Traveling with your iPhone

May 29, 2023

A few notes on traveling with your iPhone, to a foreign country, where you want to be connected for Messages/Phone/Maps, but don’t want to burn through a bunch of data needlessly…

Your modern iPhone likely has support for multiple esims. This makes it easy to keep your normal esim in place, add a separate local/regional esim for traveling data, and have close to the best of both worlds.

All without paying exorbitant International Data Fees to Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile.

Airalo is great and comes highly recommended.

Good info here from Apple on getting the esim setup. Airalo setup info here. Be sure and do the preliminary parts at home, on good WIFI, so when you land you can flip the esim on and be up and running.

Install the Airalo App so you can manage your esims, top-up with more data, and monitor your data usage.

Basically you leave Phone, iMessage, FaceTime set to your “primary” SIM (normal provider), and set the Cellular Data to the Airalo SIM.

Make sure you have “WIFI Calling” ON under Cellular. This way you can still have calls using your normal number, while traveling.

Beyond that the key is to conserve data and battery while keeping the phone useful.

Related iPhone settings to adjust:

  • Settings → Personal Hotspot → Allow others to join → Disable
  • Settings → TV → Streaming Cellular Data → Disable
  • Settings → TV → Download Cellular Data → Disable
  • Settings → Photos → Cellular Data → Disable
  • Settings → Music → Cellular Data → Disable
  • Settings → Cellular → Disable cellular data for video apps (Youtube, Hulu, Disney, Netflix, Max, Showtime…)
  • Settings → Cellular → Disable cellular data for music apps (Spotify…)
  • Settings → Cellular → Disable cellular data for podcast apps (Overcast…)
  • Settings → Cellular → Other
  • Settings → Cellular → Disable Wi-Fi Assist (scroll all the way down)
  • Settings → Cellular → Disable iCloud Backup (scroll all the way down)
  • Settings → Display & Brightness → Turn brightness down
  • Settings → Low Power Mode → Enabled
  • Settings → Messages → Low Quality Image Mode → Enabled - this is a maybe, we send lots of trip photos to each other, so I don’t normally enable this
  • Settings → Cellular → eSIMs → select → Data Mode → Low Data Mode
  • Settings → App Store → Cellular Data → Disable Automatic Downloads
  • Settings → App Store → Cellular Data → App Downloads → Always Ask
  • Settings → Translate → Downloaded Languages → Select Languages ↓
  • Settings → Safari → Reading List → Enable Automatically Save Offline

For Other, the list is sorted by most data usage first, so look at that list and anything that you don’t need while out for a day of traveling, disable. Likely Maps and Safari are up at the top of the list, I recommend you leave those ENABLED. Maps and looking up local information are obviously important. Just don’t get carried away, especially with Safari.

Download podcasts, music, and videos to watch on the plane ahead of time. Streaming video (followed by streaming audio) uses more data then most anything else you’ll ever do on your phone.

Also be sure to pre-download offline maps in Maps app, and foreign languages in Translate app.

Also don’t use Personal Hotspot.

You can do all of this before you leave for your departure airport. Get yourself a backup battery for the family to share - invaluable.

On your trip keep an eye on data usage from the Airalo app, and watch the apps using the most cellular data using the Settings → Cellular screen. Adjust as you go to keep your usage down, your phone useful, and your battery always with a charge.