How to stay connected on the cheap while traveling internationally

How to stay connected on the cheap while traveling internationally

As a recent Verizon wireless customer, I get sticker shock every time the bill arrives. My phone bill used to be between $45 – $50 per line on Virgin Mobile for unlimited talk, text and data (throttled after 3 GB). Now my phone bill is about $180 or more for 2 phone lines and 6 GB of shared data. When I found out that I would be traveling to Singapore for 2 weeks, I thought to myself, there is no way I could possibly use Verizon.
Previously, my solution was to use Google Voice then forward that number to whatever phone number I happen to have. Then I decided to port my number to Verizon to receive MMS messages and I’ve regretted that decision ever since. While Verizon provides their cross platform Messages+, none of their services are available when you are overseas. Something they do not mention and they will not make any exceptions. The only way around this is to use a virtual private network (VPN) to tunnel to a United States server to access their services.
After downloading and trying different apps to get text messages and phone calls, the simplest solution working on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and on an iPad Mini with a data SIM in Singapore is below.
To Buy:
$6.99 for Skype Unlimited calling to the United States
$12.05 Skype Online Number, 3 month subscription
$15.00 SGD ($11.10 USD) Starhub prepaid SIM with 100GB data promotion for 5 days
$7.00 SGD ($5.18 USD) Starhub topup per 1 GB data
Free – Flash VPN (Android)
Freemium, $2.99 to $4.99/month – Tunnelbear (iOS/Android/Mac/PC)
Calling the United States
To call the United States, you’ll need to buy a Skype Unlimited calling subscription. To receive calls, you will need a Skype Online Number, you can buy this monthly or get a discounted 3 month subscription. The great thing about the Skype Online Number is you can change the caller ID to display your cell phone number. Secondly, you will need this number to forward your cell phone number so you can receive incoming calls to Skype. This solution will work well for countries with great 4G/LTE coverage or lots of WiFi.
Buying a Prepaid SIM
Next do some research and find the best prepaid carrier plan you can find with good service. For Singapore, I found that Starhub was a good deal and after using their data for a few days, after testing, it was fast enough to stream the Game of Thrones season 5 finale on my cell phone without lag despite using VPN to display a U.S. IP address to enable HBO. I know there are more pressing things going on in the world, however, “fear of missing out” (FOMO) on Game of Thrones had me looking for a solution while traveling. I was lucky enough to get 100 GB of data for 5 days to stream movies and TV shows to my phone and iPad during the jet lag adjustment period.
Watching Netflix, Hulu or HBO While Abroad
In order to watch any of my favorite Internet streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or HBO or even listening to Pandora, you will need an IP address from the United States. The best solution I’ve found without rooting your phone is to use a virtual private network (VPN) that allows you to tunnel to a server from the United States.
On the Android phone, I am using FlashVPN, it’s free, there are some ads and it will stay connected for a couple hours before disconnecting on its’ own. You can reconnect immediately if you get disconnected. I am on Verizon Wireless and they have a web app which allows you to get your text messages using a web app, however the IP addresses for Singapore are blocked so I can’t login to my account without connecting to VPN for a server in a United States first. However, for a small inconvenience, it’s worth it to use this workaround to save on your monthly bill.
On the iPad Mini, I used Tunnelbear which gives you 500 MB of data (enough for one episode of an hour long show), then you can pay $2.99/month for an iOS only subscription or $4.99/month for unlimited data for up to 3 devices (can be mobile, tablet, or computer).
Preferred Devices
After a couple days, I moved the Starhub prepaid SIM (changed it from a micro SIM to a nano SIM) to the iPad Mini. My colleagues communicate via iMessage, my boyfriend and I communicate via VZ Messages and it’s far easier to use the iPad for communications and entertainment since the Android battery drains really quickly. The Android phone has mostly been used as a camera.
What to Pack
If you are planning to be out and about sight seeing all day, you will need to take selfies and charge on the go. I love my new selfie stick and portable charger. While the subject of most of my pictures is food, there are times, I want to take photos in front of buildings or historical monuments to have memories of visiting.

Selfie Stick with Tripod and Bluetooth Remote

Water Resistant Portable Battery Charger (attaches to messenger bag or backpack)

  • Selfie Stick with tripod attachment and bluetooth shutter (iPhone and Android compatible)
  • Vor-Power Portable Charger (water resistant and attaches to the strap of a backpack or messenger bag) – has the capacity to recharge your phone 5 times. I was able to fully charge my iPad Mini, the phone and still have power left to recharge my devices.