I admit it: I like to be connected. Packing for my almost one month trip to Italy involved bringing a laptop, a kindle, two iPads (my old one is being used for games and as an e-reader by a certain husband and daughter), and my iPhone. The trick though was what to do to stay connected once I got here, without spending outrageous amounts of money on data roaming fees or international telephone charges.
Deciding Why You Need/Want to Stay Connected While Traveling
The most important step in staying connected during international travel is to decide what it is you truly need. Although I admittedly like being able to post photos to Instagram immediately while we are eating our way through our trip or hiking a mountain, I had to look past that to think about what was TRULY necessary.
For me, having data on my phone and iPad was important since being able to write, and stay in touch is part of what I do, or am trying to do. I am creating my own online portfolio as I share our experiences, which is a huge part of being a travel blogger. Also, I suffer from FOMO syndrome (Fear of Missing Out, coined by the wise Cecily Kellogg), (although in truth, I have not paid close attention to any of my twitter lists or Facebook groups). I also needed to be able to make local calls, as well as send texts (which is much more common practice in Italy) which necessitated a local phone line. My other consideration was Principessa being able to call her dad in the United States, almost every day, without spending several hundred dollars. Did I really need to connect all these devices? Probably not. But did I? Yes.
Using Local Carriers to Stay Connected
The great thing about traveling to most foreign countries, is that you can buy a local SIM card without a binding contract. Most mobile devices are now able to accept local SIM cards, allowing you to receive local data and telephone services on prepaid, or pay as you go plans. Even AT&T changed their policy this past year to allow iPhones to be unlocked if your contract had expired and you are a customer in good standing.
In my case, I purchased a local SIM card with data plan for my iPad as well as my iPhone from TIM (a local Italian service). My data plan for the iPad was a one time fee giving me a large amount of data for a set fee for a year (the yearly plan was less expensive than a monthly one). For my iPhone, there was a special deal on unlimited data for one month (which is perfect since I am here for just under one month) with phone service where I can add money as I use it and realize that I need more. For the international calls I went to a local Tabacchaio store and purchased a prepaid card for 30 euros that gives me 80-90 minutes of talk time with the United States.
Another option of course is using Wifi, which is fabulous if it works. The thing to consider is that if you are going to depend on using Wifi, you are taking a risk. We had wifi at our agriturismo in Tuscany, but because of the thick walls that were used to build the apartments, the connection only worked near the main reception/office area. Technically we have wifi in our apartment in Cortina, but again, the signal is weak. My advice: unless you are staying in a large (chain) hotel (and even then, don’t bet on it) do not depend on being able to use wifi per your regular United States standards. In retrospect, I could have left my laptop at home and used my iPad exclusively, except for the fact that certain things are not easy to do on an iPad (like edit and photos for posts).
Finding Balance Between Connectivity and Family Time
The hardest part about finding ways to stay connected while traveling abroad is the balance between being online and being present with your family and for your vacation. I am not sure that I have found the perfect balance but my strategy of getting up early in the morning to work (especially easy the first few days of travel since you are still under the effects of jet lag), staying up late, and working while we drive from one place to another in the car.
What about you? How do you stay connected while you travel? Or do you go off the grid completely?