A few years ago, it felt amazing that I had figured out to get an unlocked cell phone and pick up a SIM card in Germany to have service and data there. Picking up a card from a vending machine in the center of Heidelberg, I was able to get data on my phone while traveling the country after only an hour or so of figuring out the setup instructions and settings on my phone. It instantly became so much easier to stay in touch get around, and post pictures. This process now feels ridiculously complicated after traveling a few times with a card from Google’s Project Fi.
The best value of Google’s Fi, a pay-as-you-go month-to-month phone plan isn’t even the $10 / GB of data, but the fact that for no additional cost, it just works in nearly every country you might ever travel to. Instead of the hundreds of dollars you might pay to add an international plan to your normal coverage, and only get a few measly MB of data, Fi keeps the same $10 / GB rate around the world. I’ve used it in Holland, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Germany, and across the US and had stellar service all around.
While the deal is good, I actually found better with Straight Talk, where for $40 / month I can get 10 GB of data and calls using AT&Ts pretty stable network. The support isn’t great, but I’ve had few issues. If I ever get sick of it or find a better deal, since it’s month-to-month, I can easily change. With how much I save monthly, I can afford to upgrade phones once per year. Straight Talk doesn’t give any international service though, so for trips, it’s over to Google Fi I go. With an unlocked phone, it’s as easy as swapping out SIM cards as the plane touches down.
An even better deal, and one they don’t advertise widely, is that on Fi, you can get a second, data-only SIM for free. Using the same plan, you can add other devices and use the same bucket of data at the same low price. Since my wife has Fi, for all of our trips, I requested a data-only card and always travel with it. Since I can usually find WIFI for the more data-intensive usage, I can use only a couple of GB, keeping the bill low. We can even easily stay in touch while traveling since we have fast data pretty much everywhere.
The advantages of having a real data plan while traveling are hard to exaggerate. Rather than staking out WIFI at tourist locations, restaurants, or potentially dangerous open hotspots, I have access everywhere. Being able to post updates to keep friends and family in the loop and hear back from them adds connectivity to a trip. Being able to message each other and family helps us make plans and be able to branch out while traveling. Maybe most useful is being able to use mapping and navigation both while driving in an unfamiliar country and even just in getting around a town and discovering sights we’d otherwise miss.
I’ve used Fi on trips for the last two years now and it’s completely changed how I travel. For parents, it’s a must for being able to split up responsibilities like running out to grab food or splitting up the kids while being able to stay in touch. From above the Arctic Circle to the sun-soaked coast of Portugal, it’s been a critical component in our recent travels. I even used it so others could track me in real-time during the Berlin Marathon. Since discovering the great deal of Fi and how useful it can be when traveling to other countries, I’ll never leave without it again.