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There are a lot of things that I can forego, not my phone! Pls. Help!

I can travel A-La-Rick-Steves and give up a lot of my comforts, no problem. I can travel with minimal clothing, and do without a private bathroom . . . but NOT my data plan. I am already having severe withdrawal symptoms.

We are going on a three week trip + Cruise to Europe: London & Southampton, UK; Gibraltar; Cartagena + Cadiz, Spain; Civitavecchia + Rome, Italy; Marseilles, France; Cadiz & Vigo, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal. It's a lot to keep track of and I don't think I can survive without my phone. I have a iPhone 6 Plus from AT&T. What are my options? I do use a lot of data. I am mostly interested in the data and not so concerned about calling back home or using the phone there. It's all about the data for me. Our first stop will be in London. Can I get something there?

What are my options? Someone please help!

Posted by
32237 posts


Your first step will be to check with AT&T to get the details on their international roaming plans. I don't use AT&T (given my location) but understand from other posts here that the costs are quite reasonable. That should cover data in Europe, but I'd suggest switching cellular data "OFF" when you're in the hotel or have Wi-Fi available, so that you minimize your data usage.

One important caveat to mention - be extremely careful with data or cellular use on the cruise ship as rates can be horrendously steep!!! Again, use Wi-Fi whenever possible. Check with your cruise line for details on what type of services they offer on board. These are typically satellite-based (for obvious reasons) and data speeds may be somewhat slower than land-based systems.

Posted by
9 posts

Ken, thank you for your reply. I don't have a lot of options:

  • Cruise ship is ridiculously expensive! And, I won't have a lot of time on land to look for Wi-Fi spots.
  • I have checked with AT&T and they charge $120 for 800 MB. I'll go through that in a sneeze.
  • My cell phone is locked ( . . .and I am a bit of a chicken to jail break an $800 phone!)
  • I have a new phone and still have 22 months on my contract.

It seems that T-Mobil is a good option. I am wondering if any one has thought of buying a cheap device just for their travel to Europe. People have to go through this hurtle all the time. What are my options? Anything that would be more cost effective than letting AT&T or Royal Caribbean have free rain of my wallet? :)

I would be grateful for any ideas and suggestions you can give me. I promise to play it forward and share my experiences when I get back.

Posted by
11294 posts

First, jailbreaking and unlocking are different. Unlocking merely allows you to use a different SIM from AT&T's; jailbreaking allows you to use apps that are not authorized by Apple. If you want to use your phone overseas, you merely need an unlocked one. Since you just bought your phone recently, AT&T will not unlock it for you, and I share your reluctance to do it by other means (if anything goes wrong, you end up with a "brick" and no recourse).

If 800 MB of cellular data is not enough (and remember, there is WiFi in Europe too), then you're going to have to commit to spending some money. There are two sensible options:

  1. Buy a cheap phone (maybe a Windows model) and plan from T-Mobile in the US. This gives unlimited data in Europe; until recently it was only at 2G speeds, and you had to pay a lot extra to get faster speeds. However, their website no longer says this, so it may have changed; you may want to inquire further. More about using T-Mobile abroad here:

  2. Buy a phone in England (Carphone Warehouse is a great place, since they will have lots of models and carriers). Then, as Ray said, figure out how to top it up once you are outside the UK. This way you will get fast data, the costs in the UK are low, and the costs outside the UK are capped (they can only charge up to a certain amount within the EU, which all your travel is).

While an international SIM will be easier to top up than a UK one, it will also eat you alive, price wise, for using a lot of data.

To learn more about options, a great source of info is Prepaid GSM. Here are their Europe forums; discussions can get very technical, so don't be afraid to ask for clarification:

Posted by
14580 posts

As a back up I write my data on 3x5 index cards in chronological order according to the itinerary I have planned, sometimes colored coded. It's a trip/time proven system. Thieves are much more likely to pick at electronic gear as a tempting target over 3x5 cards fastened with a paper clip and a rubber band.

Posted by
5837 posts

Do you really need connectivity while you are walking about?

I and most of the people I travel with get by with hotel WiFi. Its sort of as community building activity with a bunch of folks hanging out in the hotel hot spot comparing notes on signal availability and strength.

Posted by
32237 posts


When using your mobile phone on a cruise ship, it won't matter which network you're with at home, as the rates will be determined by the cruise ship service. Once the ship is beyond range from land-based towers, cell access will be provided by onboard satellite-based systems, with correspondingly "higher" rates (that may be a pun).

You may find it helpful to have a look at these articles on the topic….

One of the articles mentions a discounted plan that AT&T has implemented, and that may provide some of the answers you're looking for.

To summarize, you may have to do something like this….

  • When onboard the ship, switch your cellular data "off" and use Wi-Fi as much as possible.
  • When on shore excursions and within range of normal towers, switch cellular data on and use that for data.

One other point to keep in mind is that if you're travelling with your home number, you'll still be receiving any calls that are made to your home number (which you will be paying for). It's especially annoying to get calls in the wee hours of the morning from someone that couldn't be bothered to check the time difference.

You'll likely find that the quality of cellular service is not the same as you have at home and some connections may not be optimal, depending on which carrier your phone accesses. I had a lot of trouble with cell service in Croatia last year, even though I was using a U.K. based SIM. I was able to force the phone to switch carriers, but it didn't seem to make any difference - the "No Signal" light was still "on".

Posted by
9 posts

Harold & Kent,

Thank you so much for being so generous with your knowledge. This is very helpful. I will try your suggestions and report back.

Thus far I think it's more economical to just pay the $120 for AT&T's Global Data plan for one month while on land, instead of buying and getting into a T-Mobile plan. (So, jealous of you folks for T-mobile.) Since I have a locked phone, a SIM is not an option for us.

We are going to be doing a lot of touring on our own with young children. I want to feel that I am safe and be able to use the GPS to get around and get off the beaten path. Given that we are doing this via cruise ship, we have only a few limited precious hours on land. We don't have time to get lost.


Posted by
5697 posts

ALopez, just FYI -- we travelled with our Android phones on "vacation hold" from AT&T and were able to use CityMaps2Go offline. (Download the maps for the cities you want before you go) The GPS worked without a data connection. Because we chose hotels/apartments with free WiFi we used WiFi in the evenings for email and data ... on other trips we found WiFi at Starbucks or restaurants or internet cafes. Vacation Hold was $10 per month per phone -- INSTEAD OF, not in addition to, the regular service charge -- but you can't make/receive calls. Still works as camera.