How I Travel Without Paying For Mobile Roaming

By Kate Arnold

Travelling is expensive enough without adding mobile roaming charges to your list of daily costs. So  I decided to forgo having mobile service and data on my phone while travelling to the UK and Europe, New Zealand and the US. Each trip ranged from two to four and a bit weeks and I managed to survive each one without much inconvenience. Here’s how I did it.

Use Free Wifi Wherever Possible

There’s probably more free wifi out there than you think and when you’re travelling you get access to some of the best free wifi out there. Here’s where I did most of my wifi sponging while travelling abroad. 

Hotels/Hostels/Airbnbs

When I’m looking at booking my accomodation it’s important to me that there’s wifi available so that I can message my family and let them know that I’ve arrived safely. It makes it so much easier to plan your days when you can use unlimited wifi wherever you’re staying. 

Museums

So many museums like the Louvre, the Vincent Van Gogh museum, MoMa in New York offer great (and free!) wifi that you can access with your pass. Some places, like the British Museum in London has free entry (though a donation is appreciated) and the wifi is complete free to access. When travelling I generally visit one or two museums and I always take advantage of the free wifi.

Public Libraries

Public libraries also have fast wifi that you can login to and power outlets if you need to charge your phone. Big shout out to the Wellington Public Library for providing me both services in a pinch. Sometimes you’ll need to sign up to become a library member to access the interent but this is often free.

Chain Cafes and Restaurants

When I was in America, Starbucks was a huge source of my wifi sponging. I would go in for a drink (cold brew coffee is my go-to, if you’re wondering), send a message to my family letting them know I was okay and telling them what I’d been up to, post an Instagram or two and look up whatever I needed for the day like maps, opening times, costs of things, etc. McDonalds is also a great one. I’d grab some fries and sit down to do whatever Googling I needed. Sometimes I’d use the free Starbucks wifi to order an Uber and stand outside where I could just get a few bars of internet while waiting for my driver. 

Download an Offline Map

Offline maps have saved me so many times while I’ve been travelling from getting lost. When I’m going away I always download the Ulmon CityMaps2Go app. I’ve used Ulmon maps in London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando and LA but they have maps for many other cities as well. You can search and pin where you want to go ahead of time, while you have wifi and when you’re out exploring you can see where you are and how you need to get there. They also have public transport maps embedded in the app to help you navigate whatever city you’re in. There are plenty offline maps you can try. Maps.Me is one that’s getting great reviews, though I haven’t had a chance try it yet.

We use our phones constantly so not having access to mobile data and reception forces me to put down my mobile and concentrate on where I am. I never want to spend my time travelling looking at a screen and not having the ability to check Facebook or Instagram whenever I want is one way to keep me focused on the place around me. Sure, it can be inconvenient at times and it took a little while to stop reaching for my phone when I was bored but I saved heaps of money and that benefit outweighs any negatives that I’ve encountered. 

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