Phone in the US for just two weeks (WA)
September 22, 2021 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in WA for two weeks and need to be connected to cell service. Roaming would be expensive with my provider. Is it feasible to buy a budget smartphone and prepaid SIM for a couple of weeks, or is the cost prohibitive? Where in Seattle would be the best place to look?

I need a data connection and the ability to make calls so that I can check emails (I'm waiting to hear about a job interview) and to navigate on a road trip through mountains, find and book campsites, and hotspot my existing phone for checking messages.

I have a smartphone (iphone, not dual SIM) but I'm reluctant to switch the SIM because I don't want to have all my whatsapp contacts update my number, then update again when I go home. I don't have a spare smartphone.
posted by chappell, ambrose to Travel & Transportation around Washington (12 answers total)
 
Best answer: You don't need to update your phone number for Whatsapp when you put in a new SIM. You can continue to use Whatsapp with your regular phone number even if you have switched your SIM.

So just buy a prepaid SIM in the US, pop it in and use it.
posted by ssg at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: navigate on a road trip through mountains

Speaking as someone who drives through mountains in WA a fair amount, be sure to check the network coverage and probably download the maps ahead of time. (This will get you nav and finding campsites but less helpful with booking them.) I drive east from Bellingham on Mt Baker Highway a couple times a month and lose signal surprisingly early, had the same experience on Hwy 20. It's probably better on like US-2 or I-90 but I don't rely on signal more than I can help it.
posted by supercres at 10:45 AM on September 22, 2021 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Oh yeah, at least T-Mobile and Verizon look way better on bigger roads. Still, may be terrain and weather dependent at times.
posted by supercres at 10:50 AM on September 22, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: This is non-specific to Seattle but in general in the US the easiest places to buy a SIM (or phone, if you decide to go that route) are either a carrier-specific store (like T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Boost) or a big-box store like Target, Walmart, or Best Buy. Some drugstores (e.g. CVS, Walgreens) also sell SIMs. There are many of these stores in Seattle!

So many places offer curbside pickup nowadays you should be able to do some research and choose a SIM online (checking that the network has at least some coverage where you're going to be going), then pick it up somewhere convenient to you.
posted by mskyle at 10:52 AM on September 22, 2021 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: So just buy a prepaid SIM in the US, pop it in and use it.

This is a very helpful answer, thanks!! I had not realised this.

So many places offer curbside pickup nowadays you should be able to do some research and choose a SIM online (checking that the network has at least some coverage where you're going to be going), then pick it up somewhere convenient to you.

Amazing, thanks!

T-Mobile and Verizon look way better on bigger roads. Still, may be terrain and weather dependent at times.

I'll check compatibility with my handset, cheers.

Speaking as someone who drives through mountains in WA a fair amount, be sure to check the network coverage and probably download the maps ahead of time.

Cheers, I'm not expecting perfect coverage (or even very frequent coverage) - I've done this in mountainous regions elsewhere in the world and it's a pretty similar situation. I just need to check maybe once or twice a day for emails / camping / family emergencies. Frankly I would love to check zero times / day and rely on paper maps, but that isn't practical for me on this trip. Also, I've been planning my (likely) overnight stays using "the Dyrt" and "Campendium". The free verison of Dyrt indicates what kind of coverage you can expect at each site, which is something at least.

Going to mark this as resolved, thanks AskMe!!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]


if you've had your current provider for a while, you may have a crappy plan that's expensive. it's worth checking, because there are new providers and new plans that have wide coverage and are cheap.
posted by theora55 at 1:11 PM on September 22, 2021


Best answer: In case it’s helpful, I’ve found it easy to use eSIMs on newer phones for this exact scenario. That way, you can have it ready prior to even arriving.

E.g. https://www.airalo.com/
posted by shahzebasif at 2:07 PM on September 22, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Make sure to check that your iPhone is fully unlocked before you travel, some telcos won’t allow it even if it is paid off, depending on the country…
posted by rambling wanderlust at 2:49 PM on September 22, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I do a fair amount of backpacking and mountaineering in the Cascades; IME and by reputation in the outdoors community here, Verizon has the best coverage in the mountains. T-Mobile isn't terrible, but it's definitely spottier (I've had both). If you have a choice go Verizon, else T-Mobile will be fine. With both, take advantage of offline maps. Google Maps offers it, and if you need offline topos, Gaia GPS supports downloads too.

