Working from the road, you tend to be constantly aware of the level of internet connectivity around you. You feel most comfortable in larger towns and cities with multiple internet sources and low probability of electrical failure. Sometimes, though, you want to go hang out in the jungle (or, cloud forest, where I am now).
The best thing to do is set up your work so that you don’t have to be reachable 100% of the time, and train your clients or contacts or family or whatever to prefer email over skype. Also, don’t make a habit of replying to every email immediately. Aside from it being a highly counterproductive obsession, it will also make people expect you to put out their fires for them, rather than hiring you for proactive work.
If you don’t have that luxury, you’re going to want to find a solution that gives you connectivity from the road. We all know how ridiculous data roaming charges are, so here are two roaming-free solutions:
Buy a local sim card. You’ll need a multiband international phone for this, but if you own a smartphone you’re not being exploited by your phone company, you should be fine. Keep in mind that legally, carriers have to unlock your phone for you if you’ve completed your contract. For my iphone 4, I made a 15 minute call to AT&T, synced my phone with itunes, and was good to go. For my Sony Xperia Z1 (which I love), it worked fine out of the box.
Local sim cards usually cost between 6 and 12 bucks, and plans vary, but it’s typically possible to get pretty good data for under $30 prepaid. You can also set up your US number to forward to your local cell, as I did for 5 months in Bogota.
The local sim method has some nice advantages, in that it’s cheap, and since you’re prepaying, typically in cash, you know that you can’t be hit with hidden fees or monstrous roaming charges. Also, if you’re really connectivity obsessed, you can buy sims from multiple carriers and switch them out if one provider has better service than another. However, if you move around a lot, it can get annoying to buy a new sim card in every country, especially because you have to listen to their whole spiel about how great Claro or Movistar or whoever is going to treat you, and figure out how the rate plans work every time.
The second method is a good deal more expensive, but if you’re planning on being in the states a lot anyway, it should actually come out cheaper. That is to sign up for a plan with T-Mobile. Since everyone has their home favorites, a good third of you probably just groaned and rolled your eyes at the prospect of dealing with that company again. But tough, nobody has a better international setup than T-Mobile, not by a long shot.
Here’s the skinny – 50 bucks a month (though some plans go up to $70) gets you regular phone service, limited internet, and limited text back home, but UNLIMITED internet and text when you’re out of the country. Ok, so you have to be in one of the 100+ countries they have partnerships in, but I haven’t found one yet where it didn’t work.
Now why would they do this? Well, you also get (relatively) cheap roaming charges for your voice calls. Of course, you could avoid them altogether by just not using your phone, but after years of relying on google hangouts (and skype, though that almost never works), I really like being able to just call someone on my phone like a normal person.
So what this means is you can feed your email obsession, because you’ll have data almost everywhere you go (there have to be cell towers there, obviously), and you can also make and receive calls to deal with whatever comes up.
The most the voice roaming ever costs is 20 cents a minute, which I think is pretty reasonable, considering that you really only have to use it when all else fails.
The data is 3g capped at 2g speeds, but you’ll find that it’s actually way more reliable than 2g was, which means it works pretty well. It won’t be fun to try to stream youtube all the time, but it will handle all of your important stuff, and sometimes you can even stream netflix. Crazy stuff.
The one issue you can run into is tethering, because T-Mobile seems to change their rules about it every few months, but I’m willing to bet that you’re enterprising enough to find a way to make it work for you.