Roaming on the cheap: How to minimise your data usage


Worried about your data bill while travelling? These tips can reduce your data usage and save you money.

Travel is expensive, so saving money where you can makes sense. Roaming costs can quickly add up, especially for data where it’s all too easy to use data without realising it, or realising fully the extent to which you’re using data. So what can you do to minimise your data usage while you’re overseas? Here are some simple tips.

Disable data roaming when you can

If you want to absolutely cut your data roaming costs, cut the virtual connecting cord by disabling data roaming altogether.

For iOS devices, this can be done by heading to Settings>Mobile and switching Data Roaming to off (the white switch settings). On Android devices the exact location can vary depending on the phone provider and Android version, but can typically be found under Settings>Mobile Network as a data roaming option.

Completely killing your mobile data is a nuclear option that won’t appeal to everybody, but simply switching your data off in-between the times you want to actually access some online content can save you from a wealth of hidden data charges as applications make background checks or system updates. Bear in mind that some services rely on a constant data connection, so if you disable a data connection and suddenly an app won’t work, try switching it back on again to see if that fixes the problem.

Use public Wi-Fi when you can (but safely!)

Publically available Wi-Fi hotspots are becoming more ubiquitous in popular travelling destinations, allowing you easy data access even if you’ve got data roaming disabled. If you have the time, research their locations before you travel to keep yourself online as much as you need for low or no cost.

One word of caution is needed here, however. It’s extremely unwise to do any kind of direct financial transaction on a wireless network that you have no control over, because there is genuinely no way of knowing if the data sent over the network is being scooped up and collated by a potentially nefarious third party at some stage.

Or to put it more plainly, never do your online banking from a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

Equally speaking, if you do plan to use public Wi-Fi, it would be wise to change passwords for other used services, such as social media accounts upon your return home, just to be safe.

Dial down your app data usage

It’s worth knowing which apps are using data before you travel so that you can tame them while you’re travelling. On iOS devices, you’ll find that information under Settings>Mobile, where you can scroll down and see both the data usage for the current period for each app, as well as restricting its access to data with a simple toggle switch. On Android devices, it’s under Settings>Data Usage.

You can either restrict data usage or uninstall particularly data-hungry apps before you travel to keep your data usage low, or switch to less data-intensive apps.

Modify your app usage

It’s also feasible to save data simply by changing your apps or modifying how you work with them.

To give some examples, on the browser side, Opera produces browser apps for both iOS and Android that use a proxy to shrink data sizes before they hit your phone that are worth consideration.

If you’re travelling and your photos are set to automatically back up to Apple or Google (or any other cloud service), consider dropping the resolution of your photos. They’ll still be backed up, which is wise when travelling in case your phone is lost or stolen, but the smaller file sizes will equate to smaller uploads and lower data bills as a result.

If you’re a social media addict, make sure that you’ve got videos in Twitter and Facebook set to not play automatically to keep your data bills as low as possible. If email is your primary form of communication, try extending the period in which you check for email to lower the data access costs of checking your inbox.

If you're planning to use a GPS app to help you get around your destination when you get there, check if it can download maps for offline access. Not only will this save you data, but it will also be substantially quicker than waiting for maps to download.

Equally, while you're travelling, look up from time to time away from your phone and simply enjoy being where you actually happen to be. It's surprising what you'll find that way -- and you won't be using mobile data to do so.

Where can I buy a travel SIM?

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all allow you to roam on your own SIM. However, this is a pretty penny in almost every situation. However, some providers offer travel SIM cards. Travel SIMs allow you to make calls, send text and use data at a much cheaper rate than your telco and the best part is they are usually prepaid. Here are a few examples of travel SIMs sold in Australia:

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Alex Kidman

Alex is the Telco Editor at He's been writing about consumer technology topics for the best part of two decades, and enjoys breaking down complex topics into their component parts.

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