How do you deal with an iphone while going nomadic?
December 16, 2015 9:57 AM   Subscribe

My daughter will be traveling to Nepal and southeast Asia after Christmas. I asked her if she has found out how to deal with her phone, and she said no, so I'm here (don't tell her). She's using a paid-for iphone with Koodo (in Canada). What's a good strategy for making calls, sending messages, and using data when going from country to country? Also, is it overkill to bring both an iphone and an ipad when traveling out of a backpack?
posted by morspin to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If she gets the phone unlocked, she can use local SIM cards for the countries she is in. These are generally quite cheap. There are multi-country SIM cards, but they tend have very expensive data rates - and data is very useful when travelling for maps, hostel bookings, etc. She could rely on WiFi, but having data can be very helpful and is well worth the minor cost if she is going to be in a country for a week or longer.
posted by ssg at 10:08 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yep. Just get a local sim card.
posted by umbú at 10:09 AM on December 16, 2015

How long will she be traveling for? The solutions for a week long trip might be different than those for six weeks. Is she mostly going to be in cities or will she be in rural areas?
posted by Candleman at 10:12 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

We use KnowRoaming, which looks like it supports Nepal and most of Southeast Asia. It's not the cheapest option, but for us, it's the most convenient and has the least amount of hassle.
posted by evoque at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't say much for your first question, but I can say the first thing you figure out when backpacking, is the second day you regret the weight you're carrying. The iPhone is just smaller iPad; leave the iPad at home.
posted by General Malaise at 11:01 AM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Get the phone unlocked and just get a sim card there. Nepal is easy, I do know India is more difficult so I have no suggestions there. In Nepal, different carriers are better if you're mostly in Kathmandu vs in the mountains. A sim card is cheap and you can get refills at any corner store. Any phone store in a tourist neighborhood like Thamel or by the lake in Pokhara will set her up. 3 years ago, I spent about $50 total and that gave me enough data to get around and fairly long phone calls home every few days for a month.

I would skip the ipad, but that's me.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Since T-Mobile's included roaming does not apply in Nepal, a local SIM is definitely the way to go. Do be aware that in a lot of countries there are cheaper plans geared towards Blackberries that will work fine with other phones as long as you put in the right data settings. As an example, Claro in the Dominican Republic charges what works out to about $20 a month for their BB service, but closer to $60 for a generic data plan. I've used it successfully on both Android and Symbian phones in the past. (They also have an even cheaper ~$12/mo) data plan for BBs that only allows you to visit certain social media sites and use BBM)

Local calls were about 12¢/min, billed by the second. Calls to the US were the same, but with a 1 minute billing increment. Point is, shop around a bit and be sure to understand how long any given refill is valid for. Some may only keep your phone active for 7 or 14 days, even if you have credit remaining (which may not expire after the 7 or 14 days; it just becomes useless until you buy another topup)

Happily, there are several websites that will allow you to put money on a PAYG account overseas, which is nice since you can keep the number active if you're planning to return, but will be gone long enough that it would otherwise expire or use a US-based credit card without foreign transaction and currency conversion fees.
posted by wierdo at 2:49 PM on December 16, 2015

FWIW, I've used ezetop (now called Ding) for my remote/CC-based top up needs in the past. As of a couple of years ago they had the best rates in the countries I cared about. There are better discounters for US PAYG topups, though.
posted by wierdo at 2:53 PM on December 16, 2015

Is she actually backpacking (carrying all her gear with her all day on treks) or traveling and then day-tripping (leaving most of her stuff at a hostel or someone's house and just taking essentials for the day/days she'll be gone)?

If it's the former, do not take the iPad. She will regret every single ounce she overpacks. I know people who cut their toothbrushes down to reduce weight. It's like that.

If it's the latter, take it. She'll be able to watch movies, and do things like email and Skype more easily.

Also, traveling with an iPhone, or any Apple product, is pretty risky. Everyone knows what they look like, and they are worth a *lot* on the black market. I never travel with a phone, and I travel a ton -- I get along using internet cafes and these days my (not Mac) laptop. A better idea if she really needs a phone is to get a cheap local phone and put some minutes on it. Skip the data plan and just use wifi with the iPad, always keep iPad hidden when in public.

Get her travel insurance for her electronics and gear.
posted by ananci at 2:54 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing local sim cards. Having a data-based messaging app like WhatsApp helps too. Getting a local SIM gives you access to 3G networks and the like if you want to pay for it. Finding WiFI in southeast Asia also isn't very hard. I mainly used data for navigation when I was lazy, but MapsWithMe is a great offline navigation option too.

