It's one of the paradoxes of modern travel that just when we become even more dependent than usual on our smartphones, we become less able to effectively use them.
Checking maps, downloading travel plans, finding contact information for hotels and taxis and dozens of other things all need a data connection, but unless you're with the right cell company, roaming data is extremely expensive. Even when you're using a local SIM, prepaid data allowances can be quite small compared to what you're used to back home.
Not all is lost, though. There are plenty of ways to burn through far less data on your smartphone while still being able to use it normally.
To start with, download one or both of the following browsers. They work in similar ways, compressing the information that's being sent to your phone or tablet to reduce its size. The end result? Less data moving around, which means faster transfers and lower costs.
As well as desktop computers, Google's popular Chrome browser is also available on iOS and Android. One of the mobile-specific features is a Data Saver that, once switched on, reduces the amount of data being transferred by up to 50%. It includes a handy dashboard that shows how much data you've saved in the last month.
Opera Mini is an alternative browser for your Android, iOS or Windows phone or tablet that, like Chrome, sends traffic via its own servers to be compressed before downloading. It boasts up to 90% data savings compared to other browsers.
Of course, even better than reducing the amount of data is not using any at all.
Look for offline versions of the apps you usually use – you'd be surprised how many there are. Everything from itinerary management to currency conversion, city guides to translation tools and more comes in an offline version. These work without an Internet connection, and sync up (usually automatically) when you have Wi-Fi available.
Navigation apps are among the most useful things on your phone when you're traveling, but they can quickly chew through your data allowance. Instead, use an offline mapping tool like Citymaps2Go or Here that lets you download country and region maps ahead of time, or use the slightly more limited caching ability built into Google Maps.
Change Those Settings
As well as compression apps, there are plenty of settings you can change to help reduce your mobile data usage.
One of the biggest data hogs are automatic backup and updating tools – they're very useful, but don't need to run over your mobile connection. Make sure to either turn auto-updating off for your Play Store (Android) or App Store (iOS), or at least set automatic updates to only run over Wi-Fi.
The same applies for tools like iCloud, Google Photos and Dropbox – check your settings carefully to make sure that photos and other large files are only backed up automatically when there's a Wi-Fi connection available.
Finally, it's worth double-checking all the apps you've got installed, and turning off any kind of built-in automatic updating or data refresh system unless it can be set to only run over Wi-fi. It's amazing how many apps want to update their information without caring about which connection they're using.
iOS has the ability to individually limit which apps can access cellular data. Just before you head overseas, go to Settings – Cellular – Use Cellular Data for, and disable access for anything that doesn't absolutely require it. Netflix, weather apps, Spotify, and many other apps can all safely have their cell access turned off until you get back home
Again on iOS, it's worth turning off Background App Refresh. Found under Settings – General, this prevent apps from sending and receiving data in the background. If it's going to save you money, does it really matter if Facebook is a few hours out of date when you first open it? Probably not.
Speaking of Facebook, auto-playing videos in your feed when you're on a mobile connection will use up lots of data for no good reason. Go to the Settings section of your Facebook app, and look for Autoplay. Make sure it's set to Wi-fi only.
Finally, the simplest options can sometimes be the best. If you don't need cell data at all, turn it off. Either use Airplane Mode if you don't want to be connected at all, or just disable mobile data. Either way, it'll guarantee you don't burn through your data allowance without knowing about it, or come home to an unexpected bill!