a cell phone with a screen

When your phone bill is more than your rent…

Travel can be expensive, and that’s never more true than when you open your phone bill to find that you unwittingly used $100’s in data on your last jaunt. Maybe it was accidentally leaving your trusty Google Maps on for the entire two hour bullet train journey, or Facebook Live streaming your vacation brag, but however you did it – it’s never fun. Here are a few easy, actionable ways to cut down on your data and phone usage charges while traveling and perhaps cut down on hassle too.

a map of a countryGoogle Maps Offline

This is like… the most underrated thing ever. Google Maps allows you to download maps for places all over the world, long before you travel. Simply open the Google Maps app on your phone, go to the menu bar and select “offline maps”. You can create your own custom maps to download and they will be saved automatically. When you venture to a new spot, you can keep your signal off, but navigate your way around and even browse places like bars, restaurants and shops you’ve pinned, using this other great Google Maps tip.

a city with a mountain in the backgroundFree Tourist Wifi

Many countries have generously created wifi networks across major cities, specifically designed to help tourists to connect to free wifi. You’ll find free wifi in places like San Francisco, Barcelona, New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Bangalore, Perth and the majority of Italy. In cities where these networks exist, once signed up (for free) you’ll be seamlessly connected to networks all over the city while you roam. Free wifi is the best wifi. Oh, and be sure to research how to get connected before you leave your hotel room.

a person holding a phone in front of a towerHotspots Apps

If you’d like to send travel brags and keep up with work emails while moving around, going wifi only is the best way to stay in touch while eliminating data usage. Turn off your phone signal by going into airplane mode, and then turn your wifi signal back on. Apps such as Wifi Map, Wifi Finder, Boingo and countless others automatically search for free, available wifi networks all around the world. You’ll find yourself connected in countless locations and most offer maps of where you’ll find open networks. Switching to a phone plan which offers extremely competitive rates for usage abroad, or doesn’t charge any additional fee at all, like Google’s Project Fi can also be a great move.

a cell phone on a tableVoice Plans

Using apps like Whatsapp or, (sigh) Facebook Messenger to call other users makes calls “free”. You only pay for any data used to facilitate the call, and if you’re on wifi – it’s totally free. Skype and other competitors also offer voice call plans, where you can call landlines and non mobile numbers all around the world for $5 a month or less. This is far cheaper than any other option offered by traditional phone companies and hey, unlimited is unlimited. Easy.

a group of palm treesTake A Moment

Sorry for the PSA, but it’s necessary. Many people never get the chance to travel at all, so if you spend your time venturing around a city staring down at your wifi signal strength – you’re doing it all wrong. Get whatever net related activities you need to get done while in your hotel or Airbnb and put the phone away while you stroll. There’s no better way to discover the best parts of any city than by walking. If you’re looking down, there’s no telling what you’ll miss. And yes, this counts because it will save on data!

a cell phone with a screenSettings Check

This may sound basic, but if you’ve ever been sideswiped by a shocking bill – it’s likely down to this simple issue. Pesky app settings can automatically update wherever you are, even if wifi isn’t available. The bigger the app – the bigger the bill! Be sure settings such as phone software or app updates are set to wifi only, or alternatively that roaming is off. Open your phone settings to find which apps use the most data every month, and be sure they’re under control before you land somewhere where each kilobyte costs you!

What’s your favorite way to save on mobile phone data?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Usually get a cheap international roaming data and phone plan for those emergencies from my cellular carrier, otherwise roaming goes off and I don’t go online unless I have a free Wifi connection.

  2. I use flexiroam – thought you would have at least mentioned it – the article reads like something from 2000 otherwise. Yawn.

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