I wouldn't think twice about iPhone + iPad combination while traveling. I backpacked southeast Asia with a laptop, cell phone, GoPro, and a point and shoot camera without any difficulty. She will just need to remember to keep things locked when she doesn't need it.
posted by astapasta24 at 3:46 PM on December 16, 2015

I am trekking in Nepal as I write this (currently in Tatopani). Of the 6 people in our trekking group, 2 had iPads which were great for sharing photos and seeing which ones to post to Facebook/email. I think 1 person had an iPhone, but no one made any calls other than my friend who has a non-iPhone phone. An iPad doesn't weigh all that much in your big backpack and seems a worthy addition, especially if you can wirelessly transfer photos from your dSLR to you iPad as my friend could.
posted by blueberry at 6:05 PM on December 16, 2015

Nthing the local SIM card. It's one of the first things we look for when we arrive in a new country. Wikia has plenty of info on the best providers for each country. I'll note we so rarely make calls... Messaging apps, data for internet surfing...

iPad? Yes - it's great for e-books and games for even the longest bus / plane / train rides.

A side note: it's worth setting up the Find My Phone feature and otherwise ensuring you can remotely wipe it if necessary.
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:39 PM on December 16, 2015

I have the Skype app on my phone, and purchased some really cheap unlimited time for all of North America, and a few other places that seem to come with it. There are options to purchase something similar for different areas. If she is going to be able to access wi-fi regularly, this is BY FAR the cheapest way to contact people using VOIP (voice over internet protocol). You don't have to use the video feature (and it doesn't work well on a phone), but you CAN call from internet to landline or mobile for basically free (I paid about $30 for an entire year of unlimited calling). The only thing that may seem a bit confusing is that although she may be using her smartphone, she won't actually be using cell service at all. It is internet access only for Skype. This worked really well to avoid long distance charges when I was on the road.
posted by itsflyable at 10:30 PM on December 16, 2015

When I was travelling in SE Asia (5 years ago) you could get SIM cards for dirt cheap, and free fast wifi was everywhere. I remember checking my phone in the middle of the jungle in Borneo and there was an open wifi hotspot with faster speeds than I get at home. Have her pay to get her phone unlocked before she leaves and she can put local SIM cards in it.

For calling home just use Skye/FaceTime/iMessage for free over wifi or LTE if she has enough credits. Note that a lot of businesses in SE Asia use SMS for making reservations so a local SIM is also handy for that.

An iPad would be handy for booking hostels and trips, but not necessary. I used an iPhone 3G so which was slow and small. Mobile websites and apps have improved a lot since then. An iPad is also just one more thing to worry about getting stolen.
posted by krunk at 6:24 AM on December 17, 2015

Here is a rather detailed report from Indonesia (with nice photos). Bring the iPhone--ditch the iPad.
posted by Gotanda at 4:33 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm the guy who wrote that thing Gotanda posted (thanks, by the way) and I feel like chiming in.

If you can get the iPhone unlocked, that will be your best bet. SIM cards with lots of data are pretty cheap across much of SE Asia (I checked in Indonesia, Taiwan, and Singapore, though I only bought one in Indo); not sure about Nepal or other parts of SE Asia. There is a bit of “tourist markup”, so it can be fair to bargain. It’s generally going to be cheaper to pick up a SIM card in each country; just make sure you know what kind of SIM the iPhone supports, and they’ll cut it to fit. (iPhone 4(S) uses a micro SIM; iPhone 5 and newer use nano SIM)

If you can’t get it unlocked, Koodo’s roaming fees are going to be really expensive, especially for data. It would likely be cheaper for her to pick up a cheap, prepaid unlocked phone while there.

Using phone functionality, both text and voice, will suck — roaming charges cost a fortune anywhere. I’d stick with Skype or FaceTime (audio or video) for calls, and iMessage, Facebook Chat, or similar for messaging.

Bringing an iPad backpacking is probably just a liability, unless there’s a good reason. If she’s going to be writing or something regularly while there, it can be handy; for most things, it’s going to be a little extra physical weight and a lot of extra mental weight. As chrisinseoul noted, turn on “Find My iPhone” just in case.

Sounds like a great trip.
posted by nickheer at 4:47 PM on December 17, 2015

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