14 Tips for Reduce Data Usage When You Travel

If you have an upcoming trip outside the country, you’ve probably realized that using data while abroad can be pricey. This article will help you understand how much data you typically use and then provide 14 helpful tips to reduce data usage when you travel.

How Much Data Will I Use?

Before deciding that you need to reduce your data use, it’s helpful to get a rough idea about how much data you actually use. This is especially true because each time you take a step to use less data, you’re also doing something that’s a little (or sometimes a lot) inconvenient.

Check Your Carrier for Data Usage

To begin, look at how much data you use in an average month by viewing your monthly cell phone bills. There are also somewhat accurate rules of thumb for measuring expected data use on your trip:

  • Sending or receiving an email (without attachment): Approx. 20 KB per email; Approx. 300 KB per email (with attachment)
  • Loading 1 webpage: 1MB per page
  • Streaming music: 500KB/minute (30 MB / hour)
  • Streaming video (standard quality): 2 MB/minute
  • Navigation Turn by Turn Directions = 5 MB/hr
  • Voice call on an online calling app = 3.5MB – 9MB for a 10 minute call (see this comparison chart, which compares data usage of the top calling apps)
  • Video call on an online calling app = 15MB – 54MB (see this comparison chart, which compares data usage of the top calling apps)

Check Data Usage on Your iPhone

Check how much data you’ve used since you last re-set your iPhone (directions for iOS 10.2) by going to Settings > Cellular then scrolling down and to see the amount of data displayed under “Cellular Data Usage” for the “Current Period.”

Image showing how to track data usage on an iphone

To check your last reset, scroll down to the date listed after “Last Reset” at the very bottom of the page. You can also see how much data each app has used since the last reset by looking at the number under name of the app.  An app will not have a number if it was not used since the last reset.

Image showing how to track data usage on an iphone and reset the data usage calculation

If the data usage hasn’t been re-set recently, we suggest re-setting your phone and tracking your usage after a week. You unfortunately cannot set it to reset after a certain period, so you’ll manually have to go back and look.

Check Data Usage on Your Android

To check how much data you’ve used on an Android (directions for a Samsung S7): Apps (in the lower right of your screen) > Settings (gear icon) > Data Usage, which shows your data usage for a specified period. You can set the dates by pulling down the drop down menu data usage cycle field then scrolling down to “Change cycle” and entering your preferred dates.

Will My Data Use Change When I’m Traveling?""

Access to wifi and map use have the biggest impact on cellular data when traveling. You should expect to use more data if there will be little public wifi at your travel destination and you normally use your phone on wifi for most of the day at home, work, etc. For example, we used a more wifi than usual in Paris; we were surprised how few restaurants and cafes there had wifi. Also expect to use more data if you plan to use your phone for navigation. Although see below for tips on how to reduce your data usage when you travel by using offline maps.

14 Tips to Reduce Data Usage When You Travel

Now that you have a rough estimate of how much data you’ll use on your trip, you can decide whether it’s worth trying to use less data when you travel. (We’ve assumed you’ve already decided how you’ll use your smartphone abroad, but if not, read more about your options here).  We’ve included a list of 14 tips for reducing data usage, but you don’t have to make every change. You should think about the consequence of the change and decide what makes the most sense for you.  We’ve provided detailed instructions for an iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy 7, if you have a different phone, just Google it, you’ll find detailed instructions.

1.    Make sure you download any music, podcasts, eBooks and other media that you can when you have free wifi.

2.    If you need navigation on your trip, you reduce data usage when you travel by using offline maps or getting a car with a GPS device instead of using your cell phone. You can also just shut off turn-by-turn directions on your phone and rely on your GPS signal, which doesn’t use data (learn more about whether you should use offline maps and the result of a comparison of the top 5 offline map apps).

3.    Use a web browser that compresses data.  There are a number of options, including:

Option 1: Opera Mini is an app available for Android and iOS that compresses requested web pages before sending them to your phone, speeding up transfer and reducing the data you use browsing the internet by up to 90%.

Option 2: Google Chrome’s “Data Saver” is a setting in the Chrome App that similarly compresses data resulting in faster page loading and lower data usage. This functionality is only available to Android users

4.    Close all apps on your phone whenever you’re done using them, including your search engine and maps.

iPhone: Press the home button twice to see a lineup of your open apps and swipe them up and out of the screen to close (this also saves battery life).

Android: Press the recent apps button (two overlapping rectangles to the left of the home button on the bottom left of the phone) then just close out of each app (press the “x” in the upper right) or press the “Close All” button at the bottom of the screen.

