Six ways to save cellular data during international travel

At the end of December, my family headed to Europe for a family holiday. Like usual, we switched to an international cellular data plan so we wouldn’t incur exorbitant data charges when using our iPhones there. Since we knew we’d be spending a few days driving through Greece, and glued to Google Maps and Waze to guide us through the Peloponnesian hill towns, we got larger data plans than usual. But, just one day into our trip, we learned we had used nearly all of our purchased data.

With utter disbelief, we stared at the text message warnings sent to us by our cellular company, calling out that we had used 80 percent of our data – just one day after we arrived in Greece. In all our trips to Europe, this has never happened. And, we weren’t even on the road yet. We still primarily checked email, Instagram and the like when we were on Wi-Fi at our hotel or an Athenian restaurant.

After making a call to our cellular company to find out how we could have used nearly all of our available data, my husband learned a few things I want to share with others so you can avoid using up all of your data, too.

Six ways to save your cellular data during international travel:

1. Purchase an international cellular data plan. First, it’s important to purchase an international cellular data plan. The plan allows you to help control the cost of calling, texting and using data while you’re out of the country.

Need help finding a plan and taking all of the right steps in doing so? NerdWallet rates international cell phone plans. And, AT&T offers helpful tips on what to keep in mind when getting ready to for international travel.

2. Make sure the cellular data option is turned off – and only turn it on when you want to use your cellular data on your phone. To turn it off or on, for iPhones go to “Setting” on your phone and then click “Cellular.” You’ll then see an option for “Cellular Data Options,” which will either say “Roaming Off” or “Roaming On.” You can turn it off or on by clicking “Cellular Data Options” and sliding the “Data Roaming” button to the left (off) or right (on).

3. Turn off Wi-Fi Assist on your phone. Wi-Fi Assist enables your phone to automatically use cellular data when Wi-Fi connectivity is poor – as helpfully written under the “Wi-Fi Assist” option on iPhones. To turn it off on an iPhone, go to “Settings” and then “Cellular.” Then, scroll down to the bottom. You’ll then be able to choose to turn it off or on.

4. Select which apps you want to allow to use cellular data. This will help limit the apps that can use cellular data whenever you turn on your cellular option – and are not on Wi-Fi. On an iPhone, in “Settings” click on “Cellular”and scroll down to the section called “Use Cellular Data For.” You can then turn the option off and on for each of the apps on your phone. When we were traveling, I only kept it on for apps like Google Maps, Waze and Safari.

5. When you land at your destination, reset your statistics so you can track your international data usage. On an iPhone, you can reset your statistics by going to “Settings,” clicking on “Cellular” and then scrolling down to the bottom where you’ll see “Reset Statics.” You can click the words to reset it – and make sure you don’t use all of your data too quickly.

6. Take advantage of free Wi-Fi offered in your hotel – and other stores, cafes and restaurants. In Athens, we were surprised that every restaurant seemed to offer free Wi-Fi. Of course, as iPhone users, we always stop into Apple stores and jump on the available Wi-Fi whenever possible, too.


Have you found other ways to limit your cellular data use while traveling around the world? Share your tips in the comments below.

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