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Is a Cell Phone Really Necessary?

My husband and I will be travelling for 3 weeks in Eastern and Central Europe. We'll be travelling through about 8 countries via rental car. The main reason I'd like a phone is for the GPS and for a couple of audio tours. Since we're going through so many countries and our cell phone carrier (Sprint) does not seem to have reasonably-priced international travelling options, I'm questioning whether we should bring our phone. We have no dependents we are leaving behind at home; so staying in touch with loved ones at home via e-mail/computer/tablet will be sufficient.

Would it be better ditch the cell phone and bring other items for our technology needs (i.e. a tablet with a Navigation App and an iPod for audio tours)? Or is there some reason why we should bring a cell phone that we're not thinking of?

Posted by
2081 posts


Ive gone without any e devices up until a couple years ago. I bought my first cell phone in london just to have for emergencies while traveling and thats about all i use it for other than the pay my bills while traveling. even though i can pay my bills automatically, i learned once that $$$ is out of your account, its really slow to come back in if there is an error.

I have found that so far, ive been able to find an internet cafe when needed and some of the hotels have computers to use. I used them to check my emails for any hotel/reservation changes while im on the road since that was the ONLY way anyone could get ahold of me. Even with my cell phone i leave it off 90% of the time.

i will also use some of the built in apps like currency convert, calculator and such.

happy trails.

Posted by
5697 posts

We had Sprint phones which were on "holiday" service -- no phone usage but good for WiFi connection at hotels and taking photos and listening to pre-downloaded RS audio tours. (Cheaper than our usual monthly rate)

Posted by
921 posts

I really like having my cell phone with me. I don't get an international package. It is small, and I can email or use the internet on it when wifi is available. I can use it to make a call in an emergency, like once when I was going to be late for my check in time at a hotel. Texting works well for necessary communication with my travel partner when we separate, plus is a fairly inexpensive way to communicate with those back home. Plus, my phone is my alarm, flashlight, clock.

Posted by
16883 posts

I carried a simple European cell phone for several years and used it to contact hotels or restaurants. But since I've brought my iPad the past two years, it's also happened out that I never got around to putting a new chip in my phone. Most hotels have Wi-Fi which I could use for internet research and internet reservations. (The last time that I remember using my cell phone in Europe was to call roadside assistance for a flat tire in 2011.) Both hotels and other people will have a phone if you need one. When you do have Wi-Fi, you have access to Skype and other internet phone services. See also a couple of Rick's articles on the topic of not taking a phone.

Posted by
31471 posts


IMO, a cell phone isn't "necessary" but having one during travels can really makes life a lot easier in some circumstances. I've been travelling with a cell phone for years, and wouldn't leave home without it. I primarily use text messaging to keep in touch with family back home, and occasional voice calls for confirming hotel reservations or whatever.

I packed a basic Motorola flip phone until recently, and it worked well for voice and text use. For the past few years I've been using an iPhone and it's also been great although more expensive when data is included. I've been using a SIM card from one of the travel phone firms, and have found that approach works well as the rates are consistent throughout much of western Europe and the billing is post-paid so no "topping up" is necessary. One of these firms currently offers a Europe SIM card for $5 and a basic phone for $29, so it's not really too expensive.

Posted by
5786 posts

Yes, bring your mobile. If you have airline problems in the States, you can use your mobile to call your airline for assistance.

Finding a pay phone in Europe can be a problem. We arrived at an unstaffed train station in a small Austrian town on the town's outskirts. Our hotel was several kilometers away and had our ski and gear bags. The next bus was scheduled for late afternoon and train station taxi service had to be ordered by phone. None of us had Euro enabled phones. We were fortunate to have a young mother arriving on the next train use her mobile to help us call for taxi service. So the short answer is that you don't need a mobile if you can get help from kindly locals.

Posted by
11613 posts

I take my iPhone but I don't use it for calls, just other functions previously mentioned. I also have a wifi-only iPad for email and tons of other things.

Posted by
71 posts

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION and response to Jordan

We are traveling in EU next month have decided carry an iPhone (parked in Airplane mode) for use only in extreme emergencies of Biblical proportions (e.g. 911, earthquakes, erupting volcanos, massive floods, terrorist attacks, Russian invasions, etc) and rely in a wifi-only mini-iPad for Skype calls, email, and updates to off-line app.s.

NOTE: we will use the MapsWithMe app (both for iPhone and iPad) and several METRO apps for most of our map-related planning. These work totally offline (no data plan required) after you download the maps you need. These require some preplanning to use but have a very nice user interface and carry onboard very detailed information. We have bookmarked all hotels we will (and might) use, dozens of points of interest, restaurants recommended by others, key METRO stations, possible picnic spots, etc. -- info gleaned from Rick Steves books and travel classes in Edmonds and fellow travelers.

My question: if we were to use the iPhone for email on wifi (Airplane mode off), how can I avoid receiving an occasional, costly incoming phone calls or voice mail message?

Posted by
507 posts

I will be going through 3 countries next year. I plan to use my IPhone & to help me pronounce the short phrases I may not know.

Posted by
2353 posts

Necessary - no - people have traveled for centuries without one. Convenient - heck yes! I never travel without mine. I love the convenience of everything in one small package - maps, guide book, translator, hotel info, train schedules, etc. I keep mine on data & all no matter where I am. For me it is worth every penny.