Around the highways: if you're not too far from I90, you'll have pretty good coverage. On US2, your signal will get spotty around Baring and die after Skykomish, and basically be gone until Leavenworth except I forget if there's signal at Stevens Pass. On SR20, it'll get spotty around Darrington or Concrete and be nonexistent through to Mazama or Winthrop. With all of them, get up high enough and you'll likely grab some signal, though not always enough to get data - sometimes just enough to send a simple SMS.

I'm not sure why paper maps would be impractical - you can stop in at Metsker Maps (by Pike Place), the Mountaineers Bookstore (Magnusen Park) or the REI flagship (South Lake Union) and get a whole bunch of paper maps (notably Green Trails which focus on WA). Note that there's a ranger station inside the REI so you can get additional guidance for campsites, conditions, and etc. there too.

Last, I'm not sure when you're coming, and you're probably aware, but autumn in the Cascades and Olympics is super unpredictable. We just had our first snow in the mountains at about 6k elevation, and more will be coming, so be aware of the elevation of the campsites you're looking at and where the current snow levels are in the mountains, because some of those campsites could be snowed in by the time you get there. SR20 closes for the winter sometime in November, as does the Mt. Baker Highway. Throw WTA trip reports into your mix - they'll give you recent beta on conditions near where you're going. Again, you probably know all this already, but every year we lose some people who aren't fully prepared for the fact that it's fall in the lowlands and deep winter in the mountains already so better to say it out loud just in case.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 7:00 PM on September 22, 2021 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Thanks all, this is fantastic info. I've bought an eSIM (as I really just need data - I don't mind paying roaming charges for an emergency SMS). Intrigued to see how well this works.

Re WA outdoors in autumn, many thanks SADC (your username reminds me that I'm planning to visit Snoqualmie / North Bend / Fall City to check out some Twin Peaks filming locations). I should note that paper maps aren't impractical for navigation and I intend to buy some! They're just impractical for checking my emails, haha.

I'll definitely visit REI as I have a couple of bits and pieces I want to stock up on, and I'll take the opportunity to talk to the rangers at the same time.

Thanks again everyone, this was a very helpful set of responses and way above and beyond what I imagined when I posted the question.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 7:56 AM on September 23, 2021


Hope you're having/had/going to have a great trip, chappell, ambrose.

Here's the first rescue that's made the news this year.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 8:31 AM on October 12, 2021


Response by poster: Cheers, Special Agent Dale Cooper! Thankfully, I made the trip unscathed in the end (I wasn’t one of the hikers who got rescued).

I’m not sure whether anyone will stumble across this so long after the question was asked, but I had a really great trip, in not-inconsiderable-part thanks to the responses to this Ask. I got the Airalo eSIM as suggested and it worked perfectly, at least whenever there 1) was reception and 2) I had managed to charge my phone - not straightforward on an all-camping motorbike tour. While still in Seattle I went to REI and spoke to the rangers about where I was planning to go, my setup (hammock) and what I needed in the way of passes and a sleeping bag - I had inexplicably chosen to buy another bag in the US at great expense instead of bringing one with me, but at least I got something suitable that I’ll be using again in future. I also went to Metsker Maps and bought the relevant Butler G1 motorcycle maps (these were a recommendation from a contact in Mexico City and were absolutely amazing, really made the trip - I could plan my route on a daily basis and re-plan on the fly, even in the middle of nowhere with no reception).

In the end I did a 2,500 mile round trip through Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon and saw everything I’d wanted to - I rode Going To The Sun Road and camped among the autumn leaves in Glacier National Park (I bought bear spray!); rode a ton of famous classic motorcycling routes I’d never previously heard of; saw Mt St Helens and Spirit Lake (eerie!); and got to see lots of unexpected-to-me bits of desert in the rain shadow of the mountains. Also despite all the cold/wet weather gear I had with me, I got incredibly lucky with the weather and all the passes I had wanted to ride were still open. Plus I saw where they filmed Twin Peaks! And, given that I was camping, the whole trip ended up both cheaper and more covid-secure than staying in Seattle itself.

As it happens, I didn’t get the job in the end, but the amazing trip took the sting out of it.

Thanks again, AskMe!
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:43 PM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]


« Older Help me fall in love with my home.   |   How should I format and present my graphic memoir? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments