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WiFi v.s. Data Sim card?

My last trip to Europe was in 2011. The searches on the forum turned up some older threads and since this stuff changes so fast I thought I'd start a thread for some specific questions.

While I read about the availability of WiFi everywhere, based on my last trip it wasn't perfect. I found WiFi connections to be very slow and aside from retrieving email it wasn't very useful. I also found having to log in was always problematic and since I have to do it for my wife and myself it get's to be a PITA. Getting on WiFi while sitting in a Train Station for example was not easy or productive on my last trip. Having the ability to get online quickly is also a luxury I wish to have. Since I do all my trip planning online I found that being able to change plans on the fly requires me to have Internet access as well.

I think I would prefer to have a prepaid European Sim for for my next trip this spring. I have a fully unlocked and rooted Android phone that I can also use as a WiFi hotspot so my wife can use her Ipad seamlessly. The ability to make local calls will be nice but calls home will all be Skype.

So my questions are....

Has WiFi generally improved or is my impression still valid?

Any suggestions of companies to purchase a Data sim card?

Should I get one ahead of time or will I have substantial saving buying one in Europe?

I am traveling to Amsterdam, France and Italy so is there one card or do I need a different card in every country?

Any other thoughts?

RD

Posted by
2081 posts

RD,

some disclaimers:

  1. I bought a phablet late last year to take with me on my travels this year and i have a inexpensive phone i bought in the UK so thats all i have experience using. No rooted device.
  2. USA T-mobile plan i have, i thought had data overthere. But i was wrong, or my plan wasnt working according to what i had bought, so i need to check in on that.
  3. I can only give experience on what i have bought over there in terms of SIMS and such and the phones i use.

So. My data plan didnt work anywhere overthere. Also i found out that my fully purchased phablet was indeed locked even though i specifically asked if it was unlocked. that will be another issue to bring up.

I found that wi-fi was spotty in the countries/cities i traveled to and some others. This year. Munich, Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Krakow.

I did find that in some of my hotels i stayed in had crappy wi-fi - great in the lobby and spotty at the best in the upper floor where my room was located. But the staff did warn me ahead of time, so i appreciated that fact.

yes, as everyone says, wi-fi is everywhere, but getting access is the question not asked.

When i was in a rush and if i was near a Starbucks, i used them since 1. they had wi-fi and 2. they had snacks and 3 they had a bathroom.

Since you are traveling to Amsterdam, you may want to check into getting a PAYG SIM there. I bought a T-Mobile (T) one for my cheap phone and didnt have a chance to buy a micro one for my phablet on this return trip.

What i found out was that you MAYBE able to buy/use Data from country to country, but sometimes it wasnt in the SIM/Plan or available. The Netherlands (NL) PAYG SIM i bought from T allowed me to buy data in 1, 3 day or 1 week in MB chunks and i felt it was affordable. What was nice was that i could buy/use the data outside of the NL too. One other really important point was that i was able to add minutes via the www and paypal.

And this brings me to the UK. i found that my UK T PAYG SIM will work outside of the UK but i can not add minutes without a UK creditcard/address or buying a voucher(s) BEFORE i leave the UK. Note that the vouchers have an 1 year expiration date. Im not sure if that is for using the voucher or the time it buys since i never let them go that long without using them.

wherever you decide to buy a PAYG SIM, if you choose to, make sure you can add minutes BEFORE you leave the country and i would try doing so. If you want to buy vouchers to add minutes, thats fine too, but understand that while roaming, you will eat up those minutes faster and once you leave the country, buying a voucher won't happen.

good luck and happy trails.

Posted by
1759 posts

Ray,
Yes, there are a lot of pitfalls when dealing with technology that you can't always figure out from the fine print. Topping off using a phone in a foreign language is bad enough and not knowing you need to do it before leaving the country would be really annoying.

So far I have studied the websites for "One Sim Card" and "Go Sim" and I'm looking at about $100 for 1GB good for 30 days. This would mean it is good in every country so I guess I'll be paying a little more for the convenience. I can get a Data only plan and just use Google or Skype to make any calls local or back home. If you have a cell signal chances are real good you have enough data reception to make a voice call and with "What's App" I can text.

Still looking and hoping for more responses here!

Posted by
2081 posts

RD.

Is that a typo of 100 USD for 1 GB?

if not, i have some property on an astroid thats for sale and not a lot of noisy neighbors.

you will get more responses, just give it some time due to the holidays.

also, i forgot to add. My USA T plan did work for voice everywhere i went, just no data. I didnt do any texting, but its "suppose" to work for that too.

happy trails and happy thanksgiving.

