As an independent travel writer, the question I’m asked most often – after “do you need someone to carry your bags?” – is “how many days a year do you travel?” The answer is, I don’t keep track. In the last three weeks alone, I’ve been on eight airplanes and have spent all of 3.5 days at home, and my “office” has ranged from a terrace overlooking the Costa Rican jungle to an Edmonton boardroom (guess which I liked better?).
What makes my job even more challenging is that it’s actually only half of my job. I also work as a digital and content strategist. This means that wherever I am in the world, I have to be available to clients, whether for email or video conferences, or able to get online to perform client work. But I’m not alone in this challenge. The rise of telecommuting and remote teams and explosion of digital collaboration tools means anyone can now work from anywhere – provided they have an internet connection.
But as most travellers will tell you, Canadians pay “exceptionally high international data roaming fees”, making that internet connection a costly proposition if you simply use your regular plan. Here are the top ways I’ve found to stay connected outside of Canada, without incurring significant data costs.
As many hotel chains eliminate Wifi fees, this is often the cheapest option and, depending on the time zone to which you’ll be travelling, may be all you need. For example, if you’re travelling to Asia, most of your emails will likely come in while you’re sleeping, negating the need for a connection even if you’re planning to be away all day. If you do need a connection while you’re out, some cities now offer free Wifi in busy tourist areas (and McDonald’s and Starbucks are always a safe bet), but a little advance research is recommended to ensure you can find Wifi when you need it.
International SIM cards
It’s both easy and inexpensive to purchase pay-as-you-go data plans, provided you unlock your phone before you go. In the U.S., I use a prepaid card from T-Mobile, which costs just $3 per day for unlimited data and I’m charged only on the days that I use it (caveat: only the first 200 MB are high speed, but that’s usually sufficient with Wifi access). In Argentina, I purchased a data plan at a convenience store for just 50 cents, and bought 1 GB in Spain for 10 euro.
Your cell provider
Landing and simply turning on your phone is a great way to end up paying the highest possible rate, but your cell provider likely does offer some more palatable options. For example, I’ve also used Rogers Roam Like Home plan, which allows me to access the data on my primary plan for a flat daily fee ($5 for the U.S.).
Using these tricks to always be available for my clients and my work also helps me avoid that other line my fellow travel writers often hear: “Oh, you get to vacation for a living? Must be nice.” Because while travel writing and consulting make for an awesome, challenging, ever-changing and often round-the-clock career, they’re certainly no vacation. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you have any great tips for connecting while out of the country? I’d love to hear them.