The following is a guest post by RTWgirl, a freelance travel writer and travel blogger. You can follow RTWgirl on twitter @RTWgirl_
I am a freelance travel writer, and in September, I left to go up to Vancouver, Canada, for a travel assignment. Vancouver happens to be my hometown, so I go there several times year to visit my elderly father, family, and friends. This visit was going to be different because I was going to be working while there. I was scheduled to be there for a few weeks and didn’t want to roam with my American mobile provider and come back to a costly cell phone bill.
In the past, I would purchase a SIM card from Canadian cellular companies like FIDO or Rogers to use while visiting. In case you didn’t know, Canadian mobile plans, especially prepaid plans for travelers, are some of the most expensive mobile plans in the world. The average cost of a mobile data package is $25 Canadian pre-tax, and that’s only for 500 MB of data. In the past I would buy a phone and text plan, but now that most of my friends are using iPhones and its iMessage service, data is almost vital for communication. And this is only for data for my smart phone; I have not touched on needing Wi-Fi for my laptop or tablet.
I searched on Google for different services available before I left. A friend who had traveled to Canada previously used a worldwide SIM card. I checked it out and broke down the costs. It was virtually the same as buying a SIM from the foreign mobile company but handy in the sense that you were able to get the card prior to your departure. Then I came across XCom Global — I looked at their website and Twitter account, and read positive reviews from users and a great review on the tech website Engadget.
Under normal circumstances, you would contact XCom Global and receive the device prior to your departure. But since I did not know about the company in advance I ordered the hotspot to be shipped to my address in Canada. The unit arrived to me in Vancouver in a carrying case with two batteries, a charger, and an instruction manual. I hadn’t even left the FedEx parking lot when I connected my smart phone to the mobile hotspot. It was so simple to connect. When I got back to my father’s house I connected my laptop and tablet to the hotspot as well. I was beyond thrilled!
I traveled with the hotspot unit throughout British Columbia for my assignment. I went up to Whistler via bus and was able to work steadily on my laptop and phone for the two-hour ride there and back. I used it on the ferry to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. I took it with me on a solo hike through a provincial park and was able to inform my family that I was safe. I even used it on my regular ride on the SkyTrain, Vancouver’s version of a subway system. There wasn’t a place that I had issues connecting with the hotspot in Vancouver. Service may vary in some foreign countries, but the Wi-Fi connection in Canada worked out well for me. It worked out even better because my phone bill wasn’t atrocious when I got back home.
The only issue I had when using the mobile hotspot unit was its battery life. I think the spare was a bit old and would die quickly, but I found a solution to that. As someone who works on the road, I carry an external battery charger. I was able to plug it into the mobile hotspot to keep it running. I know I must sound like an addict, but when you are a freelancer and work on the road, it’s pretty vital to be constantly connected.
I’m currently in New York City, and my cousin from Australia was in town for ten days on business. We didn’t speak to each other before he arrived, otherwise I would have told him about renting an XCom Global unit; he told me that on his last two-week trip to the Philippines, his and his brother’s cell bills were about $2,000 AUS each! They had to make phone calls back to Australia for work and check emails. Had he rented an XCom Global unit prior to his trip, he could have powered up to five devices and saved a lot of money. I’m interested to know how much his bill will be for this New York trip—we texted each other a lot just to meet up, and I would have to turn off my data and text him internationally because he didn’t have data and access to his iMessage.
If you’re on a short business trip and have a return flight booked and have had big cell phone bills in the past, this is a great option for you. Your phone will be connected so you can read emails, send texts, and make phone calls from online services like Skype or Viber. If you travel out of the country with a team for sales meetings or a convention/trade show, this is also an option for you. I had a great experience with XCom Global, and it’s definitely going to be my go-to company for data service for short international trips. I couldn’t recommend them more.