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Do we really need a cell phone on our trip?

I've been doing some searches on this forum and others about cell phones for travel in Europe, and I thought I would step back a minute and ask your advice. We are a family four, including two 18- and 21-yr-old sons, and we'll be in Italy for about 10 nights. While we use our cell phones a lot here (especially our sons), do we need phones while we're there? I know the concept of "need" is certainly subjective, but if we eliminate calls and texts to friends, calls home to the US, email, web surfing, and gaming, there's not much left. I could see needing to contact our lodging, a tour guide (if we miss connections), the car rental company, and people like that while we're there, but I imagine we could do that with a phone card at a public phone. It would be nice to have a cell phone for emergencies, but I'm not sure if it's worth getting a phone for that. I also wondered if it would be a good idea to get two of them in case our sons wanted to do something on their own during some of our unplanned time (i.e. ditch mom and dad). Of course, since the time is unplanned at the moment, I don't know what circumstance might arise that would lend itself to us splitting up.

I guess I'm looking for your experience on whether you use a cell phone on your non-business travels and whether you feel it was worth bringing it, especially if you had to rent/buy a phone for Europe. Our Verizon phones are not GSM so bringing them along is not an option. Several people have posted about different companies they've used for global cell phones, and I plan to follow up on them if it seems like we should bring one or two along.


Posted by
32264 posts


I always travel with my Cell phone, and find that it's very useful for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. The ability to contact lodgings if I'm going to be a bit late is nice, and since I travel solo a lot it's nice to be able to keep in touch with family back home and to let them know where I am.

I'm with one of the GSM networks, so it's very easy to travel with my regular phone, just using roaming with my home network. Since I use text most of the time to contact family and make only VERY occasional voice calls, it's not really that expensive.

Based on your questions, my answer would be to take at least one Cell phone with you. I understand that Verizon has a rental program for GSM phones to allow their customers to travel, so you might contact them for details.

Happy travels!

Posted by
1127 posts

You are renting a car it is smart to have at least one working phone with you. Some car rentals offer the feature as an add-on.

For me, a vacation is a time to escape. I don't want to texting or receive any messages. I only check my e-mail if absolutely necessary. If you need to check in with anyone back home it is easy (and cheap) to purchase a calling card.

Posted by
25 posts

I am traveling to Europe in May and I've been thinking about the exact same thing. When I priced the cost to purchase/rent a cell phone and pay for a fair number of phone calls I might make, I decided it wasn't very cost effective. Instead I am purchasing a basic laptop to bring with me (even though it’s an extra piece of luggage). I took a trip to the UK last year, and having a laptop (via work) was extremely useful when booking reservations, planning out itineraries, and buying tickets. You can also make international calls via Skype.

However, if your set on having a cell phone, there are several European companies you can buy phones with prepaid cards from for 50+ Euros. I’m sure someone on here can direct you to a website.

Posted by
3621 posts

Just buying a phone card and using it at public phones would be good advice except that, especially in Italy, public phones are getting to be an endangered species. We bought a Mobal after an experience of not being able to find our b&b and not easily finding a phone booth. It came with adapters so that it can be charged in any country where it works. You give a cc # and are charged only for the usage. Sure enough, on our next trip, following the directions we had been given, we came to a construction zone which completely blocked the road. We had to call for an alternate route. If I were traveling with adult sons, who will probably want to go off on their own, I'd want two phones.

Posted by
242 posts

When we moved over here we decided to see if we really needed cell phones. Well we have been over here for 9 months and still do not have them. We spend at least one week each month traveling and are away almost every weekend.

Life and emergencies did exist before cell phones and we all managed to cope somehow.

An 18 and 21 year old are not children and I am sure they can figure out how to cope by themselves without a cell phone. Give them the number and address to the hotel where you are staying and they can call if there is a problem.

I think a phone card, public pay phones and the phones are your lodging would be fine.

Posted by
800 posts

Melissa - we have yet to take a cell phone to Europe and we have survived just fine. We communicate with home via email at the hotels or cafes. We split up and then meet up with the various people in our party by arranging a place/time to meet (and making sure everyone knows where the hotel is). The only time I needed a phone (and we did bring one but something in the setup made it not work as promised) was when we were in Sicily and all the B&B's were very small, very out of the way and they asked that we phone before we got there to be sure that someone was there. In that case we just asked our B&B host to call the next hotel for us.

Posted by
118 posts

You can never tell when an emergency will come up. We have traveled for many years and never taken a cell phone until our trip last year. I had my at&t cell phone activated to use in europe. Internet cafe's were easy and cheap so I never used it until our last night in Madrid when we missed our flight home. The phone was nice to have as I could call my travel agent in our home town in the U.S. and have her find us a way home. It worked and we will carry it from now on.

Posted by
85 posts

I spent 8 weeks in Italy last year with no cell phone. I bought phone cards at the tobacco shop and called home from my hotel room phone using the phone card. It was cheap and convenient. If there is a real emergency there are plenty of nice people who will let you use their phone or who will make a call for you.

