We've been able to use portable WiFi units on travel over the last number of years in Iceland and, most recently, in Costa Rica. It enabled us to use our phone navigation apps rather than renting a separate GPS, but was so much more versatile than just the GPS. We were able to rent it as an add-on with our rental car, but we used it in a variety of ways. It enabled us to use the internet and make phone calls, both in the car and elsewhere, as we could take it with us when we got out of the car. On our trip to Costa Rica in December 2021, we found it invaluable. I carried it with us in the rain forest hikes so we could verify bird species as we went along. We took it into our room if the hotel didn't offer free wifi in the room (one of them only had wifi in public spaces). I even took it into restaurants with us a few times so we could look up information on sites we were interested in visiting in the next few days and talk about them while we ate. We were first introduced to this resource in Iceland and have been sold on it ever since. We also had a GPS there, but ended up not using it and only using our phone navigation, as it was more reliable. (If GPS devices aren't updated frequently, their info may be incomplete or inaccurate,) We could keep our phones on airplane mode or just turn off our cellular data on the phone and use wifi solely while we were traveling. I was looking on the site to see if Rick Steves recommended any portable wifi service for Europe/Great Britain, as we'll be going to Scotland this summer. I was surprised not to find anything mentioned about this yet (at least I couldn't find it). Maybe it's still catching on. We did find one rental agency in Scotland that offered this option with the car hire (Budget). I'd love to hear experiences from other travelers on this topic.
When my husband and I went to France in 2019 we rented pocket Wi-Fi from mywebspot, I've included the link.
It was helpful having access to Wi-Fi since we rented a car when in the South of France and for when navigating Paris. I went to their website, filled in the country I was visiting and the dates that I'd be there. The pocket Wi-Fi was then shipped to the first hotel I was staying at, and upon arrival I picked it up from the front desk. I let the hotel know in advance that I'd be receiving a package. The unit was compact and light and came with a charging cable. I was able to connect two devices to it, my phone and my husband's. We used it to send email, make phone calls via WhatsApp and check social media pages.
The best part, since we flew out of CDG, there was a return kiosk in the airport where we just dropped it off and made our way to the gate. I know that is not available all across Europe, but depending on where you visit it will give you pick up and drop off options. I found the price very reasonable and plan on using it again for our trip to Italy in the fall.
Good luck and enjoy your trip!
I think you are making some fundamental mistakes.
Any portable wifi device (aka "pocket wifi") is simply using that country's cellular phone network for data. So a local SIM in your phone/tablet would get you everything that a "pocket wifi" devices gets you, but without having one more gizmo to carry around, keep charged, worry about setting up/breaking/having stolen. Fifteen or twenty years ago they were great. Not so much any more.
I have some experience with these devices. I've used them many times in Japan - because Japan makes it nearly impossible for a foreign visitor to get a cell phone SIM (or at least they used to - I have not checked in about 3 years; they have/had tight regulations about access to cellular devices -- required registration with government agencies, etc. -- that were not designed to enable visitors). If a country requires crazy hoop-jumping like that in order to get a local SIM, then sure, a "pocket wifi" makes sense. Most do not. In most places, getting a local SIM is a completely trivial task.
The only other scenario where it might make sense is if you will be crossing multiple national borders on your trip AND if SIMs from one country won't work in the next, AND that's going to be true for multiple countries. That's generally not the case in Europe, where a SIM from one country will work in almost every other. It may be true in other places.
I have owned a "pocket wifi" device and used it for several years, on trips around the world. It was a miserable, frustrating experience. Huge hassles, crappy slow connectivity, and stunningly expensive. The devices are not cheap, and then you have to buy "minutes" or data packages, which tend to be way more expensive than just getting a local SIM. I have one of these devices gathering dust on my shelf -- I absolutely HATED the thing, it was awful -- and on many days while traveling, it was so frustrating I came close to smashing the thing with a rock.
For almost everyone, it's going to be way cheaper, easier and more convenient to simply buy a local SIM for your phone/tablet upon arrival. You say these devices may "just be catching on"; to the contrary, I think their day has long since passed. The availability of cheap, ubiquitous SIMs and low-cost cellular plans has eliminated the need for these almost everywhere. Unless you have a very unique situation, it's almost always going to be way better to just buy a SIM (even if you have to buy more than one because you will be crossing too many national borders).
