A Quick Guide on Phones and Communication While Travelling

Communication is an important part of travelling so forgetting to set it up before you go to remote places can be very dangerous. What if you got stuck in the middle of nowhere and there’s no cell reception? What if you or your companion needs immediate medical assistance?

So, for you to stay connected with the outside world you need either a mobile phone, a satellite phone, a laptop with a Wi-Fi hotspot modem, or the good-old public telephone. 

These things are some of the most common devices that you might already have. However, some may argue that it is important to disconnect from all gadgets and reconnect with nature.

Do you really need to bring all of these in your trips? Read on to find out!

What Kind of Mobile Phone Should I Get?

When purchasing a mobile phone, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

Will it suit your needs? There are two kinds of mobile phones that are available right now, basic or feature phones and smartphones. Smartphones can readily connect to the internet through mobile data or Wi-Fi. It can also access millions of apps that can provide useful features like weather services, GPS navigation, maps, compass, and live traffic data.

On the other hand, feature phones lack the fancy features of smartphones, but they can provide a better phone signal range. This can be done by attaching an external aerial antenna to the phone.

Where do you plan to use it? The destinations that you always visit should also be considered when buying a new phone. A smartphone needs 4G or 3G signals to access information reliably from the internet.

If you plan to stay close to cities or big towns, then you will enjoy all the benefits of owning a smartphone. However, if you are travelling extensively in rural and remote areas then feature phones are the way to go.

Another product that you should consider if you love going to far-off places is Telstra’s “blue tick” handsets. These mobile phones are made for rural areas which still doesn’t have 3G or 4G signals.

In addition, to maximise coverage and get the best reception, getting a Telstra recommended car kit enhances cellular reception further. You should also be careful in selecting other car kits as not all of them have compatible antennas with the mobile phone. 

It is much better if you purchase a patch lead which can be connected to an external aerial antenna on the vehicle. Still, not all handsets will accept a patch lead so choose carefully.

Android or iPhone, Which One Should I Get?

In today’s age of smartphones, this question is irrelevant. You already own one of them and you’ll surely get another one if your current mobile phone gets lost or broken. So, it is best if you will still choose the same kind of phone that you already have because you are already familiar with it.

However, if you are still rocking a feature phone and has recently decided to jump ship and join the modern world, then congratulations to you! Welcome to the modern world! But this question can be quite tricky for you. 

Salespeople will often steer you in the direction of one or the other depending upon current promotions and commissions. Before you head to the store, you should research about mobile phones online. There are countless reviews for almost all mobile phone models that can tell you about the pros and cons of the device. 

Watching and reading these reviews will help you make a more informed choice before spending hundreds of dollars for a phone with features that are meaningless to you. You can also talk to friends who own either or both devices so you can get their firsthand opinion.

Is It Better to Carry Two Phones?

Many travellers carry two phones, a smartphone and a dumbphone. The smartphone with all its fancy features is useful around the city and some rural areas where reception is available. It also functions as a modem for other devices (i.e. laptops/iPads) by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot. 

People who use the internet sparingly will also enjoy the ease of sending and receiving emails and other notifications. Along with all the information that can be accessed from the internet. However, if you are a heavy data user, then setting up a mobile hotspot is not ideal because you will quickly reach your data cap.

A second feature phone, perhaps a Telstra “blue tick” phone, can also be useful in remote areas if you already have a smartphone with you.

Can I Bring My Laptop While I’m Travelling?

Using your own computer is a far better way to avoid security problems associated with public computers. If you have your own laptop, you can have an ISP (Internet Service Provider) email account and download your emails to your laptop at these internet cafés or Wi-Fi Hotspots and read them offline later. 

Another thing that you should do is preparing and saving the emails that are very important so that you can immediately send them the next time that you come online.

What Is Wi-Fi?

Wireless Fidelity or commonly known as Wi-Fi is a technology that allows digital devices to access the internet. This connection is available at airports, hotels, various bookstores, coffee shops like Starbucks and Gloria Jean and some McDonald’s outlets.

A list of wireless hotspots can be obtained by a Google search or through scanning for Wi-Fi networks through your phone. Many caravan parks now provide Wi-Fi access for free. A password is generally needed to access the service, and this is provided at the reception desk.

To use a Wi-Fi hotspot, you will need a Wi-Fi enabled laptop or tablet. If you do not have this the other option is to set up and pay for a wireless account with an ISP. You can buy a period of wireless access or sign up for a monthly contract. Prices can vary so make sure it will meet your needs as excess charges can be quite high.

Another option is to obtain and install a USB or a special wireless card. These come in many shapes and sizes but they all function in a similar way and require to be plugged into a USB port or card slot in your laptop computer. Once installed these cards are intended for use only with your computer as the supporting software is located on this device.

Do I Need Data Packs?

BigPond has a ‘2-Way Satellite Service’ which sends and receives data via a satellite dish provided to you when you subscribe. However, you need to have a clear view of the western sky and 240V/50Hz of power. Your computer must also meet some minimum requirements for the system to work and contractual conditions apply.

You can also opt for a ‘pay as you go’ or browser plan on which the cost of usage is based on each 1000KB sent or received but this can prove costly. Perhaps consider data pack contracts that are available for the frequent, regular or occasional user where the cost or data access fee varies as it is based on data speed, data usage and charged in 1KB blocks or part thereof.

It is also recommended that you protect your system and data by purchasing anti-virus and firewall software.

Should I Get A Satellite Phone?

