Thursday, November 17, 2016

Traveling with DATA

Traveling, backpacking, and wandering the world today is markedly different, with the Internet inevitably an integral part. And even travel with the Internet has changed quite abit over the years, from the visits to internet cafes, to the widespread availability of Wifi, and then now the widespread availability (and general affordability) of mobile data SIM cards.

These data SIM cards have eased travel quite abit, with the use of Goggle maps and booking of accommodation and tickets on-the-go etc. More importantly for me, it has eased the communications with couchsurfing/airbnb hosts and hostels/guesthouses etc. However, on long trips through multiple countries, sometimes it may not be practical nor cost-effective to get multiple SIM cards. And the data roaming solutions currently are not exactly cheap.

Recently, I came across something on my preparation for a 3-month trip to Europe and South America. It's a "virtual" SIM data-roaming solution from Flexiroam called FlexiroamX. It is an ultra-thin microchip film that you apply onto your own SIM card, and together with an app which you can download from their website, it will provide data roaming to over 100 countries!

I contacted Flexiroam and received a review set. Indeed, the X Microchip (that's what they call it) is literally a sticker that comes with an applicator that help you to stick it onto your SIM card. It is just 0.08mm thin, and so after sticking it on, my nano-SIM could still slot into my iPhone. It was quite amazing that a chip is made into so thin. It works on all sized SIMs though in their FAQ, they state that it will not work on those nano-SIM that has been "cut" from micro/regular SIM. The whole process is simple and to see how the microchip sticker looks like, you can see it in their tutorial on their website which I embed below. Photos I took were left on my home computer, forgetful me!

I am now one month into my trip and I find their solution perfect and most cost-effective for my uses. For a start, I am not a data-hungry user/traveler. I also don't require myself to be always connected. As it turns out, this is not exactly a "always-on" solution. Basically, to use the virtual SIM, you need to switch to it via the app. Once you switched to the FlexiroamX SIM, your own SIM becomes dormant, so you will not be able to receive SMS etc. You can switch between the SIMs anytime you want. This is different from phones with dual SIM slots where you can use voice/sms on your own SIM and data on the other SIM slot.

For me, I use Wifi in my accommodations or cafes/restaurants whenever I have access to them. The FlexiroamX SIM is switched to only for those times when I need data and there's no wifi. As I'm an avid travel instagrammer, there are times where a scene is screaming to be shared immediately and I'm glad I have roaming data! ;).

This solution was especially useful for iPhone users like me, since (sadly) iPhone do not come with dual SIM slots. So previously, when I do get a local country data SIM, I had to put my home SIM in a spare phone or physically switch SIM when needed!

As mentioned previously, this solution was perfect and cost-effective for me but not just because of the single SIM slot limitation. Generally, the best value data SIM is one from an operator from that country. However, when traveling to multiple countries in a single trip, getting multiple SIM cards is not just a hassle, but probably not cost-effective as well. So when I went from Ireland to Portugal etc, I am "data-covered" without having to look for new SIM cards or physically swapping cards. You need to subscribe to their membership before using the data but the subscription last for a year, so again, perfect for long trippers like me... :p. Well, even if you don't go multiple countries in a trip but frequently travel to many countries, it's still valid. For the past 3+ weeks in Europe, I've only used 200+Mb of data. Even if my trip ends now, my remaining data is still valid for my next trip! If I had gotten local SIM cards, most of them would be wasted.....

So for those who are in similar situation as me, check out FlexiroamX on how to get started.
In summary,
  • download their app (of course both IOS and Android supported) and register an account 
  • get their Starter Pack containing the X Microchip, which is free but you gotta pay for shipping (US$5) but I think you can get it in KL airport
  • stick on the microchip when you receive it
  • activate their membership subscription (US$9.99 for a year)
  • start using (switching to it) when you need it when you are overseas
More importantly, now they have some promotions to earn free data (700Mb worth!). Otherwise, you have to buy their data packs but free is always better :). In summary,
  • when you register an account with them, you get 100Mb data
  • if you use my referral code 3DR23XRY, you (and me) get 100Mb of data 
  • Use this code 'SAVEONROAMING' in the app (valid till end of year) to get 500Mb of data. This is obtained from their blog post here.
You can monitor their blog or Facebook page for more promotions and codes (I've done one for you). You can also earn yourself more data by using your own referral code of course. And remember their membership last a year, so after earning the free data, activate the membership closer to your trip date to maximize the membership!