Seniors have the delightful advantage of being able to travel in the fall, winter, and spring when kids are in school. That opens. Whether you’re traveling internationally or domestically, here’s some general information about cellular and Wi-Fi to use technology effectively and to keep your data safe anywhere in the world. 

world map illustration
Photo by Aaditya Arora on


Know what local cellular and Wi-Fi conditions and limitations are like before you go. We know we’ll deal with limitations when traveling abroad, but you can face them domestically, too. If you are planning to drive through remote areas and plan to use a navigation app, such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze, you need cellular service. Check with your carrier before you hit the road and know whether you’ll have coverage where you go. Be prepared to deal with not having cellular service, Wi-Fi capability, or neither.

There are two basic ways your phone communicates. One way is by cellular signals; the other way is accessing the internet through a Wi-Fi network. While they are distinct, today’s mobile technology blurs the line between them. Some carriers’ technology seamlessly switches a phone call between cellular and Wi-Fi if a Wi-Fi network is available – letting you use lower-cost technology when possible. You should check with your carrier to understand how your service works and how you can use your phone’s or tablet’s settings to control whether you use cellular or Wi-Fi on calls and when checking email or using a web browser. 

When you use a cellular network to browse the internet and access websites that require passwords, you are secure – for the most part. Nobody will guarantee absolute security. When you use a public Wi-Fi network, even one that requires a password, it’s still public and not as secure as your home network. You can add security by using a VPN (a virtual private network). 

A VPN creates a secure connection between you and the internet. When you connect to the internet through a VPN, all your data traffic is sent through an encrypted virtual tunnel. This has multiple advantages:

  • You’ll be more anonymous on the internet because your real IP address and location will be hidden.
  • You’ll be safer on the internet because encryption will keep away hackers and cybercriminals.
  • By using different IP addresses, you’ll be able to access websites and online services that would otherwise be blocked. 

The last benefit comes in handy if you’re abroad and want to access subscriptions, such as newspapers and entertainment services, i.e., Netflix, that are blocked from overseas Wi-Fi connections or are different. We suggest you do online research to learn more about VPNs, including their cost. One comprehensive link is

Know how your phone stores and backs up photos and videos. Your device has limited physical storage space and cloud storage for additional items, but you buy more cloud storage. Many of you have iPhones and use iCloud. If that’s you, we suggest you buy 50 GB of iCloud storage for 99 cents per month before you go. Google has similarly priced options, and there are services, including Dropbox, that gives you storage capability no matter what device you use. Just remember that if you delete a photo or video from your phone or tablet, you’ll delete it from iCloud, too. There are ways to get those deleted items back within 30 days, but you can avoid problems by being careful about what you delete. You can avoid problems by buying sufficient storage space before your trip.

Domestic Travel

You can keep all the electronic comforts of home when traveling in the US, including your streaming services such as Netflix if your lodging has TVs with the capability to allow you access. In all likelihood, all you’ll probably need to do is enter your username and password, and then start watching. The critical thing is to remember to log off each service from every TV you use.

Otherwise, you’ll stay logged in on that device, and the next occupant will be able to watch movies and shows on your dime.

If you’re renting a car, it may have the technology to connect your iPhone or Android phone to its infotainment system. It has a lot of advantages, including giving you driving directions by voice while displaying the map on the car’s display, which is usually much larger than your phone’s. That’s helpful as you navigate places you’ve never been to. It also allows you to your phone’s contacts for hands-free calling and to access your music playlists. Just make sure you wipe the car’s infotainment system of your data before you turn in the car at the end of your trip.

If you’re visiting a city, Google Maps and Apple Maps can provide you with walking directions or public transportation directions.

International Travel

If you’re traveling internationally and NOT driving, you most likely can get by with Wi-Fi to check email, look up information on sites to visit, and even make restaurant reservations. You can even use an app to download a map of a walking tour and just refer to your phone as you follow the route. Think of it as a replacement for a map. 

Consider an app like WhatsApp – the popular service from Meta, the people who brought you Facebook – to use a Wi-Fi internet connection for voice and texting capabilities. In short, WhatsApp lets you make voice or video calls or send chat messages (just like text messages) over the internet to anyone in your contacts list. And the service is free – except for any usage fees you be required to pay for using the Wi-Fi. That cost should be much less than the cost of cellular service. Find out more about WhatsApp and how to install it on your mobile device – or computer – by clicking here.

If you’re traveling abroad, Western Europe is light years ahead of the US in terms of Wi-Fi security. But to be as safe as possible, you must have strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.

For cellular service abroad, you have two options. One is to get a SIM card for a country in which you’ll be traveling, especially if you’re renting a car. That will give you access to GPS systems and enable you to make phone calls in case of an emergency or if you need directions. Again, in most modern countries, you can buy a SIM card from a vendor at the airport when you arrive. They should be able to install it for you and make sure it works before you get on your way. Some phones can use eSIM cards or have a slot to install a second SIM card. Do your research about your phone and check options with your carrier.

SIM cards abroad have a couple of major drawbacks. First, if you don’t have your US SIM card activated, you won’t be able to get any voicemail or text messages tied to your US phone number. If your phone can handle two SIM cards, you’ll need to switch back and forth between the two to get your US messages and use cellular capability in the country you’re visiting. 

We prefer the second option: Get a second telephone for local use. You can buy a second phone just for travel and get a local SIM card at the airport if you travel to multiple countries. You can also keep one permanently for use in a country you visit frequently. You’ll be able to use Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze for driving directions and have any telephone capability you need. 

Check with your carrier about roaming options while abroad. Some have plans that let you access local networks – either as part of their available service or as a separate daily charge. Make sure you understand how costs and rates are structured. The cost can be quite high, and you don’t want to have surprises when you get your bill. One way to avoid roaming charges is to put your phone or tablet in airplane mode. That will allow you to use your camera and read your books without worrying about accidentally using expensive data.

It used to be that traveling was a way to disconnect from the world. Now, we depend on technology to make our trips better, prevent catastrophic events, or share our experiences in real-time. If you take the same care in planning your technology as you take to plan your wardrobe, you can have a digitally safe and enjoyable trip.

Gene Rubel is a tech consultant and writer based in Sandy Springs.