Because we don’t want to leave our ‘Gram followers hanging.
Staying in touch during your vacation is important — after all, you need to keep your family members updated on your whereabouts. Of course, another reason why connectivity is crucial for many is the need to keep your social media followers in the loop.
These days, travelling has been made simpler and more fuss-free, thanks to technology. In fact, it’s never been easier to stay connected on your travels than it is today.
Still, it can be mind-boggling to figure out your options. We share below what you can do to be able to “phone home” with ease.
There are many portable WiFi router companies nowadays and the more established one is probably Changi WiFi. For Changi WiFi, its portable router is best for groups of no more than six (it can only tether up to six people) and they cannot split up since the range is limited. But the speeds in the cities are fast and reliable.
It’s also a good choice if you’re not data-hungry because apart from these three countries – Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – all other countries have a fair use policy – your 4G speeds will slow down when 500MB of data is exceeded. You’ll have to bring along a rechargeable battery as well because the router can only last six to eight hours, even less if you and your team are aggressive users.
For Changi WiFi, reservation and pick-up are both very easy. You can call, email, WhatsApp them or reserve a unit through their website. Altogether there are 11 pick-up locations scattered throughout the airport (they have one location in Tampines).
The three telcos do provide data roaming plans as well – and these are heavily advertised too. If you do decide to go with your telco, it’s probably because of convenience. You don’t need to pick up anything or open up your phone to change the sim card. And if you’re in China, you don’t need to be bothered about the Great Firewall of China as well. You can continue using Facebook or WhatsApp.
Singtel’s data roaming packages are relatively costly (in terms of provisioned data as well). For example, in Malaysia, you pay $5 for 1GB of data. As other countries come into the picture, the cost goes up as well – from $12/GB to $35/GB. Note that all these packages include only 1GB of data. If you’re travelling to Asian countries, you can also consider Singtel’s newly launched Gomo travel sim which gives you 3GB for 10 days at $20.
M1’s data roaming service, Data Passport, is stronger because you can utilise your local data bundle to roam overseas. The benefits increase exponentially if your data bundle is big because the prices – from $10 to $50 – are tied to the countries themselves. If I have a 10GB local data plan, imagine paying just $12 – an additional $2 comes from the activation fee – for 10GB of roaming data in Taiwan.
Another advantage of using your telco’s data is that you don’t need to buy a VPN service if you’re in China – you can use Facebook or WhatsApp without any problems. Starhub’s roaming plans are a tad limited like Singtel’s – you can only provision 1GB to 3GB ranging from $5 to $50 depending on the countries.
Image: Nathan Ng
Despite all the promotions, our top pick is still a local sim card for its cost efficiency and in a certain way, convenience. Having a local number is advantageous not only for the data but also for the local promotions that you can enjoy, especially in China as you can tag that number to your WeChat and sign up for discounts in restaurants. These usually range from 10 to 15 per cent. When we were using the Didi app (China’s version of Grab), the drivers would also call me to confirm my location.
In Thailand, the local number got us free 300 baht ($12.80) credit for Grab usage per sim card so it’s equivalent to getting the card for free (we paid just $6 for the Thai sim card). Network reliability, a main concern of many, is a non-issue here if you do your research and pick the more established telcos. In Bangkok, AIS worked very well. In China, you have no such headaches – there are only three mobile carriers for China’s 1.4b population. One downside: if you’re in China using a local number, you’ll need a VPN to bypass the Great Firewall of China to use services such as Google and Facebook.
Buying a local sim might be a little inconvenient because you need to spend additional time when you touch down at a foreign airport to source for sim cards. If you prefer not to do that, you can always order online from Qoo10 – there’s a shop called ICC that sells travel sim cards. You can either choose home delivery or pick up from the shop at Sim Lim Tower itself. The shop even throws in one sim card adaptor for every sim purchased.
It’s pretty easy to find wifi everywhere, unless you’re in a really remote location. If you want to save some money, you could just put your phone on airplane mode and use the Internet only when you can find a wifi hotspot. Practically every hotel and hostel have free wifi included in your stay these days, so you’re covered when you’re at your accommodation at least.
When you’re out and about, guaranteed spots that have free wifi are at bigger chains, such as Starbucks or McDonald’s. Certain malls or restaurants offer free wifi too — some of them display the details prominently (on their tables or at the cashier for restaurants, or at the info counter for malls), or you might have to ask them for it. They usually tell you without objection, if you’re a paying customer.
Relying on local wifi means you can’t update your family or social media accounts in real time on-the-go, but if you don’t feel it’s necessary to stay connected all the time, this would actually be a blessing in disguise. Why? It helps you to stay off your phone, soak in the present and fully enjoy your trip without distractions.
By Nathan Ng, May 2019
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