Worry over mobile data costs adds stress to Americans travel experience

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09/04/2015 Leave a comment

Even though they think mobile connectivity is a must have at home, most Americans when traveling abroad compromise work and fun by cutting back on mobile usage, a new survey reveals.

Six out of ten significantly change their behavior and use of data, becoming less likely to respond right away to important emails from work or family, participate in online meetings, use GPS for directions or perform other activities they take for granted back home.

“Much of the change in behavior stems from fear of facing big cell phone bill charges upon returning home,” according to a report summarizing the research, American Travelers: Not Masters of International Data. 82% of respondents said they worried about the cost of using data while traveling overseas. Yet, despite these worries, only 43% reported buying a SIM card-usually a less expensive alternative-on at least one trip abroad.

The study, conducted by Serious Insights for Telestial Inc., a provider of global telecom solutions for data and voice, surveyed 237 U.S. based international travelers in March of 2015, and was supplemented with in-depth interviews.

“Americans just don’t get international data. Addicted to connectivity at home, they needlessly cut themselves off while abroad,” said Dan Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst at Serious Insights. “Global travelers from other countries are much more familiar and comfortable with options like country-specific SIM cards, data bundles or different devices for controlling overseas data costs. American travelers lag way behind.

“The same people who look for great deals on flights and hotels don’t bother to find deals on data plans. One key reason is that they have been scared by high charges from domestic cell phone providers and stories of bill shock in the media, to the extent that they would rather just shut off their phones to save money while abroad.”

The vast majority said they expect to use their mobile device to email (90%), get directions (78%) or upload photos (77%) when overseas. But most do not perform these activities in the regular course of work or travel while abroad. 37% rely on available public Wi-Fi, severely limiting their connectivity, while others turn off devices completely.

64% think public Wi-Fi overseas is inadequate and doesn’t meet all of their needs. “Wi-Fi requires scheduling or waiting for access,” Rasmus said. “When people rely on it, their trips are less productive for business, less fun and more stressful. That’s especially true for getting directions, because GPS and map apps use data unless at a Wi-Fi spot. That makes getting lost in a foreign city a more harrowing experience.”

Another reason American international travelers are stressed out is they can’t figure out the costs of specific mobile activities. That adds to their fear of bill shock from cell phone bills and prompts them to reduce mobile usage.

One source of confusion is uncertainty about how their providers define “data,” the research reveals. For example, regular calls and texts are charged in the expected way, but certain picture messages (or emoji) are charged as data, as would a voice call using a VOIP app. These differences have not been well communicated to consumers. 78% of the travelers said better access to data abroad would have saved them time and money on a previous trip.

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