Cell Phone. Do I really need one?

My husband and I will be traveling to Europe for the first time in June. We are spending 2 weeks in Italy. I have read Europe Through the Back Door and browsed this website to help plan the trip. The only thing I really don't have nailed down is the phone. My husband and I use Verizon phones that won't work in Italy, so we would have to purchase a phone. I'm not against purchasing a phone as we hope this trip will be the first of many, so I'm sure we would use it again. I was close to buying a phone from EuroBuzz and then read this board, and saw that too many people had problems with the phone and EuroBuzz customer service. We will be taking our iPad with us to communicate with our sons at home. We are staying at B&Bs in Bologna, Florence, and Rome and all have requested that we communicate with them our arrival time. We have also booked some tours that have requested a cell # to call in case of emergency. I'm usually NOT an indecisive person, but the phone dilemma has me stumped. Please help!

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
879 posts

Since you are taking your iPad try something like Talkatone - voice over IP and use the many wifi hotspots if you need to make a call.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24141 posts

Leia, There are a number of options you could consider..... > Use a Verizon loaner. Those used to be available for periods up to 30 days, but you'll have to check with them. Rates are a bit steep, but OK for limited use. > If either of you are eligible for an upgrade, obtain a new phone from Verizon that's capable of global operation. > Buy an inexpensive quad-band, unlocked GSM phone off E-Bay and use either with a SIM purchased in Italy or from one of the "travel phone" firms. I've seen Motorola V-551 models there lately for about $35 so not a huge cost. I travelled with a V-551 for many years and found it to be reliable. I tried an iPhone on my last trip but still evaluating that. > Obtain a phone or phone with SIM from one of the travel phone firms other than Eurobuzz. Some you could consider are Roam Simple, Cellular Abroad, Call In Europe, Telestial, Mobal or others. I've been using one of these for the past few trips and it's worked well so far. BTW, I believe Mobal is affiliated with EuroBuzz. One point to mention is that many of the travel phones have U.K. numbers so not sure if that would be a problem for anyone in Italy contacting you in cases of emergency. If I think of anything else, I'll post another note. Happy travels!

Posted by Rosalyn
1776 posts

Another option is a Mobal. We bought ours last year for around $15. There is no subscription. You pay through your cc of record for the time you use. We had one before, which my husband managed to wreck in a very lo-tech way - - his fault, not theirs. We thought a lot about it and opted to replace the Mobal. The only time we would and did use it is to make a call, from the road, to find a lodging. Don't anyone jump in here, please, and tell me I should have had a gps. We had one and it couldn't find our destination. We were very happy with our decision. Other situations can be imagined - - flat tire, engine trouble - - where a cell phone would be helpful. For $15? No controversy!

Posted by Ken
Spring, Texas
605 posts

People have lived for many centuries traveling Europe without a cell phone. Your only issue seems to be contacting B&Bs with your arrival time and having a number for some tours you've booked. That's fairly normal but you could survive without a cell phone. I typically plan reasonably well so I know within an hour or two of when I'll be at a B&B. They are mostly worried about you showing up too early or too late. Running a B&B is a busy job and they have their normal time to accept booked guests. The tour companies will live without a number but you may find yourself showing up that might have been cancelled for any number of reasons. The bigger the company the less likely it is you will need to be called especially if they have a guaranteed departure. That being said, I carry a Mobal phone. Depending on the country you have the incoming calls may or may not be free depending on what country you are in. It was the $15 model. You also get a UK phone number. I bring it on every trip and have never used it. The per minute charges are pretty high so they discourage its use as far as I'm concerned. If you believe you will use a phone a lot for trips, I recommend you get a nominal $60 unlocked phone in Europe. You could also get one on EBay but buying in Europe lets you fire it up right in the store and make sure it works. You would then buy a SIM card for each country you visit on an extended stay. Typically, calling outside your SIM country will be much more expensive. A few short calls won't be noticed but frequent calling will deplete your SIM quickly. Always get the rates when you buy the SIM. A SIM card is about $10 and comes with a decent amount of minutes for a few calls but not for a chatter box. The downside is that you wouldn't know your number until you bought the SIM card. Of course, you could reload minutes on old SIM cards with your old number as long as it hasn't expired.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

