Online around the world
Back when our journey around the world was still in the planning phase, I started to research our options in terms of being online in the various countries that we would be traveling through. I grew up in Denmark, which is one of the countries in the world with the highest internet penetration. Being online there is ridiculously cheap in comparison to almost any other country. Being online is, for me, something I take completely for granted, without any considerable costs involved.
But it is not like this in most other places in the world!
Our first month on tour was to be spent in Thailand. All the hotels in which we stayed had internet. Most places it was free of charge. In one hotel we had to pay a fee. One of our earliest lessons in this regard was that the more expensive the hotel was, the less chance of free internet! As it turned out, this was a golden rule in most of the hotels that we would stay in throughout our journey.
Already before we arrived in Australia I spent a bit of time researching our online options there. Quickly it became clear to me, that Australia is decades behind in terms of internet access. One would think that given the vast distances in the mighty country, fast and affordable internet to the people would be of high priority. But due to lack of competition even mediocre and limited mobile internet packages were extremely expensive. From 50 to 150 AUD per month! In spite of the fact that we do maintain a travelers blog, requiring an online presence, we chose not to buy any packages. Instead we used the wifi options available on the various camp-grounds we stayed at. Many places offered free or at least cheap wifi. Well, as cheap as it gets in Australia. Usually around 5-15 AUD per day. For this kind of money you could be online for a month in Denmark. Unlimited!
When we arrived in New Zealand we had decided that we were ready to pay a little more for our online presence than originally planned. When you want your travel blog to grow and have some attention you simply have to be online on a daily basis. Hence we bought a SIM card with a data package. We carry a few smartphones that can be used as hotspots. This works absolutely fine. We paid 50 NZD for 3 GB of data per month. Significantly cheaper than in Australia! It is not enough for upload of pictures and text to a web site, but it is enough to keep the stream of tweets and facebook updates running. Quickly we saw an increase in the daily visits on our blog. The larger tasks, however, were only done when we had wifi availability, either free or cheap, on a campground. Mostly the prices ranged from 5-10 NZD per day. If the wifi was free, it would mostly be limited to only a few hundred MB’s, which is nowhere near enough!
In the US the picture changed dramatically! It was almost like a wifi-heaven! Suddenly we had free wifi almost anywhere we went. Oftentimes you could simply just jump straight on. A few times we had to register with name and an e-mail address. But then we would be online for free. On all the mid-range chain hotels we stayed in they offered free, unlimited internet access. In all shopping malls, cafés and museums free internet was usually offered. Hence we did not really feel the need to buy any mobile data packages while traveling through the US.
Back in Europe our first stop was Ireland. Here you do not get free wifi to the same extent as in the US, but there is a certain understanding for the demand and most bed & breakfasts, hotels, cafés and restaurants do offer free wifi within reasonable amounts. Should you need a larger data volume and increased speed, extra packages are often available at additional cost. (appx 10 euros) I must say, however, that price and quality do NOT go hand in hand, so we did not use this option very often!
In the UK we mostly stayed with our family, but on an “on/off basis” we did have a few weeks on the road to various attractions in England and Scotland. Free wifi is available in most areas and we even downloaded a few apps that made it easy for us to locate hot spots and automatically log on to them.
In neither Ireland nor England or Scotland did we feel the need to buy any mobile data packages.
Here in Germany, where we are currently residing, we are once again back in a country where the providers are acting like they live back in the early 1980’s. In most countries around the world SIM cards are almost thrown at you without any questions. But here you have to go through a somewhat stressful process in order to “earn” your right to a SIM card. You can get a pre-paid SIM card, but it is quite a hazzle if you are without a permanent, German address. If you live here you even have to have a proven track record of timely payments to get more than one SIM card for the household. Ridiculous if you are a family! Needless to say, the pre-paid options are more expensive than the “normal” packages. These hostile terms and conditions, which also include a 24 month minimum period (unless you pay 5 euros extra per month) on any contract, even without buying any new device, combined with the mediocre speeds and volumes you get, seem ridiculous and decades behind. It is quite frustrating to even enter a store to initiate the purchase. In Germany they are concerned about data security, and by all means, it is nice that they care. But they do take advantage of this to an outrageous degree. The providers win. Always!
So what do you do as a tourist in Germany? Well, bring your passport and tons of patience to the store and ask for a pre-paid option without a minimum period. They might give you a SIM card. Or they may not. The detailed terms and conditions vary.
You should define your online needs before you take off. How much money are you willing to spend and how much stress are you willing to go through? Terms and conditions do not only vary from country to country. They also vary from provider to provider.