What factors do you consider when booking a holiday in the sun?
The weather? Of course. Quality of hotel? Undoubtedly. Cultural sights? Possibly. Solid mobile and 3G signal? Definitely!
Ok, maybe not everyone does that, but a recent independent survey found that 37% of European holidaymakers consider mobile connection issues when planning their holidays.
Whilst the figure may seem surprising, upon reflection it perhaps isn't that odd. Most people never go anywhere without their mobile these days and there even exists a name for those who experience anxiety when they are without their phone: nomophobia. What's more, O2 claim mobile usage abroad is growing by 100% each year.
And it isn't just the ability to text and call that holidaymakers want when sat by the beach. They still want to stream videos, send emails and do all the things they normally do.
The problem comes when using those phones abroad is it costs. A lot.
We've all heard shocking stories of travellers coming home with not just a lovely suntan but also a phone bill in the thousands of pounds after they failed to realise the dangers in making calls and surfing the net abroad. It's easy to laugh, but it surprisingly easy to happen.
So we've put together a list of dos and don'ts to help you ring your friends in miserable wet Blighty whilst you live the high life on a sun drenched European beach.
Love your phone and it will love you
Turn off your voicemail. Unless it's essential, don't check your voicemail whilst abroad. It can cost around 20p a call and that can soon add up. To avoid temptation just turn the feature off.
Check your mobile settings. Before you board your flight ensure all your mobile phone settings are set up correctly to avoid you eating up data and running up charges. Many people think this point is not relevant to them, but if you have a smartphone with apps the chances are you have some that will update automatically. Have a news feed? Get score updates from your favourite soccer team? Those kind of features use push notifications and you are going to get charged for them.
It's important to do this before travelling as switching on your phone once you land could see you inadvertently receiving queued notifications and paying through the nose for it.
Call your operator about roaming offers. Whilst roaming packages for using your phone abroad are better than ever, they are still costly. Operators aren't giving you better deals out of the goodness of their heart, either, but because they have to.
On July 1st, 2012 the European Union introduced new laws on mobile roaming to force operators to curb excessive and unfair mobile phone bills. Within the EU call costs are now capped at 23p per minute for calls and 56p/MB (excluding VAT) for internet access. The cap will get lower over the next two years until it reaches 15p a minute for calls and 16p/MB for internet access by 2014.
Each operator has different deals, so if you think you may use your phone a lot it can be worth chatting to them to find out if anything fits. Bear in mind, though, there are all sorts of terms and conditions you need to look over to avoid hidden charges. Also, most packages apply only to Europe, so be careful if you stray outside EU borders. Finally, some packages look attractive but for those using their phone sparingly it may cost more than roaming without a package at all!
Tap into free Wi-Fi to use VoIP. Voice over Internet Protocol services allow you to make calls for nothing or at massively discounted prices. Skype, Rebtel and Viber are the most established VoIP providers and are a great way to stay in touch whilst abroad. Wi-Fi is offered in countless bars, cafes and public areas all over the world, so make the most of it. Once you are connected it's the same as using your phone or PC at home. If you can't find a Wi-Fi hot spot you can use a computer at an internet café or at your hotel instead, which usually are equipped with VoIP software .The likes of Rebtel and Skype allow you to call PCs, landlines or mobiles for either no charge or a fraction of what a mobile operator would do. It's probably the single best way to stay connected whilst travelling.
Purchase a local pre-paid SIM card. This little tip is a simple, but often overlooked, way to save on your bill. Make sure you have an unlocked phone first before buying (check with your operator if you are unsure how to do this).
If all else fail, bring your own Wi-Fi. Roaming is the arch nemesis of the connected man or women in the digital age. Luckily, there are companies out that there trying to mitigate this pain point with so-called 'Mi-Fi' devices. These are simple credit-card size dongles which help turn a 3G signal into Wi-Fi which can then be shared by up to five other devices. What this means is one user can share their signal with fellow travellers, cutting costs for the whole group.
Bring back memories, not bills. With just a little forethought and simple knowledge there is no real reason to come home from your travels with a huge phone bill. Simply think a little before you go, change a few phone settings and utilise free Wi-Fi and VoIP services. It's that simple.
Don't forget though, the easiest way to cut down on your bills abroad is to, whisper it quietly, leave the mobile in the hotel room.
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