5.    Some apps such as Facebook use cellular data to send push notifications to alert you about new updates, which use cellular data. To reduce data usage, turn off these notifications:

iPhone: Settings > Notifications > click on the app > choose your preferred notifications or switch off to stop all notifications.

Image of steps to take to turn off app notifications on an iPhone

Android: Tap Apps > Galaxy Apps store (a rounded white square with upside-down rainbow and the word “Galaxy”) > More (top right) > Settings > switch off the Push notification toggle and the Show updates on notification panel.

6.    Some apps have other options that help you control when an app uses data such as Whatsapp’s “low data usage” and Facebook’s “Data Saver” settings. Beware that doing either will reduce functionality. Enabling “Data Saver” will lower the resolution of photos you’ll see in your Facebook feed and will disable autoplay videos.

7.   You can force the App Store to only download content and updates while your iPhone is connected to a wifi network

iPhone: Tap Settings > iTunes & App Stores and disable the “Use Cellular Data” option.

Android: Tap Apps > Galaxy Apps store (a rounded white square with upside-down rainbow and the word “Galaxy”) > More (top right) > Settings (top right) > tap Via Wi-Fi only.

8.    On an iPhone, turn off cellular data for all the apps you don’t plan to use (the apps will still work on wifi): Settings > Cellular then scroll down and toggle the button to the right of each app so that it’s no longer green.

9.    Disable background data refresh on certain apps that allow your phone to fetch data and update its content in the background. Beware that if you turn this off, it may take apps longer to re-update their contents when launched.

iPhone: Tap General > Background App Refresh > and switch any app to off.

Android: Tap Apps > Settings > Data usage > scroll to the bottom of the screen and tap on each app to see how much data it uses over time broken down by foreground and background. You can restrict background data usage to wifi by turning the Restrict background data switch to ON or checking the box (if presented with a message press OK). You can also restrict background data on all apps by tapping the More or (three dots) in the top right corner on the main data usage screen, then selecting Restrict background data.

10.    Reduce the frequency that your email accounts sync with your phone:

iPhone: you can limit when your phone grabs new emails, contacts, and calendar events from the internet by tapping Settings > Mail > Accounts > Fetch New Data then turning off Push (which uploads everything immediately) and choosing a reduced upload frequency. The more your device fetches the email, the more data is used.

Image of Steps to Take to Change Mail Fetch Frequency on an iPhone

Android: There are a number of options for setting email frequency, see here for more details.

11.    On your iPhone, iCloud allows you to access all your documents from all your devices, which can be a big data suck. In Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive you can turn off apps that are connected to your iCloud Drive, or you can scroll to the bottom and toggle off “Use Cellular Data” to only allow iCloud documents and data from being transferred over wifi.

12.    Turn off Wi-Fi Assist on your iPhone, which causes your iPhone to use cellular data if you’re connected to a weak wifi network. Beware that disabling this feature could interrupt your service if you have a weak wifi signal.

13.   Newer smartphones now automatically tag the location of where an image was taken, which takes data. Personally, we like knowing where a photo was taken when we travel, so it’s not worth the reduction in data use. But if that feature isn’t important to you, you can cut data use by taking these steps:

iPhone: Settings > Privacy > Location Services (at top) and switch to off to stop any app from using your location (this will also stop Google Maps from knowing your location) or just switch off the Camera or any other app (you can also limit location services to only when you’re using a specific app).

Android: Apps > Camera > Settings (gear icon) and scroll down and switch off Locations tags.

14.    As a failsafe for reducing data usage, you can turn off cellular data completely. Samsung phones offer an alert when you’re close to reaching a pre-set amount of data and can automatically disable cellular data when it hits a specified limit.

iPhone: iPhones cannot send an alert or automatically shutoff data use, but you can turn off cellular data by tapping Settings > Cellular Data, then disabling the Cellular Data toggle at the top of the screen until it’s not green.

Android: To set up alerts and automatic shutoffs: tap Apps > Settings > Data usage then turn the “Alert me about data usage” switch (if presented with a Data usage alert, tap OK) then tap the number to the left of the orange line and enter the preferred limit then tap SET. To set up an automatic shutoff: tap Apps > Settings > Data usage > then turn the Limit mobile data usage switch (if presented with a Data usage limit screen, tap OK) then tap the number to the left of the black line and enter the preferred warning limit then tap SET. To completely disable cellular data: tap Apps > Settings > Data and switch Mobile data switch OFF, then tap OK.

We hope these tips will help reduce data usage when you travel and save you from a potentially big data bill. Do you want to learn more about using your cell phone in Europe, including whether to get a SIM card, 14 tips for saving data when traveling, what’s the best calling app and how to use offline maps? Then click here for links to all these articles.

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