Apple (iPhone) people + Wifi users, please help!

I have never on any previous trip to Europe (5x) taken a mobile phone or a laptop. Not completely sold on the idea--don't think I really need a phone, and certainly don't want to talk to the USA while on vacation! But we might like having access to museum websites, train schedules online, etc. I have checked into renting a phone from Verizon--my iPhone 4 (NOT 4s) doesn't have the global whatsit to work anyhow. But it was suggested to me that I could take my phone, use airplane mode ONLY, and switch on the wifi--thus accessing the internet in areas with wifi (includes my booked hotels).

Please, anyone who knows...what do you think of this plan? I would (in theory) be able to have online access to helpful websites and check email for travel updates from airlines. Or am I just going to be carrying a paperweight?

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
14148 posts

An IPad with wifi can be very useful. Free wifi is nearly everywhere. And can be used in the same manner as in the US. Your IPhone in wifi mode will work fine but the screen size of an iPad is more useful.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8735 posts

When I travel, I use my regular smartphone as you were told - turn on airplane mode (which shuts off everything), then turn on wifi. My phone won't even work as a phone in Europe, but I use it on wifi all the time with no problem.

Posted by Charlene
Centennial, CO, US
1248 posts

I have taken my iPhone on my last couple of trips and loved it. Used it more than I expected, because it's small enough to carry with you all the time. The screen is a little small but it's so much more convenient than the netbook I used to bring. Put Skype on your iPhone & you can make inexpensive calls (including free calls to 800 numbers). Plus you have helpful apps, for currency conversion, translations, etc. Just be sure to leave it in airplane mode.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
6736 posts

If your iphone is unblocked you should be able to buy a local SIM card (with a local data plan) and use it normally as you would at home. Last year my wife spent 30 euro for one month data plan on her android, which included also 10 or 15 euro of voice and text.
Last week I was in Central America yet I still had a chance to put comments on this board using my Iphone without incurring any roaming charges, simply by logging into my hotel's wifi.
To do so you need to disable the data roaming charges (your iPhone should have that disabled by default). In addition with the iPhone you have an additional way to disable those pesky charges. Just go to Settings-Cellular Data-CellularData off (should be gray, not green). You can still receive calls and text, and also log on to a wifi hot spot (like your hotel's), but will no incur any international roaming charges, which could run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Make sure you disable the cellular data off only after departing the US otherwise you will disable everupything in the US as well. A more detailed explanation is here:

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
24211 posts


As noted, your Verizon iPhone 4 will not work in GSM service areas as the Verizon version of the phone wasn't configured for that. However you should certainly be able to use it to access the internet in areas with Wi-Fi availability. I'm not sure it would be necessary to place the phone in "Airplane mode", as the wireless functions such as voice and text probably won't work anyway (atlhough it might be a good idea to switch off cellular data anyway, just to be sure).

I've found that having access to the internet can be an asset during travels, so the phone will probably be more useful than a "paperweight".

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7382 posts

Just for the convenience of screen and keyboard size, I take my iPad with wifi only. I will happily downsize to the iPad mini next year. I use it for so many things.

Posted by debbiesue22006
43 posts

Thank you all so much!! I am really indebted to all the incredible people on these boards who know so much and are so willing to share. Mille grazie, all of you!!

Posted by Lee
1017 posts

Maybe it's time to switch carriers and get a new phone. With TMobile we take our iPhones to Europe and use them as we normally do in the US. The only difference is that phone calls are 20ยข/minute. Data and texts are included at no extra charge.

Posted by Sheron
Alta Loma, CA, USA
1334 posts

I took my IPhone 5 to Italy last year but kept it in airplane mode the entire 3 weeks. I simply used it via wifi to look up information as you wish to do (research train times, restaurants, addresses, etc.). I used Skype to call home and check on my elderly parents.. In my case, I also rented an international cell phone so that my folks could get a hold of me in an emergency & so I could coordinate meeting with private drivers, tour guides, etc. The cost of renting and using an international cell phone was far less than if I had used my IPhone (through Verizon) so it worked out well. We didn't have any problems using the free wifi provided by all of our hotels though it was slower at some places than at others. Have a great trip!

Posted by Robert
Tampa, FL, USA
824 posts

I took my phone last year and indeed only airplane mode and wifi at the hotels we stayed at. Perfect comment above about not waiting to talk to states while on vacation. I picked up a cheap TIM calling card to make a few calls from pay phones at train stations. Some of our hotel owners meet us at the station which was nice. Otherwise for dinner reservations our hotel had no problem calling the places for us.

