I’ve recently returned to Vancouver after a trip to Europe – a couple days in Barcelona and a Western Mediterranean cruise on the Carnival Magic.
I try to avoid using Fido’s atrociously priced international roaming for voice and data.
Here’s a rough overview of the system that I’ve pieced together:
- I carried my iPhone with me and left it on. Technically, I was roaming, but I had no intention of receiving or making phone calls except in emergencies.
- Data roaming on the cellphone was also off. I considered buying the roaming data package, but $50 for 10MB of data seemed a bit steep. In hindsight, it’s not a horrific rate if I could somehow make sure only email was being downloaded.
- Before leaving, I unconditionally forwarded all voice calls to voice mail. With some cell providers, if you are roaming and you choose not to answer a phone call, the call will route back to your cellphone provider and you are charged roaming rates while someone leaves you a voice mail. I don’t think this currently applies to Fido; however, I wasn’t about to take the chance. Besides, I didn’t want my phone ringing during the middle of the night (I was, after all, in European time zones).
- I instructed people to text message me if there was anything critical.
- I have rules in my mailbox to forward emails that are critical (like our web servers being offline) to Fido’s email to SMS address, e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org. These are actually active rules at all times, not just when I’m travelling.
- Of course, the normal voice mail SMS notifications would get sent to me too.
- With my cellphone on and technically roaming, I would receive the most important messages. Receiving text messages while roaming is supposed to be free on Fido. I haven’t checked my invoice yet, but I’ve done this successfully for previous trips.
- Interestingly, modern cruise ships have satellite based cellphone service, so even in the middle of nowhere, I could receive these text messages.
- Internet access on board the ship is a pricey $0.75 per minute. This was OK for briefly viewing email, but I wasn’t too comfortable using this too often.
- On dry land, if I had some time to spare, I would look for WiFi. At some ports, I stumbled upon Internet cafes. But, much more common in Europe, as opposed to China, is a WiFi enabled coffee shop. With WiFi, I could download email for offline review. Internet cafe pricing was less than a few dollars per hour, which compared to the on-ship pricing, is roughly equivalent to free.
- For voice calls, on the iPhone I used the 3CXPhone VOIP App with a Voip.ms account to make ridiculously cheap phone calls. I set these up prior to travel. Even while in Vancouver, this combination is useful for making cheap long distance calls on an iPhone while on WiFi – in theory, I can make VOIP calls on 3G; however, it hasn’t worked too well in my limited testing. There’s either too much lag or too little bandwidth.
All in all, for me, the iPhone was a great tool to have when travelling, even if you don’t plan on paying for pricey roaming voice or data. This obviously only works if you have similar needs to me – I didn’t really want to be connected, but I did want to know of anything critical.
Also useful for the iPhone was the CityMaps2Go App which had offline maps for nearly every city that I was in – perhaps I’ll post about that separately some day. Evernote and Dropbox were also useful, but make sure that you use the flagging features to make the files and notes that you need available offline!