Unplug yourself and enjoy your vacation without the distraction of being tethered to a phone.

Posted by
32264 posts


Given the reasons you stated in your OP, it sounds like having at least one Cell phone would be useful for your trip.

Some on the HelpLine here have reported good experiences with Roam Simple. Do a search and have a look at some of the comments.

If you didn't want to obtain a rental phone from Verizon, you could possibly buy an unlocked quad-band GSM phone from E-Bay and use with Travel SIM's such as those offered by Roam Simple, Cellular Abroad, Mobal, Telestial or others. You could also buy the Phones here and buy PAYG SIM's when you arrive in Europe.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to read the "fine print" carefully, so that you have a very clear understanding of the rates and potential costs.


Posted by
155 posts

Well, I am going over in May with my 20 year old grdaught.

I plan on having 2 phones - mainly so we can keep in contact if we get separated. I never call home, use the net all the time so they know what we are doing :)

I also will be researching which phone will be the best and cheapest so I will be watchine here !

Posted by
891 posts

We have never brought or needed a cell phone in Europe. Our adult sons and a neighbor have our itinerary with exact dates & phone numbers for each hotel where we are going to be in case they need to contact us. We check our email & send a few while we are gone, but that's it. When on a trip years ago (before cells) we split up a few times & had a meeting place & time. It worked well. I would suggest that before giving a cell phone to your sons that you explain to them very clearly what the charges will be, especially if it's a phone from home that's on roam. And tell their friends not to call them. Have a great trip.

Posted by
9033 posts

What would you have done 10 years ago? I would enjoy my vacation and leave the darn things at home. If you want to call the states, go to a call center where for about 2 cents a minute, you can check on things at home.

Posted by
63 posts

Wow, you guys have really give me some great feedback! It has been very interesting to read the postings and consider your thoughts.

Pre-cell travel: Yep, we all did just fine before the advent of cell phones. My husband and I spent 16 days in the English countryside in the mid-80s, with a rental car, and had no problems except for the last day when we had problems getting to the car return and then the airport. Looking back, it would have been nice to have a cell but we managed and made it home. We also went on a Western Med cruise in 2006 and had no reason to use a cell.

Cells and sons: Our adult sons know they aren't taking their cells with them (they don't work) and seem to have no issue with it. In fact I'm not sure they're even aware we're considering bringing other phones with us. The four of us went to Mexico a couple of years ago and had no phone, and they managed (with a little withdrawal for the elder son). The main reason we're thinking about two phones is if we're split up (not at hotel) and they need to reach us. I akin it to insurance: you hope you don't need it but it's nice to know it's there.

Phone cards: I am just as happy to bring/buy phone cards to use there, though I am concerned about Rosalyn's point about it getting harder to find a public phone with which to use it. We didn't run into that problem in England when we used phone cards (red boxes everywhere), but the ubiquitous cell phones have led to the rapid demise of public phones.

(continued on next posting)

Posted by
63 posts

(continued from last posting)

Renting/buying cells for trip: Based on a tip on another thread, I found out our AutoEurope car rental entitles us to a great deal on a cell rental. Unfortunately, the second phone, should we choose to rent it, is not so great a deal. Looking around to various sites, it was looking like it would run us around $100 for both phones for the 10-day trip. In some cases, however, that $100 bought us the phones instead of rented them, so that's a long-term benefit. In either case, the per-minute charges are anywhere from moderate to steep, though if we use the phones as we plan there should be little or no airtime costs. I'd be very interested in hearing of any great deals you have heard of. (Thanks for your great list, Ken. I'll check them all out)

Bottom line: Since we'll be using a rental car for several days, driving in unfamiliar territory, we're leaning towards bringing a cell, but will likely only bring one. If our guys want to go off on their own, we'll set up meeting places and give pertinent numbers, then go! Part of being independent is being able to figure out unexpected situations. They're both Boy Scouts; they'll figure it out. ;)

Thanks again to all of you for your helpful info. Keep the posts and PMs coming - they're great!


Posted by
11507 posts

I have never brought or used a cell phone on holiday.. I have managed just fine. I have travelled solo , with children, with friends etc .

I get a phone card. Thats all the contact I need. I also leave numbers of my hotels with my family, with don't call unless its important notations!

In emergency you can always ask for help, I arrived at a train station in rural France,, I was supposed to phone friend to pick me up. Duh, no phone at train station,, so I walk about 100 meters down road, with my 12 yr old, stopped in a cafe and asked owner for help, they just grabbed their phone , dialed and handed it to me.. most people( especially outside big cities) want to help you.

I guess cell phones are convenient, but you do miss out on something. Over 20 years ago my friend and I did the 3 month backpacking trip through Europe,, we loved being "out of touch". We phoned home maybe twice(hey it was expensive back then) .. we all survived pre cell phones, and maybe learned better travel skills because of it.