Staying Connected vs Staying Offline When Travelling
Having an internet connection is very useful during travel. It helps when looking for information and directions. You can also lookup for language translation to read those unfamiliar characters and languages. It eases communication and you can stay update to date with social media by posting your travel photos in Instagram or Facebook. There are number of options if you wish to stay connected during your travels such as roaming, buying a new SIM card, pocket WiFi and free WiFi. Opting to any of them depends on your needs and budget.
Roaming is a quick and hassle-free way to stay connected during travel. Some mobile network operators offer a very good price & bundle for data roaming for neighbouring countries in which they had alliances with. There’s daily pass, 3 day pass, 7 day pass or monthly pass.
Every year, I always make have a short trip 1-3 days to southern park of Thailand (Hatyai/Krabi). The following is the data roaming rate comparison for Malaysia’s mobile network operators for Thailand:
|Celcom  |
Based on the comparison, I found that there is a wide range of data roaming plan for prepaid user which starts at a very affordable price. Therefore, I choose to roam for my short trip to Thailand.
Tethering to other device might be blocked by the operators. Therefore, it might not be a good option if you want share the internet across multiple devices.
Check with your mobile provider if roaming is activated for your phone before travelling.
Roaming can be quite expensive when there’s unnecessary usage that you are unaware of. For example, whenever some one calls you and you rejected the call or you had taken out your SIM car from your phone without turning it off and then the call goes to voicemail. This is chargeable because the home network knows that you are roaming in the foreign country. Therefore the call had to be connected from your home country to the roaming country to reach you, then it has to be forwarded back to home country for the voicemail. Hence there is charges for voicemail although you never answers the call. Therefore:
- Disable voicemail to avoid unnecessary bill shock.
- Turn off your phone before taking out the SIM card to properly de-register your line from the roaming network if you do not wish to roam
Buying A New SIM Card
The rate is usually cheaper and offers a higher data usage compared to roaming. You might want to explore this if you are travelling in a longer period. There is two types of SIM cards:
1) Local SIM card of the mobile operator in visited country
You may buy this online or at the airport upon arrival. Usually the staff will happy to assist you to exchange the SIM card on your phone and activate the line. I choose this option when I went for a trip for more than 3 days to Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand.
2) Traveller SIM Card which is able to roam in several countries
This options works the best if you are travelling across multiple countries. It can be purchased at Klook or Lazada and have it delivered to your home. For my one month trip to Europe, I bought Three UK SIM card. The price is RM 80 (USD 20) for 10 GB data, 3000 min, 3000 SMS, valid for 30 days. This can be used in 36 European countries including UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland etc.
When using this option, you may stay connected with family at home using WhatsApp and had to inform other party on your new numbers shall they need to reach you. You will not be able to receive TAC SMS from your bank and will have to switch back the SIM card whenever performing online banking transaction. Using a phone which can support dual SIM would be helpful in this situation but disable Data Roaming for your home country SIM card.
Pocket WiFi Rental
A pocket WiFi is a portable wireless modem, mobile hotspot, or internet dongle, that connects any Wi-Fi enabled device such smartphones, laptops, and tablets to the internet through a mobile network. This is usually cheaper than data roaming but you might be required to place a security deposit for the device. It offers a higher data usage quota compared to roaming.
You will need to book the the pocket WiFi prior to travel and it can be delivered to your home or pickup at the airport. Once you are back from your travel, simply drop the pocket WiFi at the counter at the airport and get back the deposit.
Since it is a mobile hotspot, this means can connect several devices to the internet. Therefore, this is the best option if you are travelling in a group as you may share the cost at a much cheaper price.
For Malaysian travellers, you may rent pocket Wifi from the following provider:
Don’t forget to turn off Data Roaming at your phone setting and disable voicemail to avoid unnecessary charges.
If you don’t mind of not always being connected to the internet, then you may also opt to use Free WiFi. Free WiFi is usually available at airport, hotel, public area, coffee shop like Starbucks or restaurant like McDonald’s. Just look for the free WiFi logo or scan it on your mobile device.
At the airport, there might be a time limit for WiFi. Certain flight carrier also provides free WiFi for a limited quota.
During my 9 days travel to Beijing, China & 1 day travel in Muscat, Oman, I chose this option. At Beijing, there is a free WiFi inside a bus and it really makes our trip easier as we can track the bus location and know where to stop.
Free WiFi saves you money. However, it might be difficult to stay connected as you may only access the internet whenever there is a free WiFi hotspot. It might be hard to find a free WiFi hot spot if you are travelling outside of the city area as well.
Phone & Network Compatibility
A phone model usually different versions across the region and it is sold based on the frequency band used for the country. For an example Samsung Galaxy A70 has the following versions:
- SM-A705FN/DS (Global);
- SM-A705YN (Austria);
- SM-A705F/DS (APAC);
- SM-A705GM/DS (India);
- SM-A705MN/DS (LATAM/SEA);
- SM-A705W (Canada);
- SM-A7050 (China, Hong Kong)
The Samsung Galaxy A70 which I bought in Malaysia is SM-A705F version.
