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Staying online while backpacking Southeast Asia

A rundown of the different options

· 5 min read

Backpacking through Southeast Asia is an adventure of a lifetime, filled with stunning landscapes, rich cultures, and unforgettable experiences. While you're busy exploring the vibrant markets of Bangkok, trekking through the lush jungles of Vietnam, or lounging on the pristine beaches of Bali, staying connected is crucial. Today, there are many different options that can keep you connected as you travel through these countries. Let's look at what some of these options are, and which is the best choice for your next backpacking adventure.

backpacker standing on rocks in Vietnam

Backpacking through Southeast Asia

Before we look at the various options to stay connected, let's first look at what it means to backpack through Southeast Asia and what the important factors are in your choice of connectivity options.

While the nature of backpacking differ and vary based on individual preferences, one of the key aspects of backpacking is freedom and flexibility. Rarely would one go on a backpacking adventure and have everything planned out, from the countries they want to visit and how long they will stay at a country. While some might have a rough idea of what they want to cover so they can get the necessary permits, these plans are often fluid and subject to changes. Bored of a place? No problem - just move on to the next place. Really like a place? Simply extend your stay there!

What this also means is that whatever solution you decide to choose to stay connected during your trip, it should also be flexible such that any changes in your plans wouldn't result in a lack of connectivity.

Another important factor to consider would be the fact that you would want to travel light; so whatever option you decide to go with, you probably would want to avoid having to carry around and maintain additional equipment.

Countries in Southeast Asia

Of course, if you are planning a backpacking trip in Southeast Asia, let's first take a look at what countries are in Southeast Asia. This is essential as whatever option you decide to go with, you'll need to ensure that you can remain sufficiently connected as you travel.

  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Brunei
  • Laos
  • Indonesia
  • Myanmar
  • Philippines
  • Cambodia
  • Timor Leste

Getting local SIMs

When traveling in general, getting local SIMs might be one of the most straightforward and preferred ways to staying connected due to its relatively cheaper price. But, if you will be getting a SIM card at each destination, cost-wise, it is unlikely to be cheaper than the other options available.

While this would almost definitely ensure that you can get connectivity at the destination, the caveat is that you will need to first get your hands on a SIM card. Getting a physical SIM is not always straightforward — you might possibly be able to pick up a SIM at the airport if you were flying in, but if you were traveling on foot or by sea, getting access to one (especially a reliable one) might prove to be a little more difficult.

Another factor to consider when getting local SIMs at each destination is that you will have to constantly switch out the SIM cards. And if you are traveling back and forth between countries, you will have to keep these physical SIM cards safe so that you don't lose them and can quickly replace them when you travel.

To top it off, if your phone isn't able to support multiple physical SIMs and you are using a physical SIM for your primary number, the option of getting a local SIM also means you'll not be able to use your primary number while you travel, meaning you might have problems receiving OTPs sent to your primary number in the event you need to make some banking transactions. This might be fine if you were traveling for a short time, but could prove to be problematic for longer travels.

Get a regional SIM

There are many providers of travel SIMs that also provide the option of regional SIMs. Regional SIMs offer coverage of multiple countries within a single region. If you will be traveling to multiple countries, this option is likely to be cheaper than to get individual SIMs for each location.

Unfortunately, it also doesn't seem like there is a single SIM provider that provides coverage for all Southeast Asian countries. While that can be easily solved by getting separate SIMs for destinations that are not included in the region's coverage, this brings along the problem of having to manage multiple physical SIMs.

Similar to getting local SIMs, if your phone isn't able to support multiple physical SIMs, you also have the problem where you might not be able to have your primary line active as you travel.

Turn on international roaming

Another option would be to enable international roaming. International data roaming is one of the most hassle-free solutions. All you need to do really is to make sure your home provider has coverage in the countries you are traveling to, and that your data plan includes international roaming. Once you have those checked, you can easily enable international roaming with just a few taps on your device.

But, as we might already know, international roaming is expensive. If you are traveling to multiple countries especially, the costs might chalk up. Many network providers today also offer packages for roaming to multiple countries, which could help to reduce the cost of roaming. Be sure to check with your provider on available plans and their coverage before you travel!

Get Travel eSIMs

If you want to do away with the hassle of managing multiple SIMs, be able to switch between different SIMs easily as you travel, and without incurring sky-high costs, then getting travel eSIMs might just be your answer.

Travel eSIMs work just like a travel SIM, except you don't have to worry about managing multiple physical SIMs and worry about losing them. eSIMs are embedded within your device, and you are able to have multiple eSIM profiles installed at any single time. While you probably wouldn't be able to have all the eSIM profiles active at the same time (the number of active profiles allowed at any point in time depends on your device), having all of them installed in your device makes it much easier to just switch them on and off as you travel between countries.

And because you don't have to remove your primary SIM, this also means that you are able to still have your home line active as you travel, making it much more convenient if you needed to keep that line active to stay in touch with people back home, or to receive OTPs to make transactions.

The caveat though is that your device needs to be eSIM-compatible. If you are not sure, you can check out this list of eSIM-compatible devices.

Regional Plans

Similar to travel SIMs, many providers of travel eSIMs also offer the option of regional plans. Like travel SIMs though, most of these offerings do not include all the Southeast Asian countries in a single plan. But the beauty of eSIMs is that even if you had to get multiple eSIMs, it would be far easier to manage them on your phone.

In selecting a provider and a plan, price is definitely a factor to consider. But aside from just the price, consider if the plan covers most (if not all) the countries that you want to visit during your backpacking trip. And if it doesn't, it would also be good to check if the provider offers individual country plans for the countries that are not included in the coverage. You also have the flexibility to mix and match plans from different providers if that works out to be a better deal — though you might need to have a few different apps installed to manage the eSIMs from the different providers.

Nomad's Regional eSIMs

Nomad offers eSIMs for over 165 countries globally. If you are looking for a regional eSIM for your next backpacking trip, consider getting Nomad's SEA-Oceania plans or APAC plans, both of which include key destinations within Southeast Asia and at affordable rates from as low as $1.30/GB.