In the dark, primitive days of 2008, reliable international data plans were a luxury available only to well-heeled travelers. Today, almost everyone has access to dozens of options to ensure they’re always connected while on the road. Here are three distinct solutions for three different types of traveler.
Best Coverage: Satellite Phone
In terms of sheer coverage, the best solution is to simply buy a satellite phone. Until Google starts floating hot air balloon hotspots around the world, satellites are the still the most comprehensive option available today. Unfortunately, out-of-pocket expenses for satellite devices and the per-MB costs associated with a monthly data plan are prohibitive for most mortal men. If you’re planning to dip off the grid for a few weeks and need a backup plan to stay connected, however, companies like Roadpost and Globalstar offer short-term rentals. Just remember that transmission speeds are roughly 2400bps which makes the service useful for sending and receiving emails, but not much else.
Best Price: T-Mobile
On the other end of the spectrum, T-Mobile now offers free, unlimited international data and texting in more than 140 countries. The catch is that they only allowed for slower 3G-esque speeds that top out at 128kbps. For casual surfing, this is plenty fast. But, for those of us raised on near-instant LTE speeds, it can feel maddeningly slow for videos and other data-intensive tasks. The good news it that plans start at less than $40 per month. If you already have a T-Mobile, bully for you. If not, it might be worth switching or simply buying a second phone — particularly if you travel a lot.
Best Overall Solution: TEP Wireless
For a solution somewhere in the middle, renting a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot while in-country is often your best bet. The problem is that many of these devices are off-brand and can prove finicky and highly unreliable. TEP Wireless is among our favorite hotspot providers. A few days before your trip, the company will ship a portable hotspot to you. There’s no setup required — simply power on the device and connect as you would normally to any standard Wi-Fi hotspot. From there, you can enjoy unlimited data for your entire trip. Their devices offer more than eight hours of battery life which is more than enough to get even the most Facebook-addicted travelers through the day. At roughly $10 daily, the total costs can add up quickly. But, we think it’s still the best overall solution.