple turn off the data and radio, use the phone as a data base if necessary. Buy an unlocked Android phone and a SIM card for the counrty you are in. It does not cost much to send an AMS to those overseas who need to know your local number. Fot the US I have maintained a prepaid account with T-mobile for some 6 years you only need to charge it once every 12 months.

    For Internet we reliy on our family’s wifi or wifi from a hotel.

    For power and charging devices we use our standard (European) chargers together with a plugboard to which I wire a plug on the cable end for the country we are visiting. That way we have the right connections for all our power bricks and also the hair drier.

  3. Sean

    July 30, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    When considering taking your phone abroad you need to keep unmanned that it must be network unlocked. Theres two ways to get it unlocked. First, you can see if you’re eligible with your carrier to unlock it for you: this process normally takes couple weeks. Or you could go the simpler route and use a third party service such as http://www.unlockingofficial.com which remotely unlocks the phone for you in a few hours.

  4. Paul Hogan

    August 2, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    For a real internet experience come to China.

  5. Tony Davies

    August 23, 2015 at 11:49 am

    I am hard of hearing and, wishing to keep in touch with my wife (by e-mail) when in France etc., I bought a Nokia 635 mobile. Since I was moving around, my only real problem was in initially finding the local Wi Fi hotspots. I had no problem in buying a plug adaptor.
    I “did do something wrong” during my time away, and lost contact. At one hotel where I stayed there were separate hotspots in my room AND in Reception (7 floors down!). I never managed to regain contact and my worst fright was that the BT phone coinboxes at Kings Cross Station were not working. So, kind thoughts to the person who came to my rescue!
    PS I had plenty of 20p coins – amongst all the euro coinage – too!

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