I also slimmed down my Italy guidebook last year thanks to suggestions and rebound it. It was still thick enough. This year I upgraded to a Ipad Mini (Wifi Only). So i will be leaving my phone at home and taking the iPad Mini. I'm trying out Rick's electronic guidebook. This way I can have that, the audio app and any information I take all on one place and no papers.

Posted by stan
Kansas City
1214 posts

debbiesue, my eBook (Nook) has wifi capability, and was enough for me last trip. You can download maps and guidebooks on to it too. Smaller and less of a loss if lose it. I just used iPhone for short calls and text, then shut it off.

Posted by peg
68 posts

I just downloaded Ricks 2014 guidebook on my iPad mini. Purchase through iBooks.

Posted by Jenn
Rick Steves' Europe
291 posts

I have brought my iphone and mini ipad to Europe the last two times and plan to bring it again this summer. I turn all the data off. I use my phone to take photos. I also use it as my alarm clock. I can call anyone with an iphone using facetime as long as I'm in a WiFi zone. What worked great to check in back home. I also uploaded photos to facebook when I was on wifi. Every hotel I stayed in for my one month trip had wifi. I was also able to find it at most cafes, restaurants. You could upload a map before you left the wifi zone and then refer to it. One final thing I like is to download Rick's audio museum walks and play them on my iphone. You don't need wifi to do that. It beats renting an audio guide or reading a book when you are at the museums. I would definitely bring it even if you used it for other things besides calling.

Posted by elaine
59 posts

just spoke with Verizon and lady said turn airplane mode off?? not on. I also have the iphone 4. she said to turn off cellular data off, voice roaming off. go where wifi is and can email , no text.


Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
588 posts

I have an iPhone 4G through ATT and have never had a problem when traveling with it, and what I do is call ATT before I leave and get the 50 int'l text plan added ($15, I think, that's out-going texts, incoming are part of regular plan), the lowest bit of int'l data added, just in case I'm not near Wi-Fi and must use it (lost, etc), plus a calling plan--I travel alone so I do talk to my parents a couple of times and text with a few people. If you call your phone company and tell them what you want to be able to do, they will guide you in the right direction--ATT has never over-sold any of the int'l features, and they stop on the date I tell them I'm returning, never a problem. I don't fiddle with the airplane mode but as we are so often cautioned, always keep the roaming turned off. I can't imagine traveling without my phone, both from a communication standpoint and being able to look up schedules and such.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8735 posts

You turn airplane mode ON. It is already off. The Verizon lady apparently doesn't know that airplane mode turns everything off when you switch it ON. Not to add confusion, but you cannot text as usual while airplane mode is on, but you can use a wifi-based texting app like HeyWire to text over wifi.

Posted by Charles
Austin, Texas, USA
325 posts

I would also highly recommend downloading the DB train app. I found this really useful to have the latest and most up to date train schedules. You can "screen shot" the schedules while you are in the wifi zone and use it to reference later. Enjoy!!

Posted by Jana
Aberdeen, Washington, U.S.
44 posts

The first time my husband and I toured Europe, we only had Arthur Frommer's Europe on $25 a Day tour book. I am amazed at the many options available today, things we think we must have.

Posted by runnerd1
1 posts

I offer an additional tip in using free WiFi either in the US or Europe. As an additional layer of security, obtain a VPN ( virtual private network ) . There is a great new app called Cloak ( ). It currently offers a 30 day free trial and several other very reasonable plans. With Cloak VPN, your automatically connected to this secure network if it has not been designated by you as secure. This offers an additional layer of protection. It works on iPhones, iPads, and Mac laptops in all countries except China and Iran.

Posted by Jaime
20 posts

In 2009, I brought a 8" netbook. Last month, I brought a 7" tablet. I did have a phone packed, but only for emergencies. Wifi is not universal (and it's not always easy to find a free signal when you're out and about), but I used it primarily to keep in touch with the people I was visiting and to keep up with any updates/delays with my transportation. I had a camera with me, but I didn't have access to a PC with a SD slot until the latter half of my trip, so I used the tablet to take a handful of photos that I could upload instantly to Facebook so that people could see where I was, who I was with, what I was eating (yes, I'm THAT person, but hey, people wanted to know!), things of that nature.

It's also handy if you don't have access to a printer for locally-purchased tickets; most places will email you a confirmation, and unless it explicitly says otherwise, you can usually show the confirmation on your screen instead of a paper ticket.

I also loaded up a micro SD card with some movies, just in case the selection on the plane sucked, or if I found myself with downtime that I couldn't spend exploring or hanging out with people. I had no need of it on this trip, but my last trip involved a four day stay in the hospital, so several hours' worth of entertainment is now part of my contingency plan!