You might want to look at it as short-term and long-term solutions. I'd think that a wifi email would serve the purposes of communicating arrival times to the places you're staying. The ones I've been around have alarm bells hooked to the computer to notify them of incoming messages. Email would probably work for the tours as well, or just blow them off. They'd probably have to be pretty disorganized if they needed to issue an urgent communique. You've hived out a way to communicate with family. So much for the immediate concerns. On the broader picture (we dropped Verizon and quit using Mobal when we switched to ATT Iphones so I no longer know anything about their programs), you might want to restructure your whole setup and switch carriers - - especially if you think you'll be doing much international traveling. Here's what our logic was: * Mobal upped their rates to a buck-fifty a minute from an even dollar. * ATT's international voice plan is ten dollars a month - - calls cost a dollar, two dollars if you're not on the plan.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

* We've gone the other phone / buying sims route. It robs time, sims self-expire over time, sims gobble time when you switch countries, before long you have a box of sims with little idea of which one to try where. * With sims you have to call the important people to tell them how to call you - - more time and money down the drain. The one person you forgot to call that really, really needs to get in touch with you can't. * There was no noticeable change in price when we switched carriers, I can't even remember which way it moved. We're now working with two phones and two tablets (we often are traveling concurrently in different parts of the world). Due to the amount of travel and its unpredictability, the phones live on international voice plans. We've never had anything on an international data plan (thirty dollars a month) since wifi works just fine. Both tablets are cellular data capable - - in the couple of times we've had to use it briefly, the cost was inconsequential. It might not be your answer, but more simple at the same price sure works for us. The only drawback has been calls from people that we didn't need to talk to - -I can blow anybody off politely in a minute and only drop a dollar.

Posted by Leia
33 posts

Thank you all for your informative replies. >>Ed I like the short-term/long-term thinking. My husband is locked into Verizon because his employer covers his cell phone. My contract is up in Dec. of this year but all of my family is on Verizon. I'd have to look into whether switching providers would save me money in the long run or not. >>Christi Have not heard of Talkatone...I will look into this. >>Ken & Rosalyn
I appreciate the thumbs up for Mobal...I will look into this also

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4619 posts

I think you do need one. Figure out one of these options and go for it. Quite a few years ago I found that you just could not find many pay phones. And, it seemed like everybody needed your mobile phone number. If course, people traveled to Europe for years without cell phones. Hey, they traveled to Europe for years with land lines either or cars or many of the other conveniences we have today. I find that it saves you time and stress--two really important things to for vacation. One you don't want to waste and the other you don't want to have. ; ) Pam

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
1483 posts

It's a matter of convenience...you certainly don't need one as you can communicate over e-mail via the ipad with everyone (b & bs, kids, tour operators, etc). I'm in the minority, but my 2 week vacations overseas are completely gadget free (no cell, no laptop, etc)...it's wonderful to take a break from technology...if I had to, I'd just pop in an internet cafe.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
3399 posts

I bought a SIM card in Florence to go into my unlocked AT&T GSM phone. When it didn't work, I called the company only to go into an automated attendant in Italian. I gave up. I actually enjoyed not having a cell phone for two weeks. If anyone needed to communicate, they can just send an email to my laptop. I lived without a cell phone for 37 years, and they're not a prerequisite for quality living.
And pay phones are in train stations and other places to call hotels/B&B's from.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2887 posts

Here's my opinion (FWIW), you probably don't really need a phone, but if you're 'lost' without one you'll probably go for one of the options offered above. I traveled in France for 2 months last summer without a phone and I survived just fine. I took my little netbook computer and did everything by email, had no problem finding wifi (McDonalds were everywhere in France, don't know about Italy). All of the places I stayed (about 12 different hotels/b&b's) were fine with the email contact. I kept in contact with famile/friends through email and facebook so I never had a need for a phone.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24141 posts

