Don’t be a hero, fellow travelers (and fellow millennials). You may think you can stay in a new country for an extended period of time without the need for cellular data, but you can’t. I mean, obviously you can, but why?
When I first landed in Indonesia I had no plans to buy a SIM card. Since Bali isn’t my final, long-term destination in Asia, I thought I could make-do during my two and a half week stay. I’d been to Jamaica, Iceland, and Ireland without needing more than a WiFi connection to use my phone, so why would Bali be any different?
For starters, I was only in those other countries for five to ten days. I was also with fellow travelers, people who were exploring and largely sticking to the same schedule as me. In Bali I’m with a local, my sister, who is an amazing tour guide, but has her own life and doesn’t need to stick with me at all times (not that travelers have to stick together at all times and, in Bali, I’m obviously the one sticking to my sister because there is no way I have the confidence or skill to drive on these roads).
I don’t think I’m a total cliche technology-obsessed millennial (I can sit through movies and plays without checking my phone), but not having instant connection at my disposal was tough. When I wanted to call my mum or text a friend, I couldn’t. If I needed to look up a restaurant or the nearest pharmacy, I couldn’t. When I needed directions to my sister’s place, I couldn’t look that up either. I know that people have not always carried mini laptops in their back pockets and they got around just fine, but we’re not in that kind of world anymore so why try to force it?
I lasted a full seven days without succumbing to a SIM card. I finally folded after one night when my sister and I went to a popular beach resort for dinner and drinks. We stayed at the resort for hours and by 9:30 p.m. my sis was ready to head home. I, however, had met a guy and wanted to stay. My sister gave me detailed instructions on how to catch a taxi from the resort back to her house, and I assured her I wouldn’t be leaving the resort and thus wouldn’t lose my WiFi connection.
(Can you already see where this is going?)
The guy and I had a nice time at the resort: we chatted, walked on the beach, had a drink, and danced. When he asked if I wanted to go back to his bungalow (located down the street from the resort) I hesitated: without cellular data (i.e. a working phone because without the data it’s just a small computer) I wouldn’t be able to call a taxi at the end of the night (there are some fake taxis in Bali so I felt more secure calling one on my phone rather than just hailing a car spray painted to look like a cab). If this guy’s bungalow was further than “just a few blocks away,” I couldn’t Google Map my way back to the resort if I needed to. Hell, I couldn’t even call or text my sister.
I weighed the pros and cons and settled on the best choice: go to the bungalow. YOLO, amiright?
Some people may read this and freakout and tell me that, no matter whether I had cellular data or not, leaving the resort was the irresponsible option, and to those people I say: yes, you’re right, but I’m my own person so chill. I’m not encouraging everyone to go home with some guy they just met (although he was the SPITTING IMAGE of Ryan Gosling soooooo), but I did and it was great and I clearly made the right choice. However, the experience did make me finally realize that I didn’t just want cellular data, I needed it. How else could I text my sister to tell her I wasn’t dead (and that I wasn’t coming home)? Knowing I could call a taxi or Google Map my way back to the hotel would have also put me at ease right away rather than spending a few moments thinking this is how Lifetime movies are made.
The day after meeting Doppelgänger Ryan Gosling my sis drove me to a kiosk where I paid $10 for an Indonesian mobile number and a month’s worth of 4G data. Now, if I need my sis I can text her, call her, or WhatsApp her, all without needing to use some cafe’s WiFi. I can also be more independent and use GO-JEK (like an Indonesian Uber app, but with way more options than just calling a car) to catch a ride somewhere rather than burdening my sis. With a SIM card I can text or call friends/family anytime I want. I can also meet Doppelgänger Ryan Gosling on the beach, which is definitely lacking in WiFi.
So, millennials, travelers, and everyone else: when you arrive in a new country, don’t just put your phone on airplane mode and reside yourself to using it only when you’re connected to WiFi. Get your technologically-fueled butt down to a store or stand or kiosk and buy a damn SIM card. Even if you’re planning on going off-grid and trekking deep into the wilderness, it can’t hurt to have the cellular connection as an In Case of Emergency option, right? And for only $10? With a SIM card/cellular date you’ll have greater freedom, greater convenience, and can get around faster and easier. Would a paper map or queuing at a taxi stand work just as well? Probably. But won’t you have more adventures if you know that the cell phone in your back pocket can always bring you home?
**Before you leave your home country, make sure your cell phone is unlocked. A new SIM card will only work if your phone is unlocked. I found that calling my U.S. cell provider was the fastest way to finding whether my phone was unlocked or not.**