Tech Talk: Make wi-fi your best friend when travelling

Don't spoil this picture: with international roaming data charges. Make the most of wi-fi where you can.
Don't spoil this picture: with international roaming data charges. Make the most of wi-fi where you can.

I am sure you remember the old trick question that your science teacher gave you at some stage during your high school education. Which has more mass - a kilogram of feathers or a kilogram of lead?

Along those same lines, which is of more value - a GB of data in Australia or a GB of data in Bali? Using the same logic as the science question, the answer should be that a GB of data is the same anywhere.

Tell that to a family who recently returned from Bali to be met with a $30,000 phone bill. The culprit? Not their phones. Their innocent little iPad was used to watch a couple of movies and play a few games.

With 10.5 million Australians holidaying overseas last year, this is an ongoing issue. I do remember travelling overseas many years ago and I had to hire three different phones while I was in the US to cover the different networks they had at the time. Making a phone call on an Australian phone while in the US was either not possible or only possible if you were happy to mortgage your house to the telco.

As universal standards progressed and telcos worked better together, making a call while travelling became more reasonable - but who wants to make a call anymore? It is now all about the data.

In its infancy, international data roaming rates were horrendous circa $15,000 per GB. The carriers would dress it up to make it sound cheaper - for example that price per GB might be advertised as 1.5c per kB. Don't be fooled!

Luckily we have moved forward again with data charges - but it is complicated. Talk to your preferred carrier a few weeks before you travel and know which countries you will be visiting. Some carriers have plans that include unlimited overseas calls and reasonable data limits while overseas. These plans are great for frequent overseas travellers. For occasional travellers, there are now add-on packages that allow unlimited calls and texts for $5 or $10 per day.

Be wary of data still. These packages typically only allow 0.2GB of data per day. If you do go over, the pricing is a little more reasonable but at $20 per GB for excess, it can still add up.

Keep a few items in mind though. These plans apply in many countries - but not all. In most cases you are only charged the $5 or $10 if you use the phone within a set 24-hour period - but the timing is typically in Australian time not the local time where you are.

The other trick that is commonly missed is roaming on a cruise ship. In that case, all bets are off! The cruise ship owns the network and they charge whatever they please. The best advice when you are on a cruise ship is to enjoy the cruise!

In general, as you travel the world, data is where you will be caught out so try and leave your data off and use wi-fi where available. When I travel overseas with my family, when we are choosing a café, my wife looks at menus and I look for wi-fi signs!

If you really can't be without your data, use a standalone local mobile data device so you can then use local data by connecting your phone to it. I often carry one in my pocket overseas - convenient for me to use and I always know the kids are going to be nearby - about as far as the wi-fi signal will travel!

  • Mathew Dickerson is the founder of regional tech and communications company Axxis Technology. Contact him at