Posted by
1759 posts

Yes Ray, you read that correctly. If you have a better deal I'm all ears. I agree it's expensive and that's why I posted this thread.

Posted by
2081 posts

RD,

in my opinion and limited experience and unless someone else chimes in.

i would wait and get a data PAYG SIM in each country.

happy trails.

Posted by
214 posts

Rich - my two cents: we've traveled annually in the summer and I've noticed how wi-fi access has changed becoming much more accessible. Last year in Greece, even the smallest cafe displayed a wi-fi sign
offering easy access for the price of beverage. Wide-spread internet "cafes" are giving way to wi-fi
access in other venues. We too take full advantage of our smartphone and table while traveling to
make reservations (Barcelona was spectacular as the most connected city) but ALWAYS selected
hotels with wi-fi as a fall back. The mobile providers not my favs and so exploitative of traveling
customers.

Posted by
1759 posts

Ray,
I think you are right about the lest expensive option of getting sims in each country. I was hoping to avoid the inconvenience but on the other hand....if you want to experience a place like a local, go out and do everyday mundane tasks and experience the difference from doing it back home. I am hoping someone chimes in who has gone through a bit of the process for more insight as to the potential savings.

Craig,
Finding public WiFi is certainly getting easier but as we know using it isn't always as easy as it seems. Slow connections and security log ins make it frustrating at times but one thing you said gives me a good idea. "Small cafes" are probably a better option than the crowded restaurant in a train station that I had the most difficulty during a stressful and costly change in plans on my last trip. Fewer people trying to share the same connection is key and a small cafe with bad food is probably a great way to get a good connection!

Posted by
2081 posts

Richard,

"I think you are right about the lest expensive option of getting sims in each country. I was hoping to avoid the inconvenience but on the other hand....if you want to experience a place like a local, go out and do everyday mundane tasks and experience the difference from doing it back home. I am hoping someone chimes in who has gone through a bit of the process for more insight as to the potential savings."

I decided to see if i put my foot, instead of turkey, in my mouth so i looked at my receipts/expenditures for my trip this past September.

Now the countries i went to this time are not the ones you are going to, but maybe it will give you another data point to make a decision. Also, what i found out was that 1 GB wasnt enough for my 3 days in Germany since i had all of my trip info in E space, i had to spend a lot of time making PDFs for all of my travel information. I could have done some of this for free in the hotel lobby, but i like to chill out in the room. But when i checked some of my receipts for purchasing the various SIMs i found that in general, i spent about 5~25 Euros on the SIM and that was dependent on if there was any "specials" going on at the time. Again, i will say that i know that i bought vouchers if the SIM only came with 1 GB since i wasnt sure how much or little i would use my data.

Im not sure i mentioned this, but my "internal" compass is broke so i have to rely on a map and even then, i would get turned around. I experimented with using strictly GPS to nail down my location on my trip and found out that GPS takes a long time to find you. As soon as i turned on DATA, it had not issue and found my location in a few seconds, so what i did was to leave it on and i believe its where it cost more too.

In any case, hope the added info helps and more people chime in.

happy trails.

Posted by
1759 posts

Ray, 1GB in three days? Are you sure you didn't mean 1MB? As for leaving the device on for mapping and other tasks of course you are gonna run up the usage.

My latest search came up with "Data Roam" which offers a Data only sim for $61 for 1GB. Skype calls for 7 cents a minute and Whats App for free messaging. Of course, if I get a good wifi conection I'd use it but it'll be nice to know I can always go online.

Posted by
4688 posts

In April I spent two weeks in Germany (and, briefly, France). I was able to use my T-Mobile Android phone with the Simple Choice plan for unlimited free 2G data and use it as a hotspot also, so I had "WiFi everywhere," though it was pretty slow - usable for checking email and basic web surfing, not usable for say uploading a bunch of photos to Facebook (tried a few times). It was extremely useful to have on the trains etc.

But I still used WiFi at hotels and such. I haven't had your same experience, Richard, with unreliable WiFi on several trips to Europe from 2011 on. I think it varies a lot depending on where you go, what kind of WiFI your hotels have, etc. I can't recall WiFI being any issue on any past trips - almost always worked fine (I use it all the time when I travel), certainly faster than the slow 2G hotspot I used in April. I briefly considered buying a 3G SIM for my phone to get faster data, but the combination of reliable WiFI at the hotels and slow WiFI on trains for occasional use was just fine. I had no need for fast data everywhere.

