Going on vacation? Don't make my mistake in relying on data roaming

Young woman in yellow walking with smart phone on the old town square in Prague city
(Image credit: Shutterstock / RossHelen)

I made a terrible mistake last week. It's a mistake that's cost me, and I'm here to remind you not to follow in my misguided footsteps.

You see, I went on holiday last week, for the first time in about a year. It was a nice trip, but one that was marred by a stupid mistake I made right at the beginning, which ended in me paying a lot more than I wanted.

That's because, since I last traveled, data roaming came back (well, at least for Brits like me), which changed everything. I'm used to traveling between EU countries, but since the UK left that union, costs for everyday things have gone up – and data is one of them.


There was a lovely window of time, when you never needed to think when you took your phone abroad. When the EU abolished roaming charges in 2017, traveling was a breeze.

That meant the same 20GB of data you had in one (EU) country could be used in the UK, France, Spain, or wherever you chose to ramble.

When this was the case, you never needed to even think when you traveled – at least, about your phone – and could spend your time fussing about your passport, boarding pass and whether you'd remembered a travel adaptor. 

Man with tablet on the beach

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Kaspars Grinvalds)

In these halcyon days, you could spend your time on vacation Googling things like "Spanish for thank you" or "how do I get a bus from the airport". But that's no longer the case.

The big spend

I'm on Vodafone, which re-introduced roaming charges in January 2022, at least for people who are no longer EU citizens – that's Brits like me.

However, having not gone on vacation since 2021, this is something I failed to even consider. When I booted up my phone, an automated text informed me that I'd be paying £6 a day to use data. £6!

Part of the reason this price was so high is that Vodafone doesn't consider Turkey, where I was visiting, a European country (technically it's in both Europe and Asia, but I was in the European side of Istanbul, which makes the high price seem unfair).

At that price, it would take me just three days to spend more than I normally do per month back home – a high price indeed, but one that I thought was necessary to even find my way from the airport to the city center.

Unfortunately, this didn't actually work... for some reason. I simply couldn't connect to any network, no matter how many times I played around with the data and roaming settings, removed and replaced my SIM, and restarted the phone. After than initial text, nothing.

Mobile roaming

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It was quite a scary situation, being stuck in an airport with no way to contact my family who were already in the city, or use translation apps, or even find my way out of the airport.

I solved my problem in the end, though, by finding a phone store at the airport, which let me buy a secondary SIM with a set limit on minutes and data. This cost less than enabling data would have anyway, and as a secondary perk, it actually worked. Yay!

Unfortunately, I had tried making some calls when in the airport, to test and see if I could get through to people – I couldn't, but Vodafone still charged me. So I ended up paying a bit of money for nothing.

Learn from my mistakes

When you're on vacation, in a foreign country with no idea of the language, geography or culture of the place, it's easy to panic when things go wrong, and that ended up really costing me.

If I had used forethought to plan ahead, I could have found a course of action to save me some money. Maybe in a parallel universe, a doppelganger me switched their mobile contract to one with roaming, or bought a SIM ahead of time that would let them use Turkish networks, and saved money.

But there are so many things to remember on holiday anyway, to make packing such a stress, that one more thing just isn't fun. Do you have your passport? Your boarding pass? Liquids in containers under 100ml? Foreign currency, maps, a travel guide (online or physical)? A snorkel and flippers so I can spend half my vacation time as a mermaid?

Because of this, and because we had a good few years of freedom from roaming charges, it seems a real shame that telecom companies have re-introduced fares for travelers, giving them another thing to remember if they want to save money, another piece of planning, another potential expense.

So learn from my example, plan ahead when you're traveling... and cross your fingers for a day when data roaming goes away again.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. He also currently works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.