No data, no problem: How to stay connected on vacation without a phone plan
These apps will help you stay connected while you're travelling abroad. (EdBockStock/shutterstock.com)
Published Thursday, October 13, 2016 6:31AM EDT
Looking to avoid the cost of a traveller's phone plan on your next vacation? Hoping to skip the extra expense of a GPS device with your rental car? CTVNews.ca has collected some of the best Apple and Android travel apps, so you can stay connected on the cheap, no matter where you go.
Here are some great applications and cost-friendly alternatives to help you while you're travelling.
For those who prefer face-to-face communication, it's relatively easy to stay in touch when you have access to a WiFi connection, so long as both parties have compatible software on their phones or computers. And, of course, it helps to have a camera available, although audio-only chats are also possible.
Apple equipment offers the most readily-available, free video conferencing option, as it's simply a matter of connecting to a WiFi network and hitting the FaceTime button on the contact you wish to conference with. FaceTime software comes pre-installed with Apple's iOS, so there's no need to peruse the App Store to find it.
For those who don't own an Apple computer or phone, Skype also offers a great, free way to video chat, provided you and your friend both use the app. Skype is available on iOS, Android, Mac or PC, so it's easily one of the most versatile means possible for you to stay in touch. It's free to set up an account, and free to video conference with others. All you need is a camera on your device for video conferencing, or a microphone for audio-only conversations.
Don't overlook other free options such as Facebook Messenger, which added video conferencing earlier this year. The function allows users to have face-to-face conversations with Facebook friends, for free.
WhatsApp also offers free video conferencing, texting and voice calling over WiFi to other WhatsApp users on your friends list, regardless of whether you use an Android or Apple device. The app will use cellular data for all calls, unless you’re connected to the internet via WiFi.
Need to make a good old-fashioned phone call? There are plenty of WiFi phone apps out there offering a few minutes free for your first call, but those apps tend to go out of business or shut down after a few months. If you're looking for a more reliable phone-over-WiFi option, your best bet is to pump a few dollars into Skype credits so you can call people with ease, anywhere in the world.
Skype's rates are quite low, making it worth a $7 credit purchase. The company charges only 2.4 cents per minute to call Canada, and around 10 cents per minute for international calls. That's still dirt-cheap when compared to the cost of buying a travel plan for your phone, or eating the roaming charges of making a call without a plan.
The LINE app for Android and iOS is an excellent option if the person you're speaking to is willing to download it as well. The app allows you to make free voice calls and send one-to-one or group text messages over WiFi. It can also be installed on Windows and Mac computers.
Similar to LINE or WhatsApp, Viber lets users connect to one another for free through a Windows desktop, or using the app for iOS or Android. The app offers video, audio or text chatting options between Viber users.
Many of the apps mentioned in the video section of this article also offer audio-only options for conversation, under the same restrictions.
WiFi is once again your lifeline to the rest of the world, if you plan to text without a phone plan. Apple's iMessage allows you to send texts, with images or video, for free to anyone on your contact list, regardless of whether you're hooked up to your wireless provider, so long as you're connected to WiFi.
Skype offers in-app chat as an alternative to texting, but you can also pay 12 cents per text to send traditional messages over Skype, if you have the credits.
As previously mentioned, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LINE and Viber are all good for free text chats with others who have the same app. Google Messenger also offers the same functionality, for free.
If you're travelling with friends and you want to keep in touch on-the-go, then FireChat offers a clever way of messaging without access to wireless service, data or a WiFi network. The app uses the radio in your cellphone to connect to other FireChat users in the area, up to a distance of 70 metres. Your WiFi and Bluetooth receivers need to be switched on, but they don't need to be connected to the internet for the app to work.
FireChat calls itself "the app for large crowds," as coverage improves with more people using the app in one area. The phone signal can leapfrog through other FireChat users to reach your intended recipient, so it can reach across that 70-metre limit if there are other FireChat users in the vicinity.
Worried about navigating a strange city without a data plan on your smartphone?
There are a couple of apps out there that allow you to download full, detailed maps onto your phone's local storage, so you can access them offline at any time.
HERE WeGo and Maps.Me are two incredibly useful offline map applications that can track your position in real time, using only the radio signals from your phone. They can store entire country maps on your phone, along with other details you might need on your journey. The apps will also give you routing information without a data plan, so you don't need to spring for that expensive GPS with your rental car.
Download HERE WeGo for free on the App Store or Google Play.
Maps.Me is also free on the App Store, Google Play, BlackBerry World and the Amazon App store.
Google Maps also offers the option of downloading individual city maps onto your phone.
Just make sure you're careful with the storage space on your phone. A few maps can take up a good chunk of space, leaving you with less room for your vacation pictures.
Itinerary made easy
The free app Tripit is a huge time-saver when you're on vacation. The app automatically scans your email for confirmation numbers from your flight, your hotel, your rental car or whatever tours you've signed up for, and collects them into one easy-to-follow timeline. It's the digital equivalent of a paper itinerary, only it automatically updates when you're connected to WiFi, so you're always on top of your travel plans. It also saves you the hassle of sifting through your inbox to keep all your digital receipts in order.
Google accomplishes some of this by adding certain itinerary documents to your personal calendar, but it's not nearly as comprehensive as TripIt.
Tripit is available for Android, iOS, Mac and PC users, and is compatible with Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook email systems.