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Roaming on the cheap: How to minimise your data usage

Worried about your data bill while travelling? These tips can reduce your data usage and save you money.


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Travel is expensive, so saving money where you can make sense. Roaming costs can quickly add up, especially for data where it’s all too easy to use it without being aware. So, what can you do to minimise your data usage while you’re overseas? Here are some simple tips.

If you want to absolutely cut your data roaming costs, cut the virtual connecting cord by disabling data roaming altogether.

For iOS devices, this can be done by heading to Settings>Mobile and switching Data Roaming to off (the white switch settings). On Android devices, the exact location can vary depending on the phone provider and Android version, but can typically be found under Settings>Mobile Network as a data roaming option.

Completely killing your mobile data is a nuclear option that won’t appeal to everybody. However, switching your data off in-between the times you want to use it can save you from a wealth of hidden data charges, as applications make background checks or system updates. Bear in mind that some services rely on a constant data connection. So, if you disable a data connection and suddenly an app won’t work, try switching it back on again to see if that fixes the problem.

Use public Wi-Fi when you can (but safely!)

Publically available Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more common in popular travelling destinations, allowing you easy data access even if you have data roaming disabled. If you have the time, research their locations before you travel to keep yourself online as much as you need for low or no cost.

However, a word of caution is needed here. It’s extremely unwise to do any kind of direct financial transaction on a wireless network that you have no control over. There is genuinely no way of knowing if the data sent over the network is being scooped up and used by a third party.

Or, to put it more plainly, never do your online banking from a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

If you do plan to use public Wi-Fi, it would be wise to change passwords for services, such as social media accounts, upon your return home, just to be safe.

Dial down your app data usage

It’s worth knowing which apps are using data before you travel so that you can tame them while you’re travelling. On iOS devices, you find that information under Settings>Mobile. Scroll down and you can see both the data usage for the current period for each app, plus restrict its access to data with a simple toggle switch. On Android devices, it’s under Settings>Data Usage.

You can either restrict data usage or uninstall particularly data-hungry apps before you travel to keep your data usage low or switch to less data-intensive apps.

Modify your app usage

It’s also possible to save data simply by changing your apps or modifying how you work with them.

If you’re travelling and your photos are set to automatically back up to Apple or Google (or any other cloud service), consider dropping the resolution of your photos. They’ll still back up, which is wise when travelling in case your phone is lost or stolen, but the smaller file size equates to smaller uploads and lower data bills as a result.

If you’re a social media addict, make sure videos on Twitter and Facebook are set to not play automatically to keep your data bills as low as possible. If email is your primary form of communication, try not checking your emails as often to lower the data access cost of checking your inbox.

If you’re planning to use a GPS app to get around your destination, check if it can download maps for offline access. Not only does this save you data, but it is also substantially quicker than waiting for maps to download.

Equally, while travelling, look up from your phone from time to time and enjoy being where you actually are. It’s surprising what you find that way — and you won’t be using mobile data to do so.

Where can I buy a travel SIM?

Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees all allow you to roam on your own SIM. However, this can set you back a pretty penny in almost every situation. Fortunately, some providers offer travel SIM cards. Travel SIMs allow you to make calls, send text and use data at a much cheaper rate than your telco and the best part is they are usually prepaid.

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