As we dust off our anachronistic flip-flops, buckets and spades, we’ve already decided that we’ll be defiantly packing our phone. And maybe even our tablet if no-one’s looking. Whilst recent EU rules has meant data costs are tumbling in member countries, it remains expensive to use your phone in the same way you do in the UK.
We brought together all the different ways you can ensure you won’t arrive back to a whopping phone bill, and make the most of what your smartphone can add to your holiday.
The fundamentals; check your phone works abroad
Most people’s phones work abroad, but if you are travelling further afield than Europe to Asia and the US, if it’s not the correct band an older phone may not work.
Check your phone’s user manual to see what you have, and if you’ve ‘misplaced’ it, give your phone network a call and they should be able to point you in the right direction.
Our table on the right shows what band you need for a selection of countries.
Go SIM-free and get an international SIM card
Story Telecom is the best bet for multiple country coverage, and will cut calling costs to both landlines and mobile in more countries than we'd care to list here.
Truphone is another option which works in both Australia and the US. It costs £20 to setup, and that includes £10 call credit. You’ll get charged £2 for 90 days inactivity , but MoneySavingExpert notes that receiving a text message counts as activity.
Another option is to buy a local SIM in whichever country you land, but you’re then limited to using it in only that country.
Don't tell the phone networks, but....
The Skype app is a great option for bypassing costly phone calls If your hotel has a WiFi network, or if there's an internet cafe nearby (when isn't there one?) you’ll be able to call other Skype users for free and UK landlines at Skype’s bargain rates.
Another option is to use Apple’s FaceTime app, but that means video.
Buying an abroad package from phone networks
Depending on which network you’re with, there are several ‘traveller’ packages that add more favourable calling rates - especially for EU countries.
Orange Europe traveller, contract, £5.10 monthly
You get 200 mins at the reduced price of 27.4p per minute plus 200 minutes of free received calls. The bundle generally covers the EU, but there are several European countries not covered, inlcuding Cyprus and Croatia. Check Orange for more details. You can ring 150 from your Orange handset to set it up.
O2 My Europe Extra, contract and pay-as-you-go, £10.21 monthly
On this package, you’ll be able to receive calls for free, whilst calls will cost 25p per minute, plus receiving calls is free. It's available as either a one-off payment, or on a rolling contract.
Again there some European countries not covered; visit O2 for more.
Vodafone Passport, contract and pay-as-you-go, free
It’ll cost you nothing to add this service, and calls will then cost 75p plus the standard rate. Again, several countries aren’t included, so check Vodafone's site.
T-Mobile, Euro 5 Talk & Text Booster, £5 per month
For £5.10, you’ll get £7.50 of credit to use for cross-border phone antics. Calls will cost 38p per minute, and receiving calls will set you back 14p. Check to see where's covered in Europe at T-Mobile.
Data; maybe just don't.
If you’re looking to avoid sky-high bills after your holiday, it’s best to learn how to switch off your phone’s data connection. This means that you’ll still be able to receive text messages and calls, but 3G services like email and internet will be locked down.
For the iPhone, go to Settings, General, Network, and move the Data Roaming switch to "off".
For BlackBerry phones, tap in top right corner, and choose manage connections, mobile network options, and turn data services off.
On Android, go into settings, wireless and network, and scroll down to mobile networks. You’ll be able to switch off data roaming here. On most phones, you'll get to ability to switch off data by pressing the power switch briefly.
Data - yes please
Currently there’s no cap on the cost of data use per MB until EU law kicks in in July 2012. So if you’re not careful you can be stung with huge data charges if you use the internet when abroad.
Most of the networks offer data roaming bundles which can greatly reduce the cost of using the web abroad, some of which need to be set-up before you go. Here’s a selection, but there are a huge range of packages on offer and some differences between PAYG and Pay Monhtly so always check with your operator first.
It’s also worth resetting your data counter to zero, so you can monitor how much you have used.
Orange has a range of Mobile Internet Travel Bundles. These are available for trips to Europe and cost £3 for 30MB a day or £15 for 30MB, £50 for 150MB and £150 for 300MB to use over the month. You need to buy them 24 hours before you travel. If you don’t sign up to a bundle data use is capped at 16Mb per month (Pay Monthy) or 12MB (PAYG) costing a maximum of £44.
T-Mobile offers three Euro Internet boosters. £1 lets you browse the internet with 3Mb data use and is valid for 24 hours; £5 gets you 20Mb data with a seven-day validity, finally £10 gets you 100Mb of data to use within 30 days.
Vodafone pay monthly customers on contracts under £40 a month (or under 900 minutes) and PAYG customers pay £2 a month with Vodafone Data Traveller for 25MB. Pay monthly customers on contracts over £40 get 25MB free. Vodafone caps data use for all customers at £38 (+VAT) in Europe, £100 (+VAT) everywhere else, although you can opt out of this
On Three it cost £1.28 per MB in Europe, then £3, £6 or £10 depending where in the world you go, within the EU the maximum you’ll pay £43.
O2’s Web Daily Europe costs £1.50 a day for 15Mb. Otherwise it’s £3.07 per MB, but when data usage reaches £40 a month, O2 stops charging, but gives you 50MB data without an extra cost.
If you absolutely have to download data over 3G it’s worth installing the app Onavo. Once the profile is set-up it can reduce data use by 80% by compressing data before it gets to your handset. It’s Apple iOS only at the moment, but an Android version is coming - hopefully in the next few months.
Save those email checks and tweets for WiFi
Sites like Free Hotspot, Hotspot Locations tell you where to get free internet. With most smartphones packing a WiFi connection, you'll be able to use your email, internet and data-intensive apps without any data charges.
GPS: Get your maps ready before you leave
Several phones and apps have downloadable maps, several recent Nokia phones offer their own offline maps- you download a country’s map ahead of your trip.
Paid-for apps like CoPilot Live Premium also offers high quality maps that you can use offline.
A lot of phones use assisted GPS, known as aGPS, which uses some data to triangulate exactly where you are, so the likes of Google Maps may be best left alone or kept for emergencies, especially if you aren't on a data package.
Keep your smartphone secure
If you’re going to head abroad with that new iPhone or HTC Sensation, it’s probably worth checking whether you’ve already got phone insurance, or whether its covered on your home contents insurance. Check if you are covered on your home policy.
The rules of common sense apply; make sure you’ve locked your phone with a PIN - and don’t make it obvious.
Also don’t brandish your smartphone at any opportunity, especially in areas where it could have the chance of getting swiped. If you are worried about losing that expensive smartphone, then it could be worth getting a cheap pay-as-you-go phone, or dusting off that old brick in your kitchen drawer. Buy a SIM-free device, and you could also use local SIM cards.
It sounds simple, but don’t forget to take a power adaptor. It may also be worth taking a portable charger like the Proporta USB TurboCharger which comes with a range of tips you plug in to charge all major smartphones. You can even charge two devices at once and it includes enough power to charge your device several times.