Managing Data While Traveling

We’re finally back on the road again, this time heading south to find something interesting in Louisiana or thereabouts.

Part of our pre-trip activity is to set our devices up to minimize data usage. We’ve always had low limits on our cell phone data plans, so staying online without burning through our plan has been a challenge. Here are some of the things we do on our Android and Windows devices to keep within our limits.

Turn off auto-updates. Updates can use lots of data. Years ago I burned my whole 2GB plan when my phone decided it needed to download a system update. Now I make sure to get our devices caught up on updates before we leave, and then disable updates until we find free Wi-Fi. Android whines when you do that, but the whining can be disabled too. Pausing Windows updates is possible, but but only for a short while.

Stop automatic backups and cloud syncing. I manually copy photos that I care about to another device or card and wait until I’m in a place with free Wi-Fi to sync them into my cloud provider.

Download the latest maps and disable map updates. We always download maps for the areas around our destination –  both to save bandwidth and to ensure that we can navigate without cell coverage. Downloading Google maps is a RFPA, but worth the effort.

Download music and movies before you leave. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime allow downloads to a tablet, so we like to start the trip with a handful of movies or documentaries stashed away on a tablet. We don’t always camp where there is cell coverage, so even if we had unlimited data, we would still want our movies downloaded to a tablet.

Install adblockers and disable video autoplay wherever possible. Google Play store autoplays video by default but can be set to not play videos. I cannot imagine why anyone would not already run an adblocker, especially when one is paying mobile data rates. There are android browsers that block ads.

Set hotspot SSID’s to ‘metered’. Both android and Windows have the ability to configure a Wi-Fi connection as a metered connection. I’m not sure what effect that has on overall data usage, but on each device that connects to my hotspots, I make sure that device treats the hotspot Wi-Fi as a metered connection.

Enable Data Saver on Android devices. This feature is supposed to reduce the amount of data that your apps use.

On the topic of cell phones, after 25 years with AT&T I finally decided to try another carrier. I had stayed with AT&T for all these years because they have good nationwide service, tolerated unlocked phones, and had carrier branded phones that could roam internationally. Verizon had good nationwide coverage but did not allow unlocked phones and did not offer phones that worked internationally. T-mobile had phones that worked internationally and could be unlocked, but poor nationwide coverage.

To cover gaps in AT&T’s coverage we have a Verizon hotspot, so we balanced our data between the two carriers.

Over the last few years T-mobile has rolled out what appears to be good coverage using their new 700mhz and 600mhz bands, and just opened up new plans with very high data limits at a lower cost than my frugal AT&T plan. So I switched from AT&T to T-mobile for our phones and kept Verizon for the hotspot.

If T-mobile’s coverage is adequate, we’ll be able to be much more generous with our data usage.

2 Comments

  1. I switched to Wing a year ago, which is an MNMO that will put you on AT&T initially, but has the ability to put you on Verizon as well. Their unlimited data plan on Verizon’s network is $55/mo. Worth a look at least.

  2. Jamison says:

    I’ve been on T-Mobile for many years and it’s really great in the cities. I do struggle a bit in out-state, but it’s getting better. I also carry a Verizon hotspot with me that I can use when traveling to cover any gaps. I think as they turn on some more of that lower spectrum it’s going to look a lot better everywhere.

    I do also appreciate their customer service. I just spent some time talking with a rep about an area of bad performance (5 bars but low data speeds). They filed a case with engineers and followed up with me to let me know it got resolved. Was really happy with them for that.

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