Posted by
18 posts

We just got back from 4 1/2 months driving around UK, France, Spain, Portugal in a camper van. In UK I bought a cheap unlocked phone and used a GiffGaff pay as you go voice SIM plan. For data for our 2 laptops, I bought a Huawei E5330 MiFi wifi hotspot and used a GiffGaff PAYG data SIM plan - 3GB for 12 pounds - don't remember the time. We also stopped frequently in McDonald's - free wifi all over the EU. You need a UK credit/debit card to refill GiffGaff. Friends told us that France was a major nuisance so we delayed a new data SIM till Orange in Spain. It took 2 hours of waiting in a slow queue while people dawdled over what color and what plan, etc - but we did get a data SIM that I refilled (sorry - don't remember details) that we roamed with in Portugal and France. Since we were outside cities a lot, we could only get 2G data in lots of rural places. Returning next year - definitely dropping the laptops and taking 2 new Android tablets (no SIM cards) - using the Huawei wifi gadget (don't know the SIM yet as we'll be more in Central and Eastern EU), Skype on the tablets, and a netbook for occasional photo, etc backups.

Posted by
1759 posts

So far I think my best bet is to purchase sim cards in each country, roaming is the big killer. I am going to research a few things like ADN numbers for configuring the phone to the sim if it doesn't work automatically. Everything isn't as simple as we would like it to be.

Posted by
223 posts

I don't know if this pertains, because I have never had anything other than a disastrous situation when travelling through Germany (I know, it's unfair to Germany, but also to me.) I was just in europe, and I broke my phone just before leaving. Email was my only method of com, and I had my iPad (not Phablet). Google decided to help me out by suspending my account. Like a bank, they 'felt' I might not be where I ought to be, so they helped me maintain privacy. I didn't know that, when I couldn't get Google using airport or lounge wifi, so I used a stranger's account. That counted as a hack from the area where I grew up - whatever.
Anyway, I wanted to share the info with everyone because it was so odd and had such a great impact.

Posted by
2081 posts

Richard,

this is a bit off topic, but i thought i would give some insight as to why i needed data and how I'm trying things out.

I use to make a 1.5~3 inch 3 ring binder full of my info and bring it with me on my trips. Of course, the shorter the trip, the less info i needed to bring. I bought a note 3 5.7 to "save the trees" and my space and weight. I put all of my info out in e space and was planning on retrieving it where ever and when ever i needed/wanted it. I specifically used google maps (GM) and made personal maps for each city/place i was visiting and also added the important info since GM does that automatically.

I also used excel for my itinerary/costs but didnt have any info like address/phone number and such on it.

So when i didnt have access to wi-fi or data on my first stop, my trip slowed. I had a paper map of the place that i got upon arrival, but as to some of the other details, it was locked up in my phablet.

So to minimize my reliance on data, i made PDFs of as much as i thought i would need and placed them into folders on one of my home screens. the PDFs you can access offline anytime. I also did that for my excel itinerary but once done, i cant add notes/comments or make $$ adjustments. Now you can save multiple maps (for offline) on GM for a time but when i did my trip that feature wasnt available. Also, i emailed a copy of the PDFs to my email account and setup separate folders for each city/country so it was easier to find if/when i needed.

another note. I noticed that Hotmail has more "big brother" things going on and i would have issues with logging in outside of the USA. On my gmail account, no such issues - yet.

one last comment. whatever you do, have a backup plan. what i have noticed is that sometimes an app is "updated" and runs like crap or doesnt work at all or some features you have used dont anymore.

happy trails.

Posted by
1 posts

Richard

I was travelling in UK in Auguest and I have to say that Wi-Fi was pretty spotty at best and non-existent at worst. You see the wi-fi signs everywhere but signing on was another thing altogether. Even the bus we took from Dublin to county Antrim had the wi-fi logo on the window. No-go!
At hotels, the only place we could easily log in was the lobby. Or this one little corner in the hotel restaurant. I felt like a total creeper every time I had to stand there and use my phone!
We stayed at hotels and B&B's for the duration of our trip(1 month). Big cities or small towns, only place wi-fi was available was the lobby. If that.
My iPhone is unlocked so I'm not sure if I can use international SIM cards but the plans available through my carrier isn't that great. $1 a day for 10MB. That's not much at all! A few web pages and its used up.

Happy travelling