Leia, Some additional thoughts to add to my earlier reply..... Talkatone may not be the best solution for the circumstances you described, as it won't allow tour companies or others to reach you in a timely manner. The only time you'd have service would be in Wi-Fi areas. I agree with Ed that it might be prudent to look at this in terms of short term and long term solutions. Using a Verizon loaner phone (as I mentioned earlier) may not be a good solution for European firms to reach you, since they'd have to dial your U.S. number and pay long distance, and you'd have to pay for the incoming call. Having a U.K. number may be more acceptable, as European firms are likely used to those. Some of the reasons I've been using a "travel SIM" for the last few years: a.) The rates are cheaper than roaming with my home network. b.) I have a working phone as soon as I step off the plane. c.) Rates are consistent in most countries in western Europe. d.) Calls are billed on a "post paid" basis to a credit card, so no need to "top up" or run out of minutes in the middle of a call. e.) Number can be renewed from year-to-year for a small charge. Good luck with your decision!

Posted by Allen
Lafayette, LA
210 posts

I brought a iphone for the last two trips, but never used the phone or text. Everything was done via email and skype using free wifi at hotels. When I book a hotel room now, lack of free wifi is a deal breaker.

Posted by Sherry
San Jose, CA
1994 posts

Leia, I strongly recommend you consider getting a verizon loaner phone. I did it several times, before I bought a verizon phone that includes a GSM option for Europe. The loaner is free (you may need to pay nominal shipping costs), and calls are 0.99/min, as I recall (assuming you add their intl plan, which would only cost you a dollar or two for the 2 weeks you'll need it). Without the intl plan, the per minute cost is a little higher. I had no problem with European vendors (B and Bs; hotels; local tour companies) accepting my US phone number as a contact number. And they called me on that number if/when they needed to reach me. I've also tested the route of buying a cheap GSM phone in Europe and using SIM cards. I found it to be a real pain and only used it for one trip. All the messages telling you when you're running through available time and telling you how to install the new time you purchase are in the native language (not surpringly), and the process for updating minutes was most definitely not self evident. In Italy, I found myself having to ask folks to install the time for me. It also made it more difficult for relatives in the US to remember how to dial me.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9472 posts

Wow,, must be partly a generational thing, but seriuosly no one NEEDS a cellphone, or an Ipad or what ever electronic gadgets that are convenient to have .. I have only once travelled with one ( my dd had a medical situation and wanted family to get ahold of me no matter where I was) . It was actually a bit of a pain, it was given to me by a local friend, but I had to go to Orange, wait in line, get new sim card, contact home and let everyone have my number, remember to charge it, etc etc. I much prefer to buy a phone card, which is what I have done for years now to phone home once a week or so, never felt the need for daily communications, I think we all take that for granted now. In 1985 my friend and I travelled around europe for 3 months and phone home twice. It was expensive . We mailed postcards. So Leia, get what you wish, but remember you can enjoy a trip without all that stuff too. So if something breaks down, or doesn't work, don't worry. There are still public phones in many places .
That said I have never stayed in B&Bs and this might be one reason why, not interested in reconfirming confirmed reservations on arrival, just on arriving when I want within reason( some small hotels ask you not to come too late, fair enough)

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7334 posts

Three years ago I bought a very inexpensive TIM phone in Italy, and I still
use it, I just buy more minutes when I need them. Calls within Italy are cheap, a few cents per minute more to other countries in Europe, and less than a dollar per minute to the US. The phone was €30 and came with ten minutes.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
1750 posts

I will say when they are necessary, they are necessary...next trip overseas, we're going to look into getting a phone in Europe...we have a cell here, but are lucky to use it even once a month (buy min as you go). There were 2 times on my last trip when I seriously needed one, tho, in the end, things mostly worked out. We were supposed to take the fast train from Nice to Avignon and were to be picked up at the train stn - stupid me bought tix for the slow train, our train was delayed 90min anyways in Nice because of torrential rain, and the slow train didn't even get into the correct train stn. Do you think I could figure out the dang payphone or find a free wifi for my ipod? Luckily, when we hit Marsailles for the train change...the Golden Arches...McDonalds! So after some very hurried messages, things worked out and our ride got us at the right time and place(but my stress level was thru the roof). Before leaving Nice, we were staying in Villefranche...our host was out when we arrived, so I stupidly called her using our cc and a payphone - well, noting the $40 (!) charge for that one minute call on our cc after we got home...never again...they may not be ' necessary', but, like a GPS, they make life easier.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3278 posts

