Erik and the family and I just got back from our epic Australia trip, the one I paid for with miles and points. I have many things to share about this trip, but today I’m going to focus on what we did for communications because I want to get out a timely thanks to Tep Wireless, which provided me with their product free of charge to try out. Although I did promise to share my experience here in exchange for this benefit, all opinions are my own.
On past overseas trips, Erik and I didn’t plan ahead for how we would communicate while on the go. We made sure to rent places with wi-fi, and figured we would catch up with folks via email and Facebook at the end of the day. But we didn’t get cellular data plans to use while out and about on our trips to England, Denmark and France, because 1) our phone carriers didn’t offer international plans and 2) although we looked around at buying SIM cards or cheap-o phones once we arrived at our destinations, we were confused by the options and didn’t want to spend too much of our precious vacation time shopping around. On both trips, after briefly looking around, we gave up and just went on with no working phones.
While having wi-fi at our accommodations worked fine for keeping in touch with folks back home, we really found ourselves missing that data connection when it came to looking up information on the fly, especially getting directions. We nearly got lost in the countryside in the dark in France one evening when I realized that I hadn’t mapped out full directions to our friends’ farmhouse before setting out. And we couldn’t call them to let them know we’d be late.
So we promised ourselves that next time, we would plan ahead to have some kind of on-the-go connectivity. And then we actually did it. We planned ahead, guys! High five.
At first I figured that plan would involve buying a cheap smartphone in Sydney. But a couple weeks before our trip, I happened to see a travel-savvy friend post about having a pretty good experience with Tep pocket wi-fi in England. I had never heard of Tep, but I quickly learned that the company makes a portable wireless hotspot (they call it Teppy) that you can set up to work in the country or countries of your choice. It can provide data to up to five devices at the same time, in a 15-meter range. Since we were traveling with six people, three of whom would be carrying smart phones, this was perfect for us.
Carrying a wi-fi hotspot would take care of our need to use Google Maps, update our Facebook pages in realtime, and coordinate with local family who had Facebook Messenger. But what if we needed to make phone calls? No problem: I already had a Google Voice number, so I downloaded that to my tablet and cell phone, enabling us to make and receive calls both to the US and Australia via wi-fi.
So how did it all work?
Teppy is a chunky little guy about the size of a computer mouse, but heavier. He has a tiny screen, which is fine because all you ever need to read on it are a couple lines of text. He easily slipped into my eensy travel purse or jacket pocket and never felt conspicuously heavy or bulky.
Before we left on the trip, I charged Teppy up. After we got off the plane in Sydney, I made sure roaming was turned off on my mom’s iPhone (no need on my and Erik’s Virgin-powered Androids since Virgin Mobile doesn’t offer international service). Then I made sure bluetooth was enabled on our phones and turned on Teppy. It displayed a network name and a password on its little screen. We found that network on our phones’ bluetooth settings, and were prompted to open a browser window and log into the network. The whole thing took a few seconds — we had it done before we even collected our baggage, so I was able to use Google Maps to navigate to the airport train station.
Twenty-four hours after we started that first day of service, Teppy turned off the data tap, and we needed to push a button on the device to say, “yes,” we wanted to start a new day of service. This is good, since Tep charges by the day — your day doesn’t start until you’re ready for it to. Because we didn’t always notice when the 24-hour period ended, we ended up starting our wi-fi days at various times throughout the trip. This caused us a few moments of confusion sometimes before we realized why we weren’t getting connectivity, but after the first couple days we got the idea.
Tep provided reliable service throughout our trip. There may have been a moment here and there when we couldn’t seem to connect, but that kind of thing happens with just about any data service. We used it on underground trains
on the ferry in the middle of Sydney Harbour
on the beach
on a hike in a national park
pretty much everywhere.
The connection was perhaps not quite as good as a hardwired wi-fi connection — for instance, when my mother tried to Facetime Dad on it instead of on the apartment wi-fi, there was a bit of a lag. We never tried watching video using the Tep, because we were out and about seeing amazing things. But we were able to upload multiple (koala!) videos, which I felt really gave our family and friends back home a feeling that they were right there with us.
Besides having to restart the Tep’s service once every 24 hours, the experience was seamless. We only had to connect our phones to the wireless network once. As long as you are standing relatively near whoever is carrying the Tep, you’re online — and if you go away and then come back, your phone should automatically connect without any intervention from you.
Overall, Tep served us quite well and I would be happy to pay the $9.95 per day cost to use Tep on another trip. It was cheaper than getting an international phone plan, easier than trying to buy a disposable local phone, and it got our whole group online instead of just one device.