The international traveler craving online connectedness is plagued with many questions and options: Should I buy a SIM card ahead of time or once I get there? Should I get a hotspot? What are my best options if I just want to text and email? And of course, the grandmamma of them all: Which service offers the best rate for the country (or countries) I'll be visiting? Hopefully the below products and services will help answer those and other questions, taking at least some of the intimidation out of doing data abroad.
1. Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot MiFi 4620L
Why We Like It: This cool little gadget ($270 before service contract, discounts, and rebates) can deliver 4G LTE speeds and get up to 10 devices online at once in over 300 cities in the States. But even cooler is that it is "global ready," which means it can get up to five simultaneous devices connected in over 200 countries. Its interactive screen makes it easy to use. And its battery offers up to five hours of continuous use on-the-go.
What to Watch Out For: The global data package—a Verizon service you can turn on/off each month—is just $25 for 100MB. (You can get additional 100MB chunks for $25 each.) If you don't sign up for that package, you'll be stuck with the "Pay As You Go" rate, over $20/MB for usage outside North America. (That's more than 100 times more.)
How Much: $50 + $25/month for 100MB
Buy It: Visit VerizonWireless.com.
2. Gogo In-Flight WiFi Service
Why We Like It: Currently available on over 1,500 domestic flights on nine partner airlines, Gogo recently announced a partnership that'll bring their in-flight WiFi service to flights over the Atlantic Ocean Region and Europe. They expect to install the necessary technology systems on commercial aircraft as soon as the end of this year. Soon, even more reason to cheer for reaching 10,000 feet.
What to Watch Out For: Although pricing hasn't been announced for this service, below is what's currently offered domestically. They also offer seasonal special deals that drop the day rate down to as low as $6.50.
How Much: $15/day, $35 to $40/month
Buy It: Visit GogoAir.com.
3. The Passport Lite Travel SIM Card
Why We Like It: Although buying in-country may seem like the way to go, we recommend buying ahead instead, where your options may be limited and you'll be stuck with whatever services and pricing they offer. Assuming you already have one of them fancy global phones and just need service, check out this pre-paid SIM card—essentially free, since it comes with a $5 credit. In addition to data and calling, one of the neat features on it is Travel Journal. It uses the phone's location-awareness to plot your trip on a map. So you can upload photo/text journal entries. And your friends and family will be able to see what you've been up to where.
What to Watch Out For: If you plan to do lots of texting, you may want to upgrade your card to the Passport or Passport PLUS. For all three levels, the data rates start at 39 cents per megabyte. (Think Western Europe.) From country to country, sometimes their rates are lower than Cellular Abroad (also featured in this article), sometimes identical, and sometimes higher. So we recommend checking out both based on your itinerary, again keeping in mind that single-country SIMs tend to be cheaper than multiple-country cards. When you do, make sure you're comparing single country to single country, multiple to multiple, dollars to dollars, and megabytes to megabytes.
How Much: $5 + $0.39/MB
Buy It: Visit Telestial.com Be sure to use the special Fodor's-only coupon code fodors15 to get a 15 percent discount from Telestial.
4. The National Geographic Talk Abroad Travel Phone
Why We Like It: This simple but worldly phone—actually, a less expensive Blu model than pictured above—features a physical keyboard, and an FM radio receiver, but (for what it's worth) no built-in camera. The package includes an international charger and adapters. And it conveniently comes with $29 in credit, which you can set to automatically refill after it drops below $10.
What to Watch Out For: Buy this phone for calling, texting, and light emailing. If you're looking to browse the web and more online-intensive multimedia stuff, check out the Blu Speed ($149). Or conversely, if you're going on a trip for a few weeks or less and don't picture needing a phone abroad again, it might make more sense to rent. Whether purchasing or renting an international cellphone, always check to see if it includes the SIM.
How Much: $99
Buy It: Visit CellularAbroad.com.
5. Single Country WiFi Hotspot Rental with Unlimited Data
Why We Like It: As a rule, getting a data plan for use in one specific country will tend to be cheaper than having one that allows you to roam around. (You pay for that flexibility.) So if you know you'll want mobile Internet service (for up to five devices at once) in just one country, look for a single-country plan. Taking that concept to the next level, Cellular Abroad offers unlimited data packages for travelers to Germany, Israel, or Italy.
What to Watch Out For: Although you will have unlimited data for all your surfing, streaming, and emails in any (one) of the above three countries, the speed may vary. While the plan for Israel is 3G speeds throughout, Germany slows to 2G speeds after you've used 250MB, and Italy after a generous 10GB. (This page gives a rough guide of how much data certain online activities may equate to.)
How Much: $140 (1 week) to $336 (8 weeks)
Buy It: Visit CellularAbroad.com.
6. DeLorme InReach
Why We Like It: Just three days after we last wrote about the far-flinging but affordable InReach satellite device, they released a major upgrade that doubled its battery life. Additionally, their free Earthmate companion app now allows users to download topographical world maps, viewable on your Android or Apple phone. That's in addition to being able to 2-way text, post to Facebook and Twitter, and track a user's location online.
What to Watch Out For: Although InReach works on its own, the Earthmate app is what unlocks its full functionality. To make sure it'll work with your phone, you need to get the model made for smartphones. (Watch out: There's also an InReach made to work just with DeLorme's Earthmate PN-60 device.) Lastly, to benefit from all the latest advances, it's a good idea to make sure the InReach has updated firmware.
How Much: $249 + $10/month
Buy It: Visit InReachDeLorme.com.
Fodors.com Travel Technology Columnist Scott Tharler is an expert in gadgets, gambling, and travel. He's written four books, plus hundreds of mobile and wireless tips for Sony and PC World. In addition to his daily Discovery News gadget blog, you can find links to other gadget articles, social feeds and lists of his current favorite gadgets at about.me/gadgetfans.
Photo Credits: 1. Novatel Wireless, Inc.; 2. Daniel Irvine/iStockphoto/Thinkstock, Gogo LLC; 3. Cellular Abroad; 4. Cellular Abroad; 5. Cellular Abroad; 6. DeLorme