Throughout our vacation the plan was that Jeff would be able to work on the go, and in order for that to happen along with us being able to travel anywhere at the same time, our only requirement was a solid internet connection. We also have become dependent on our instant GPS access through our iPhones at home and couldn’t wait to use that on the go! What follows are our trials and errors so far, of searching for that lifeline: Internet Access!
The Search is On
Before our arrival in London Jeff researched SIM cards for our iPhones so we wouldn’t have to pay the hefty $20 per 20 MB of data through AT&T’s international plan. To give you an idea of what 20MB will get you, by visiting our website once it takes about a quarter of a MB, which is $0.25 just to visit our home page! We expected to find Orange & O2 for sure in the UK, which are their primary carriers, but if you travel with an iPhone keep in mind that it has to be unlocked to work with foreign SIM cards.
London’s Network: O2
In London we were able to purchase a SIM card from O2 for unlimited pay-as-you-go data (500MB) for £10 (Orange does not offer pay as you go data) and depending on the day’s exchange rate that cost us between $15-20 for a month of access. This also provided us with a phone number to make calls, which we only used a couple times. When I reserve our stay’s for the night I always make having WiFi a requirement! However the ease at which to use the WiFi is another story altogether!
At the first hostel in London the WiFi would rarely work, and when it did, it did not work well. At the second hostel we weren’t able to access it unless we were in the lounge, which was a great improvement. To use it at the second hostel in London though it was only accessed in 1 hour time limits. You had to print out a password from the machine with randomly generated access codes and “renew” each hour. At both locations, and while out walking around the internet on my phone was a great help.
Before leaving London we stopped in a shop to ask if our new card would work in Paris and they said to call information and ask. Not being big on phone calls in addition to running out of time, we wound up not calling before our arrival in Paris.
Paris’ Network: OrangeF
When I turned airplane mode off, after leaving our train on arrival in Paris, my phone service said OrangeF instead of O2, so we knew we were all good on service providers but we may be charged roaming fees if we left all my notifications on or used the Internet a bunch, so we kept the Internet off and waited till we arrived at our hotel. Prior to leaving London I made sure to load the directions on my iPhone’s Maps App from the train station to our hotel, so we were still able to navigate to where we needed to go, even though we had no Internet once we arrived.
The hotel I reserved in Paris of course had free WiFi, which we were able to use from our room this time, but it had a renewable hour limit similar to our second London hostel. The speed at our Paris hotel was less than desirable for Jeff to be able to work efficiently, but it was more reliable than our first hostel for sure.
Since my London O2 card worked in Paris we didn’t need to find a new SIM card, but we only used my phone on WiFi, so we had to plan ahead with directions and let it load while we were in the hotel ahead of time or get an “old-school” paper map.
The day we were at the Louvre we were surprised to find an Apple store in the shopping area outside of the exit, so we were able to use their WiFi for a little while, which was a nice treat! This got Jeff thinking and on our last day in Paris we found a website that listed all the free public WiFi access points available all around the city, and spent an afternoon on the Eiffel Tower lawn, which is where I started writing this post from. Overall I was loving how well everything was working with the use of my iPhone and our internet use. We had no idea what to expect when we went to Italy.
Italy’s Network: Wind
When we arrived in Venice, off of our train from Paris, we weren’t looking for internet stores but Planet Internet was one of the first shops we walked past. After talking to the guy, and buying a new SIM card for Italy, we purchased a data service plan from Wind and were told we’d have to wait a few hours for it to kick in. Too bad it didn’t work instantly, like our London SIM did, because we desperately needed the iPhone Maps App to find our way around Venice. Eventually the service kicked in, along with our WiFi at our Venice B&B we were all good again!
After leaving Venice on the train and using the iPhone Maps to walk from the Milano train station to our first B&B we were still golden on usage, and I was lovin’ my phone for all the help the Apps had provided us. Another App that had come in handy was a Currency Calculator, so every night I was able to keep track of how much money (in USD) we had spent.
Every hotel, hostel or B&B I had booked so far had free WiFi access until our second night in Milano when we transfered from a B&B to a place called Hotel Arizona. It was a nice hotel, but charged for internet access, and sadly this is where my iPhone died. :( While I was using it, it just up and failed in my hands – as Jeff searched the internet for reasons why we think it may have just been a fluke hardware failure as most people said they had to have their phone replaced after the same issue. I was devastated, how are we going to find our way around without following the little blue dot?
So that left us with one dead iPhone and having to pay for internet at the first and only place I had booked that wasn’t free. At the moment when my phone died, I felt like our vacation was over! We had used my phone for EVERYTHING since we’d started our adventures and now I didn’t know what we were going to do.
Luck in La Spezia
So at this moment we have arrived in La Spezia and again have free WiFi. We took the train this morning from Milano to here and after leaving the train station we stopped at the La Spezia information desk for old-school maps and directions to the hotel I had booked the night before. We wound up not really being able to read the map too well (a combination of language issues, lack of detail/street names on the map, and the bus stops coming in a book about 4inches thick) Jeff decided to turn on his WiFi on his phone and we actually caught a break! Someone around didn’t have their WiFi connection locked down!! So Jeff loaded the directions from where we were to where we had to go and we hiked our way 4.1km up a mountain to our current hotel location.
The guy at the information desk at the train station gave us very vague directions to take the bus to our hotel, and we decided that hiking our way the 4.1km wouldn’t be a bad idea since we’d walked all over everywhere else so far. Little did we know the “little hike” would be up a mountain filled with mosquitoes who were just waiting for us to pass through. Thank goodness we sent that extra weight home, otherwise a little more weight on our backs would have sent us falling down the mountain!
After arriving at the hotel I sat on Jeff’s phone using his WiFi for a couple hours and booked all the rest of our hostel/hotel stay’s for the remainder of our trip, so hopefully we are able to access coherent paper maps tomorrow for our hike through the Cinque Terre!
What experiences have you had when trying to stay connected on the go? Let us know in the comments below.