One of my best friends, Monica, recently went on a backpacking trip to Europe for five weeks – without a phone. When she got back, I asked her how she survived. She admitted that although it was hard being disconnected from everyone (sometimes she didn’t have access to a computer for days), overall it was liberating to not be “controlled” by her phone. Last year when I went to London, England for two weeks and my phone didn’t work, I almost died. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is: although I admire Monica’s strength, I can’t go that long without my phone during my upcoming 25-day trip.
I’ve done the research and read numerous articles and blogs warning people about the dangers of using your phone overseas (the biggest expense is roaming and data charges on smartphones). Since I’m paying more than $3,500 of my hard-earned cash to go on this trip, forking over more money just to check my Facebook updates is a waste. I do, however, want the ability to text or call anyone if there’s an emergency.
- Purchase an international texting plan from my cell provider.
For $30 I can send 100 texts (about three a day) and receive unlimited incoming texts. It may seem like a waste to some of you, and I commend you if you’re able to go a month without your phone, but for me, my phone doesn’t only connect me to home, it also makes me feel safer when I’m travelling.
- Find Wi-Fi hotspots.
Lucky for me, almost all of our hostels have free, unlimited Wi-Fi. After busy days touring, the girls and I can relax in our room before we head out for the evening and send emails, Facebook and Skype (we all have access to Skype on our iPhones/iPod Touches) to update everyone on our travels. I also downloaded the application “Wi-Fi Finder” on my iPhone, so that when we’re out touring, we can always stop in a café and get onto the internet.
Still not convinced it’s worth it to bring your phone to Europe? I understand the whole “authentic” factor, but here’s a list of reasons why you should bring it:
- If your wallet is stolen (think credit card, health card, driver’s license, debit card, etc.), you can get in touch with someone in seconds, whereas finding a payphone or buying a calling card would waste valuable time.
- If you ever feel unsafe, you can call for help immediately.
- If you have a smartphone, you can easily keep track of your bank accounts and check your emails in Wi-Fi areas. .
My top three favourite apps for my trip so far are:
- GPS My City, which offers free, self-guided walking tours
- Google Translate, which translates words and phrases (it can even say them aloud to you!)
- WhatsApp, which allows you to text your contacts (who have the application) for free whenever you have internet connectivity. Best of all, you can send videos, voice messages and pictures! Think of it like BlackBerry Messenger, but better!
I’m also going to have to worry about protecting my phone from pickpockets, but just like my finances, I believe that a little research, precaution and planning will ensure my safety. Plus, I have four mini-locks I bought from the dollar store ($1.50 each) to secure my purse zippers shut. Yes, they may be flimsy and easily broken, but hey, it’s one more barrier between my wallet and a robber.
Update on my savings:
I’ve saved up the full $3,500! And best of all, I’ve had one of the best summers of my entire life. Although the summer was pricey, it was manageable because of my strict budget and my constant effort to put money into my Tax-Free Savings Account. And the best part of all? I have no outstanding debts, and a late graduation present from my aunt and Mama (grandma) is enough to cover the deposit for my January 2012 Mexico trip, which is due this week! For once, I’m ahead of the game!
Saved as of this post: $3,500