Satellite telephones are different from mobile phones in that instead of your phone linking to a tower, it links to a satellite. This means that, unlike mobile phones, satellite phones will have reception if you have a clear view of the sky. Some providers do not have a satellite constantly in range, and in fact, some offer less than 60%-time coverage in some parts of Australia

Some satellite telephone handsets have voicemail and SMS capability with later model mobile handsets able to send and receive SMS messages. However, the initial high cost of the telephone and the cost of the calls can be a drawback for the recreational traveller. An option would be to hire a satellite telephone for the duration of your trip that you expect to be in remote areas.

Important: In the event of an emergency, and even without a SIM card, you can dial 000 (or 112 if on a GSM-based service) on your satellite phone to contact police or ambulance.

Which Satellite Phone Service Is the Best?

Satellite telephones can be hired from companies such as Satcom, Frequency Communications, AST Australia, Vodafone, and Australian Satellite Services.

Telstra Iridium

The Iridium is the most preferred satellite phone brand by RV enthusiasts in Australia. The service relies on about 66 satellites that are said to cover almost all parts of the world. To call one, you need to input +61 and remove the first 0 before typing the Australian number that you want to call.

The Iridium 9505A is a satellite and data enabled phone with a retractable antenna, 30 hours standby time and 3.2 hours talk time. Other accessories such as an in-car (12V DC) charger and external magnetic vehicle antenna are also available. 

Meanwhile, the Iridium 9555 has enhanced SMS, email capability and a mini USB data port with 30 hours standby time and 4 hours talk time. Several accessories such as antenna adapter, auto accessory adapter, headset, and mini USB cable are also available.


Pivotel Group Pty Ltd is one of the licensed mobile telecommunication companies in Australia. The service offers two network coverage options–Pivotel Iridium and Pivotel Globalstar. It also supports regular mobile telephone numbers and a variety of call plans. 

To help convince you to use their service, Pivotel’s website has maps of the coverage areas and boasts full global coverage across Australia while also having the lowest call rates in the country. Aside from these features, the company will not charge you for incoming and it costs the same as a standard mobile phone call.


Optus also has a dual-mode GSM/Satellite phone available with the Optus Thuraya Satellite Service. The company claims that it will provide coverage across Australia provided that you are within the line of sight of the Thuraya Satellite. As the coverage is via line of sight with the satellite you may have difficulty picking up a signal if there is heavy cloud cover or you are surrounded by mountains.

There are numerous plans available for this service that is designed to be used sparingly on the Optus network. Similarly, the plan with satellite and GSM cap plans are also designed to be used sparingly on both Optus’ network and the Thuraya Satellite Network. However, the service cannot receive SMS from other Australian carriers in satellite mode. Additionally, SMS from other satellite or international networks are also not guaranteed to be received by the user.

To use this voice and SMS satellite service you will need a Thuraya Dual Mode satellite phone, satellite SIM card and an eligible Personal Optus GSM Mobile Plan. The Thuraya SO-2510 satellite handset is touted to be the world’s smallest satellite phone however, it does not have the GSM capabilities. Another model from the same brand, the S0-2520, does.


Inmarsat offers a satellite telephone under their IsatPhone mobile telephone service however; their coverage map shows their service only covers the western half of Australia, starting from South Australia and the Northern Territory.

 Their website also clarifies that the map depicts their expectation of coverage, but it does not represent a guarantee of service. The coverage on the areas on the edge of the map may fluctuate depending on various conditions. AST Australia Pty Limited located in Western Australia is listed as a “partner” with this group.

Inmarsat uses the Regional Broadband Global Area Network (RBGAN) mobile broadband service and the satellite IP modem is a lightweight notebook sized unit that connects to the user’s PC or other digital devices to their satellite network. The Thrane & Thrane EXPLORER 110 combines design and flexibility so you can access the internet, receive emails and make telephone calls on the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN).

Are Public Telephones Still Reliable in Australia?

Yes. Even in remote places and in many rural towns in Australia, there are public telephone boxes operated by Telstra. You can also pay using coins or card. It is also wise to purchase a Phonecard before you head out because many telephone boxes are being upgraded to be cashless to deter thieves. 

The cards cost $10, $20 & $50 amounts and it can be purchased from Australia Post, newsagents or phone shops. The card also displays the remaining credit balance at the conclusion of the call. Aside from the Phonecard, the Telstra PhoneAway and Telstra Phonecard can be purchased online from Telstra Calling Card Shop.

Most of these cards allow you to make calls from most telephones in Australia and around the world. Family and friends can leave voicemail messages which can be retrieved by you from nearly everywhere.

In some major tourist areas, the public telephones have provision for payment by credit or debit cards such as Mastercard, Visa or American Express However, there may be a service fee for this type of payment. Many small stores and petrol stations also have coin-operated telephones for use by the public.

Related Questions

Are International Calls Free on Whatsapp?

Whatsapp allows you to voice call your contacts for free, even if they’re in another country. Voice calling uses your phone’s mobile data connection rather than your cellular plan’s voice minutes. Data charges would apply.

What Is the Difference Between A CB Radio and A Walkie Talkie?

Walkie talkies are two-way radios, but not all two-way radios are walkie talkies. For example, a vehicle or desk mounted mobile radio can’t be a walkie talkie because it isn’t handheld. Therefore, the main difference between the two is a CB radio can be mounted and a walkie talkie is portable.

Do Walkie Talkies Need Line of Sight?

Walkie talkies use a radio frequency, normally around 486 MHz, to allow basic chat over short and medium distances. Because of this PMR (private mobile radio) have quite a lot of uses including police service and lifeguards.

James Mitchell

Hi, I’m Jimmy Mitchell and I love exploring this great country with my wife and two boys. I have a 2015 Sterling LX that is the Mitchell Family camping machine. Lets Getaway is the website where I share things about my trailer as I learn them, and help other camper owners to enjoy their RV even more.

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