Since frequency band in each countries might differs, it is advisable to check if your phone is compatible with the frequency band used by the mobile network operator in the visited country.
Check your phone frequency band here.
Check the visited country mobile network frequency band here.
For example, I am using Samsung Galaxy A70, model SM-A705F and I wil be travelling to Sydney, Australia. I plan to roam in Optus or to buy an Optus SIM Card. The following is the compatibility check done based on the information found on those two websites:
|Network||Phone Frequency Band||Frequency Band for Optus, Australia||Compatibility Check|
|2G||GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 – SIM 1 & SIM 2 (dual-SIM model only)||Shutdown||2G is not supported|
|3G||HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 – SM-A705FN/DS||850/900/2100||3G is supported|
|4G LTE||LTE band 1(2100), 3(1800) , 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 20(800), 38(2600), 40(2300), 41(2500) – SM-A705FN/DS||4G LTE Optus 700/1800/2600Mhz,|
4G LTE Optus 2300Mhz (Canberra), 4G LTE Optus 2100Mhz (Darwin, Cairns, Hobart, Sunshine Coast);
|LTE is supported at a location which uses 1800/2600 Mhz. There will be no LTE connection for location which uses 700 MHz frequency band.|
Based on the checking, I will be able to use the internet when in Australia for 3G & 4G network. Whenever there is no 4G connection, the phone will automatically look for 3G network.
Since there is no 2G in Australia, I should not bring an old dumb phone (I believe everyone uses a smartphone these days)
If you do not wish to spend on data roaming but still want to receive TAC SMS for your online banking or credit card or use the offline map on your phone, turn off Data Roaming at your phone settings. Disable your voicemail and don’t pick up any call or make any call/SMS if you don’t want to get charged.
Without the presence of internet, it means that you will have to get prepared in advance with all the information needed during travel:
- You may do research before travel and keep the notes or using an app like Microsoft One Note. I find this works best for me as I would have a record of information and itinerary which can be used during travel and it can be kept as a record for future reference or share to others.
- Bring a travel guide book
- Collect the brochure at the airport, hotel, train station or information centre to find travel information and get coupons.
If you are an adventurous and spontaneous traveller, being offline gives you a good opportunity to speak with the local. This is the best way to communicate and get to know the local. Most of the time, they will be happy to assist in giving direction. During my travel in Bangkok, Thailand, I was assisted by the local for almost everyday. Some even guide me all the way on a bus and train until I reach my stop. Some would ask me where do I want to go without me even asking for the direction and guide me the direction. Some even help us to call for minibus driver to help us go back to the city. Thais are so kind and generous.
You can also download an offline map app prior to your travel. However, you will need to be roaming or connected to the network. Simply turn off the data roaming and the phone will use the GPS to track your location.
You may also download a language in Google Translate app for offline translation. This will be very helpful when travelling to other country with other language.
When travelling with a group of friends, make an agreement to meet back at what time and place to gather in case if the groups gets separated when exploring museums or markets.
I had a business trip in Myanmar 10 years ago to setup roaming connections in between an operator Malaysia & Myanmar Post & Telecom. At that time, there is no one operator in the world who has roaming agreement with MPT, Myanmar. I only have WiFi connection at office which is unstable. Sometime it is working, sometime it is down. I also had Myanmar SIM Card which I can use to make test calls. The line to make international call was also not stable. Outside of office, I do not have the access to internet at all but I brace myself to explore Yangon. I took a cab from my hotel as early as 6am to visit Shwedagon Pagoda and came back to hotel before 9 am to go to work.
During my one month stay in Paris my phone got stolen on the first day of my arrival. During my trip for Paris, I intended to do a Malaysian food delivery services and personal shopper services to cover the expenses for my unplanned 1 month travel. I survived a few days without a phone. I was still able to proceed with my plan to look for food supplies at Asian groceries stores, buying food packaging from catering supply store and started the delivery service on my 4th day in Paris.
Then a kind Malaysian lend me his spare phone temporarily but I can only use limited apps due to limited memory & storage. At least I am able to use WhatsApp and Instagram for communication & business purpose. Fortunately, I had a friend who will be having a Euro trip around the same time as I am and she offered to bring me a new phone. I ordered a new phone from Lazada and it is delivered the next day to my friends house and we met at UK.
Being disconnected from internet isn’t that bad. I had survived many trips without internet. It can be done, really!
Your choice really depends on your personality, needs and budget. Staying connected allows you to look for information easily, communicate and stay up to date with social media.
Staying offline is also a great way to start a conversation with locals. You might need to do a little bit of research & planning in advance or you may go on a spontaneous adventures. If you will be exploring nature or parks, who would have time to play with the internet anyway.
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- UMOBILE (2020), U Data Roam [online]. Retrieved 12 February 2020.