Portable wifi devices have become less popular as cell phones are now able to be used as 'wifi hotspots' of their own. Buying local, pre-paid SIMs to put in your phone is probably cheaper and easier.
This is another topic that really should be a sticky. Google Fi solved the problem 5 years ago. It works practically everywhere. Their plans are month-to-month (no contract). My average bill is $25. It's my only plan. You can buy a decent Motorola phone new, directly from Google, for $50. And then the first couple months of your plan are free. I've used my phone in at least a dozen countries. The plane lands, you turn the phone on, it works the same as at home. No drama or fiddling with SIM cards or hot-spots. The number of SIM card/phone threads in this forum is out of control.
Do you use GoogleFi for travel only, activating and deactivating when you leave/return? With your 'primary' phone, or a 'travel' phone? I can't use it at home, so have never given it much consideration for travel.
And 100% agree that this should be a sticky!
I wouldn't make it a sticky unless the title was changed (because IMHO it's not good advice - no disrespect intended to the OP, it's just not true that portable WiFi units are "great" for most people in most cases).
David, I think the idea of a wiki-sticky is more for a general primer on managing cellular connectivity while traveling, not this particular post.
Hi Scudder. Google Fi is my only mobile service. Obviously, it won't work for everybody, but if you have to be on another carrier it's still likely the best option for travel-only service. And yes, I wasn't suggesting this exact thread be made a sticky, just the topic of international mobile service in general. :) Thanks!
Another cool feature of Fi I forgot to mention is Google will send you up to 10 data-only SIM cards to go on your plan. So if your travel buddy is living in the stone age but has a compatible phone, they can pop in one of your SIM cards and use it for mobile data. My gf is also on Fi, so we don't have to do this, but I always take an old backup phone with a data-only SIM card in it just in case I lose my primary phone. Handy.
Finally, as a US service, I should add that Fi may not be a good fit if you're out of the US for more than six months or so out of the year. I don't remember the details, but I believe they're outlined in the TOS.
Google Fi works great for many people, but it's more expensive than I need for my daily mobile phone needs at home. I'm only paying about $10/month for mobile service right now (Tello, uses the T-Mobile network). It doesn't work overseas, but I don't go overseas very often. I've had good luck just buying a local SIM card for travel. I still have the Dutch Vodafone SIM I bought in 2017 and have used on three European trips and plan to use it again on my next trip to Europe (and just use my phone's WiFi hotspot). For about 20 euros I get plenty of data for a 2-3 week trip. It's just not worth the extra money I'd pay for Google Fi monthly at home for the convenience - maybe it would be if I traveled more often.
David, I do not know if I fully agree with your conclusions. I have used wifi devices in the U.S. and sometimes they worked well; sometimes they were a bit frustrating. My daughter used one in Japan, however, and it worked very well. Japan's phone system uses different radio bands and technology from that in the U.S. and Europe. Having a device that has the necessary phone frequencies is one of the real advantages. I have not reached a firm conclusion one way or the other about this idea.
There are some real advantages that you did not mention. Here is a post with some of the ones I could identify: Wifi calling with a mobile device.
Verizon has a deal when you travel to Europe, and I name the countries.
I always had connectivity wherever I went.
My daughter used one in Japan, however, and it worked very well.
@Paul - I've used them in Japan myself, on several visits, and yes, it was convenient and they worked well (they also cost me something like US$90 IIRC). As I said, in some cases (Japan may still be one of those), it may make sense. But the OP was asking about the UK and Europe (specifically Scotland). SIMs in the UK are easy and cheap. For travel in other parts Europe? Go with a SIM for almost anywhere. I have not checked out the situation in Costa Rica. In most European countries, it's simple and cheap to get a SIM. Anywhere in the UK, it's as easy as it could be.
(About calling home to the USA: Personally, I don't really have any use for making international phone calls back to the USA while I'm traveling. In fact, I pretty much only use data, maybe once in a long while I may have to make a local voice call to the place I am staying, etc., but I rarely make voice calls while traveling. Others who want voice calls would prioritize that differently, of course.)