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How much data do you need when traveling internationally?

Helping you estimate your data needs on international travel.

· 6 min read

Traveling is a wonderful experience and staying connected with friends, family, and the world through our smartphones has become an integral part of our lives. However, when we travel, we need to consider how much data we require and how to manage it effectively. Understanding data usage, estimating your travel data needs, and choosing the right data plan are key factors to consider.


Understanding Data Usage

Data is like the lifeblood of our digital world. Every time you browse a website, send an email, or watch a video, data is being transferred from the internet to your device. Even seemingly small actions, like scrolling through your Facebook feed or uploading a photo to Instagram, consume data.

Your data usage depends on several factors, including the type of activity, the content being accessed, and the duration of your online sessions. Activities such as streaming high-definition videos or downloading large files consume more data compared to simply sending text-based messages or checking your email.

Factors Affecting Data Usage

There are various factors that can affect your data usage while traveling. It's important to be aware of these factors to better manage your data consumption. Let's take a closer look:

  1. The type of apps and websites you access: Certain apps consume more data than others. Streaming services, video calling apps, and online gaming platforms tend to be more data-intensive compared to messaging apps or email services. For example, streaming a movie on Netflix can use several gigabytes of data, while sending a text message on WhatsApp uses only a few kilobytes.
  2. The quality and size of media content: High-resolution images, videos, and music files require more data to be transferred compared to lower-quality content. Streaming videos in HD or downloading large files can quickly eat up your data allowance. It's important to be mindful of the quality settings when streaming videos or downloading files to minimize data usage.
  3. The duration of your online activities: The longer you stay connected to the internet, the more data you are likely to consume. Activities like video streaming, browsing the web, or engaging with social media can quickly add up over time. For example, watching a one-hour video on YouTube can use several hundred megabytes of data.

Which apps will consume data?

Knowing how much data you will need while traveling can help you choose the right data plan and avoid unexpected charges. First, let's take a look at the different apps that you might use during your travels.

Social Media

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok are popular ways to stay connected and share your travel experiences. However, these apps can be data-hungry, especially when you upload photos or videos or scroll through high-resolution content.

When it comes to social media, it's not just the act of posting that consumes data. Every time you open the app, it refreshes your feed and loads new content, which can quickly add up if you're a frequent user. Additionally, features like live streaming or video calls can significantly increase your data consumption.

Source: https://www.businessinsider.com

When traveling, you would likely find yourself using navigation apps like Google Maps or Apple Maps more frequently than you would at home. These navigation apps are important in helping you find your way around while traveling.

These apps constantly download map data and provide real-time updates, which could consume a significant amount of data if used extensively. If you're constantly zooming in and out, panning around, or searching for new locations, the app will continuously download new data, resulting in higher data usage. On the other hand, if you're mainly using the app for basic directions, your data consumption will be relatively lower.

When it comes to navigation apps, it's not just the actual maps that consume data. These apps also use data for other features like traffic updates, restaurant recommendations, and even street view images. So, if you're someone who heavily relies on these additional features, it's important to take that into account when estimating your data needs.

Messaging and Email Apps

When you travel, you would likely make use of messaging apps to stay connected with friends and families. Or perhaps you would be checking your email on the go as you travel. Of the different applications, these apps would take the lowest toll on your data consumption.

Sending and receiving text messages and emails do not take up much data, as text generally does not consume much data. However, take note that if you will be sending videos or photos via these apps, or if you will be downloading huge attachments, then data consumption could rack up.

Source: https://ready.io

Google and general surfing

While traveling, there could be times where you need to search something up — to look for blogs on things to do around you, to read up on something that caught your attention, or perhaps just to catch up on the news.

The amount of data that is required for surfing the net largely depends on the types of sites that you are looking at. If the site is mainly text-based, that doesn't take up much data. But if it is an image-heavy site, then that is where data usage could start to climb.

P.S. if you are on your trip and looking for something to do or eat, you could also try using Nomad's Discover feature to help you find something to do on your trip!

Streaming Services

For many travelers, streaming music and videos is a great way to pass the time during long flights or train rides. However, streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, or YouTube can quickly exhaust your data allowance.

Streaming services are notorious for consuming large amounts of data, especially when streaming high-definition videos or music. The higher the quality of the content, the more data it requires to stream. If you're on a limited data plan, it's advisable to choose lower-quality streaming options or download your favorite content in advance while connected to Wi-Fi. This way, you can enjoy your favorite movies, TV shows, or music without worrying about exceeding your data limit.

Source: https://variety.com

Estimating Your Travel Data Needs

Now that you have an idea of what apps uses data, let's take a look at how much data is actually being used. As mentioned, how much data you need depends on your general usage patterns and the duration of your travels.

To help you estimate your data needs, we went on a five-day trip, and here is a breakdown of our data usage:

  • Total data consumed: 4.07GB
  • Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, X): 2.3GB
  • Messaging Apps and Emails: 653MB
  • Google: 591MB
  • Maps: 231MB
  • Streaming: -

To help provide some context on the numbers: we were only connected to WiFi when we were back at our accommodation — so any time we were out, we were on data usage. Photos were being shared a lot via messaging apps while on data, streaming of content was minimal (or only on offline content), and no maps were pre-downloaded prior to the trip.

Data Usage Breakdown

Choosing the Right Data Plan for Travel

When traveling, you will want to find a data plan that is suitable for your travel needs. With an idea of the different types of apps that you might use on travel, here are some tips to help you choose a right data plan.

Estimating your data usage

One way to estimate your data usage would be to track how much data you use on a daily basis and extrapolate it for your travel needs. When estimating your data usage, keep in mind that you would likely be using more data than usual when traveling, since you wouldn't always be connected to WiFi like you would be on a daily basis.

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Regular Plans vs Unlimited Plans

Regular plans are plans that come with a fixed data volume, while unlimited plans, as their name suggests, do not have a fixed data volume. Instead, unlimited plans go by duration. However, it is important to note that most (if not all) unlimited plans come with a fair-use policy, in which the data speed will be throttled after a certain amount of usage.

If you regularly track your usage trends and have a good idea of how much data you might require, regular plans are a great option. But if you find it difficult to estimate how much data you might require, and feel insecure about the possibility of finishing your data plan, an unlimited plan would be a great choice as you wouldn't have to be stressed over the possibility running out of data.

Use Nomad's Data Calculator

Well, if you estimating and evaluating the different plans is too confusing, why not use Nomad's Data Calculator to help you find a suitable plan in just three easy questions?

Tips to Manage Data Usage While Traveling

There are many ways to manage your data usage and keep data consumption low during traveling. Some of the most common ways include taking advantage of Wi-Fi hotspots whenever possible, and to make full use of offline options. For more data-saving tips, check out our previous blog post on how to manage data consumption while traveling.

Get a Nomad eSIM for your next trip

Nomad eSIM set up

Nomad offers data plans in over 165 countries, and you can be sure to find one that is suitable for your travel needs. And if you will be traveling across multiple countries, there are also regional plans available so you can stay seamlessly connected as you hop between countries. Data plans are available from as low as $1.50/GB.