Later this month I head to Europe to cruise the Adriatic with Ponant and Backroads. I’ll be writing lots about those experiences, but for now, with only a few weeks ahead of my departure, I’m concerned with staying connected while abroad.
These strategies also apply to river cruisers. I will have the same challenges when we board AmaMagna in July. What I intend to do in this post is answer this question: How do I find the most cost-effective mobile data plan, or plans, to stay connected while ashore Europe? The contenders are T-Mobile, Verizon and Google Fi. Which one, or which combination, will best serve me while abroad? What’s the secret to staying connected while river cruising?
How I Plan To Stay Connected
When I am on the ship, I won’t have a problem. Nearly all river cruise lines offer free WiFi, and on most river cruise ships, internet connectivity can be equivalent to high speed internet, particularly when the ships are docked. AmaWaterways, for example, uses fiber optic to deliver fast internet in key destinations along the rivers of Europe.
When off the ship, my goal is to have LTE data. LTE is high-speed data, equivalent to broadband, through by cell phone. I’ve narrowed my selection of carriers down to Google Fi vs. T-Mobile vs. Verizon. Most of these internet packages and data plans will apply only to citizens of the United States, though some are available to Canadians and other nationalities.
Google Fi offers perhaps the best international data plan, with virtually unlimited data for $80 per month. That’s because Google’s Bill Protection caps your bill once you reach 6 GB of data. As Google Fi states on its website, “Bill Protection caps your bill and keeps the data coming.” Unlimited calls and text runs $20 per month plus 20 cents per minute for voice calls when calling from abroad, while data is $10 per GB. If you use only 1 GB of data, your monthly bill would be $30 per month, which breaks down to $20 for calls and text messages, and $10 for the data.
Google uses three leading 4G LTE networks and 2 million+ secure Wi-Fi hotspots to serve fast data. It’s never failed me when traveling in Europe.
Two other nice features about Google Fi: I can pause the service when I am back home, and reactivate it again when traveling. Also, I can get a free SIM card for my iPad Pro. Compatible devices share the same data budget as your main phone, at the same rate of $10/GB. If you’d like to give Google Fi a try, please use this referral link. We’ll each get $20 Fi credit after your service has been active for 30 days. If you’re in the market for a phone, Google recently introduced a new line of Google Pixels (smartphones designed for optimal performance on the Fi network) starting at $399.
The T-Mobile One Plan serves me well at home, and while T-Mobile provides free mobile coverage abroad, it does so at 2G speeds. That’s fine for certain tasks, but not when you’re uploading lots of data for photos and video, which is what I will be doing during my time abroad.
In the past, I’ve had moderate success with T-Mobile One Plus, which can be had for an additional $15 a month. Though these are unlimited plans, the data is still slow, with T-Mobile One Plus being only twice the speed of T-Mobile One. I may opt for Global Plus $15 GB, which gives me 15GB of 4G LTE data and a slew of other features. Doing so, in fact, would be cheaper than using Google Fi – and I’d have only one phone to worry about.
Verizon offers a daily TravelPass for $10 a day. With Verizon I could simply activate a TravelPass when needed. And while the TravelPass serves up 4G LTE data, the downside is that data is slowed after using half a gigabyte. I don’t think it’s for me, but I have traveled with cruisers who have had good success with Verizon’s TravelPass.
With the iPhone XS dual SIM capacity, I could pick up a local SIM card in Europe. The challenge there is that the iPhone doesn’t use two physical SIMs. It uses a nano-SIM and an eSIM. An eSIM is a digital SIM that allows you to activate a cellular plan from wireless carriers without having to use a physical nano-SIM – sorry for all of the technical jargon. T-Mobile, my primary provider, doesn’t use eSims, so I would need to remove the nano-SIM and be without my T-Mobile service abroad. Not a good solution for me.
Conclusion: Google Fi vs. T-Mobile vs. Verizon
It looks as though T-Mobile Global Plus for an additional $50 a month is a good plan for my time abroad. I’m not sure what happens when I exceed my data usage of 15GB, but I am hoping to stay under the allotment. Google Fi would be my second choice, especially as I could use the data-only SIM in my iPad Pro. Verizon just doesn’t offer enough 4G LTE data. Half a gigabyte can vanish quickly.
I’m curious to know if any of our readers have found good solutions for staying connected while abroad. Maybe you unplug, and that’s fine. We all need to do that now and then, but this is a working trip for me. If you care to join the discussion, leave your comment in the survey below. Thanks, and you’ll be hearing from me again soon.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com.