Mobility

Cruising connected: How to stay online when traveling the world

Skyroam is a mobile hotspot with global Wi-Fi for travelers. But how does it stack up against carrier plans and other options? Read Teena Maddox's hands-on review.

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Getting Wi-Fi was easy, even in Positano, a cliffside village on southern Italy's Amalfi Coast.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

The stunning coastline of Positano, Italy, the vibrant metropolis of Barcelona, Spain, and the beautiful landscape of Arles, France that inspired Van Gogh centuries ago were all part of my recent vacation itinerary.

Before I left the US, I wanted to make sure that I had Wi-Fi connectivity throughout my trip. As nice as it would be to leave it all behind for a two-week vacation, it's simply not realistic when you're a parent and have elderly family members back home. And while connectivity is relatively easy to come by, making sure that you achieve it in the most cost-effective manner is not always simple to figure out.

My three options for Wi-Fi were a Skyroam hotspot device, my existing Verizon cellular and data service, and cruise ship Wi-Fi. I ended up using a combination of all three on my 12-day trip abroad.

SEE: Review: iPass Wi-Fi service for connectivity on the go (TechRepublic)

To start with, I opted for Skyroam. Skyroam is a $99.95, bright orange hotspot device that offers global Wi-Fi with unlimited data. The device comes with three, free 24-hour daypasses and allows the user to connect up to five mobile devices, which can be a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. It was easy to use. Simply charge the device, turn it on, and it appears as a Wi-Fi option on your mobile device. The password is listed under WLAN on the Skyroam's menu.

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The Skyroam hotspot device.

Image: Skyroam

Additional days can be purchased in bundles of five for $8 per day, or $10 for just one additional day. If someone wants to rent a device rather than purchase it, it's a flat rate of $9.95 per day for unlimited data usage and, again, the ability to connect up to five mobile devices. It's available for use in more than 100 countries.

I used Skyroam as a backup to my other Wi-Fi options. I am a Verizon cellular customer, so I compared prices and saw that Verizon offered a Travel Pass option for $5 a day in Spain, and $10 a day in Italy or France, for each connected device. Verizon's Travel Pass allows you to use your existing data package—making calls, sending texts, and roaming the internet as you would at home, for a low daily cost.

These options are only good on land, however, without paying additional premiums, in the case of Verizon. Part of my vacation was going to be spent on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, so I opted for an unlimited Wi-Fi package at $25 a day through my cruise line, Carnival, for when we were at sea and I wanted to browse the internet and use FaceTime to talk to my son back home.

Armed with these three options, I felt that I was ready for my vacation.

The hot hotspot

My connected vacation started out smoothly. During a three-hour layover in the US, I tested the Skyroam Wi-Fi hotspot with my laptop at the Atlanta airport. It worked perfectly

The next day in Barcelona, despite having the option of connectivity through Verizon, I chose the Skyroam. I turned my phone to airplane mode so that I wouldn't risk using my cellular service, and I was set. I tucked the bright orange Skyroam device into my purse, I shared the Wi-Fi password with my husband, and we both had seamless 3G internet throughout the day.

I was impressed at the battery life. It lasted approximately eight hours, even with both of us logged on. And while 3G isn't ideal, it was enough for me to use my phone for GPS mapping while in the city.

The only downside was that the device did get extremely hot with continued use. I opted to put it in an open outside pocket on my purse to allow air to flow around it more easily. While the device didn't really cool off much, at least my Aveda lipstick wasn't at risk of melting inside my purse.

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Choosing between the ship's Wi-Fi, Skyroam's hotspot and Verizon was a daily decision.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

The next day, we boarded the ship, and I switched to Carnival's Wi-Fi, again keeping my phone in airplane mode. The Wi-Fi worked perfectly, and I steered away from making cellular calls while on the ship. Verizon would charge me $1.79 per minute while on board if I used my personal phone to make the calls. When talking to my chatty eight-year-old son, that could get expensive fast. Plus, he preferred seeing me on FaceTime, so using the ship's Wi-Fi instead of cellular was the way to go.

I kept the Skyroam device turned off until we reached our first port in Sicily, since it's not for use while on board the ship. In Sicily, I once again opted for Skyroam and it was a seamless experience. A new friend on our Sicilian excursion wanted to log in and check her email, so I thought that was a good way to test Skyroam's ability to handle three mobile devices at once. The end result wasn't stellar—she had spotty service and it kept dropping off.

Dock racing in Civitavecchia

The only true problem I had with Skyroam was in Civitavecchia, Italy, when I was late getting back to the ship from Rome and frantically trying to use GPS mapping on my phone to find my way back to port. But, it wasn't Skyroam's fault. I'd had the Skyroam device on for the majority of the day—approximately eight hours—and when I was desperately searching the internet for information, the battery died. I knew it was only good for around eight hours, but I hadn't planned properly, as can happen on vacation. It was stressful to lose connectivity the very moment I needed it most, as I was wandering around the narrow Italian streets, looking for the stairs down to the port.

Luckily, I had my Verizon Travel Pass as a backup, so I logged onto that, turning my phone off from airplane mode and paying $10 for the day, even though I only needed it for 10 minutes. Sidenote: I did make the ship. But, I went down in history as one of the famous "dock runners" racing to the ship before it sailed away.

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Skyroam even worked in the underground passageways of the Roman Colosseum.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

I continued to use Skyroam throughout Italy, while visiting the ruins in Pompeii, touring the Amalfi coast, and even while in Provence, France. As long as I remembered to charge it each day, it was a perfect way to use my phone for GPS mapping without needing to log onto my Verizon account. A few times I did feel that the 3G service was a tad too slow, and so in those cases, once I was back in Barcelona, I went ahead and paid $5 a day for my Verizon Travel Pass service.

Overall, I was pleased with how Skyroam worked, and it's something I'd consider for future trips overseas. While it works in the US, it's often less expensive to simply use the hotspot on your own phone, or use the abundance of free Wi-Fi in metro areas, than pay for a 24-hour Skyroam pass.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Skyroam offers unlimited data and Wi-Fi in more than 100 countries through a small hotspot device you carry with you.
  2. Check with your cellular provider for international rate plans and compare to Skyroam before determining the best option.
  3. Skyroam lasts approximately eight hours on one charge, even with multiple devices.

Also see:

About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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