Mobile data tips for European travellers

There’s always lots of questions regarding purchase of local SIM cards for voice and data use when conferences and LUGs are taking place. For example, despite years of looking I’ve never really found a cost-effective means of sourcing a data plan for the occasional trip to the USA – Lotusphere etc.

However, I have made a couple of real finds during 2012 that might help others.

1) If you’re travelling to the UK from abroad and need to get a data or voice plan whilst you’re here, check out GiffGaff. Giff Gaff is a community network that is run by the users for the users and piggyback on the O2 network. They use a system whereby you buy credit upfront that can be used for calls or data, or you can buy a ‘Goody Bag’ that contains a bundle of both that lasts for a month.

For example, I buy my teenagers the £10 goodybag every month (you can set this up to automatically recur if you wish) – this gives them 250 minutes of calls to UK numbers, plus unlimited texts and unlimited data.

This could be exactly what you need if you’re travelling into the UK – get a SIM card, buy the goody bag and you’re done. If you need to be able to call home using the same SIM, just add some credit as well. They also do data only bundles for tablet or MyFi users.

To request a SIM, head to the Giff Gaff site and choose either a full-sized or micro-SIM (this is an affiliate link – I will get a small credit to my account when the SIM is activated). Else, if you’d rather get one shipped directly to you at short notice, I have a pack of them here – just contact me and I’ll put one in the post for you.

2) If you are UK-based and travelling to Europe from the UK, get yourself a 3 Network simcard. My iPhone is on that network and they now have a deal where you can have unlimited roaming data for just £5 a day. You have to click a link in your phone browser every morning and the £5 deal runs until midnight that day. You need to renew the deal each day of your trip. On our recent roadtrip, I worried that was a complicated and risky way to do things – what happens if I forget to renew? However, it works really well – the system automatically stops roaming access at midnight, and only allows it again when the link is accessed via the phone network the next day – Wifi access is obviously uninterrupted. The link and a reminder is sent via text every night. If you don’t need data on a given day, just don’t click the link. They say that tethering is expressly excluded – I must say, I didn’t risk trying it…

[For the first time ever, I had full 3G access for the whole trip, costing about £80 in total. Suddenly checkins, status updates and even maps were available the whole time – it revolutionised the experience for me. Actually, it also saved us in a couple of situations. First, when planning the day’s drive from Berlin into the Czech Republic, I suddenly realised that my Tomtom Western Europe satnav app did not cover the country. Whilst the route wasn’t complicated, finding the apartment in the centre of Prague was! The new maps in iOS 6 came to the rescue – only accessible via 3G, of course. Second, when an apartment in the Alsace wasn’t suitable (long story, ask me in Orlando!), we had to find a hotel for six of us at 8pm one night. Having unlimited data on hand was a blessing!].

So, hopefully these options might help you. Yell if you have any questions!

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!
  • Thanks for posting this, Stuart. I was just looking for a mobile option for my upcoming UK trip next week. Do you know if there’s a way to get around their requirement that to top up online you need to use a credit card registered to a UK address?

  • Thanks for posting this, Stuart. I was just looking at mobile options for my upcoming UK trip next week. Do you know if there’s a way around their requirement that your credit card must be registered to a UK address?