In all my European travels I have probably really needed to make a phone call 6-8 times. Years ago, there were plentiful pay phones; you used a phone card or coins to make the call. There are now fewer pay phones and they can be missing or hard to find. I bought a Mobal phone before my last trip and used it once. I was glad I had it because there was no pay phone in sight (Gatwick Airport). In England I saw the shops that specialize in selling cellphones (Carphone, I think). I browsed in one store and saw that they had many choices. The least expensive was maybe $50, but I didn't ask a salesperson. There may be good deals on rentals or cheap phones. BTW, most communication can be done via email. Even small places keep up with their email. What I have noticed while traveling is that the airlines will keep you updated on their flights via mobile devices. The people traveling with smart phones seem to get the best, most timely info regarding their flights.

Posted by Bethanne
Philadelphia, PA, USA
162 posts

Leia, On our trip to Italy in 2011 we decided to take our netbook and use skype. While it worked in the b&b's to call home and the office and to info about our tour of the Colosseum Undgerground Tour for everyone here, I found the annoyance of trying to get service in the Rome airport (to call our car service since getting our luggage was taking forever) and trying to find our B&B in Venice (having trouble finding free wifi spots) very frustrating! We have opted to go with a phone this year instead. So, it's just really, I think, the expense and how good you are with technology, I admittedly get frustrated easily and defintely prefer to have a phone this time. I will be keeping track of your post to find out what service to use, I'm glad you posted this question and hope everyone is able to help you out! Thanks

Posted by Kia
Toronto, ON, Canada
112 posts

You certainly don't need one, and in your position, I probably wouldn't get one (since you have the iPad). I always like to have a phone for emergencies, but I travel alone and so don't have someone else to help me should something happen. Mostly I use my smartphone for non-phone things anyway (various maps and apps).

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
1208 posts

We have never taken a phone, just used wifi and iPad for emailing, blogging etc. We did find that we didn't have good wifi at every stop, so there were days we couldn't communicate, and we did look for Internet cafes on occasion, but since there were no pressing needs for communication it was fine. I had confirmed our reservations ahead of time and told our B&B's that we would not have a phone.
We only had one time that a phone would have been nice. We arrived at our B&B in Verona, only to find a gate locked, an intercom that no one answered, and no way of calling the owners. After a long wait we found a little hospital and somehow communicated that we wanted to use a phone. A nun called the number we had written down and we were able to get through. It all worked out and we have another fun memory of figuring our way around without speaking English!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
8186 posts

I like to have a cell phone because I don't normally travel with reservations. If I had reservations, I could survive easily with just Wifi and skype on my Ipod. Each travel day I'll call ahead in the morning (to a list of options I created at home) to book my next lodging The cell phone allows me to do that without having to stop for Wifi or a pay phone. That said, I can't imagine bringing a phone that charges dollars per minute - it's so much better just picking up a cheap phone and SIM card there. As far as I know Europeans don't do "contracts", they buy their phone and choose an inexpensive minutes option that fits their use. I spent 25 euro for a base Samsung phone and SIM card (included 10 euro calling credit). I'll use that as my travel phone until it dies, purchasing SIM cards for different countries as I need them (calls are cheapest in the country where you bought your card), then buy another one.

Posted by Leia
33 posts

Wow! Thank you so much to all who replied. After reviewing all the info here, checking out info on Verizon loaner phones, and Mobal phones, we have decided to buy a Mobal phone. We are going to wait until a month before our return date to purchase it, in case it doesn't work the way it is supposed to, so we'll be within the 60 day money back guarantee time frame. We think it is worth a try for only $29, plus shipping, and the few calls we think we will make while in Italy. I will report back when we return to let you know how it worked out for us. This was very helpful for me, so hopefully this thread can help another traveler, struggling with the same decision. Many Thanks ?