The type of holidays we like to go on are invariably internet heavy. We go online when away on road trips and other holidays for maps and routing, researching and booking accommodation, and finding great places to visit along the way. I generally don’t try to have a digital detox when we’re away…
There are a few ways to make sure you have internet when you are abroad. Hotels, cafes and coffee shops often have free WiFi, data roaming in most of Europe is generally included in mobile phone contracts (it’s included in my giffgaff goodybag, my network of choice), and, which is the subject of this blog post, you can get a personal MiFi hotspot to carry with you wherever you go. I received complementary MiFi hire from Cellhire so that I could keep online for our road trip and give you an idea of how such a service works.
A MiFi is essentially a small, wireless device that turns a local mobile data signal into a WiFi network that you, and anyone you are with, can connect your devices to in order to get online. It works in a similar way to a standard broadband router you might have at home, turning a 4G or 3G signal into a usable network. Whereas a dongle creates a WiFi connection from such mobile data for one device, MiFi works with multiple devices – it’s a separate little unit that works on anything you choose to connect to it within about 10 metres.
Having a MiFi unit for our Spain road trip, in simple terms, meant that we had decent internet wherever we were without having to rely on our own mobile data coverage. My Cellhire MiFi unit came complete with a Spanish SIM card installed in it (a Vodafone one), which in turn had 10GB data on it for us to use. This package would normally cost £30 for a one-off month, or £18 per month if you take out a contract (24 months). The contract seems comparable to a mobile contract here in the UK (I currently pay £15 per month for my giffgaff goodybag with 8GB data, although I’m not tied into a contract), and the fee for a single month is not bad considering you don’t have to worry about buying a MiFi unit or which SIM to get. Not cheap, but certainly reasonable.
Before we went away I arranged a specific delivery date with Cellhire, to make sure I had it in time to pack up my bike, and there were no issues there. The unit appeared to be brand new, came complete with a charger (European plug) and USB cable, and the SIM was already in it so I could just bung the unit in with my other cables and bits and bobs without worrying about installation or set up. Of course, because the Cellhire MiFi came with a Spanish SIM, there was no way of testing it before I left, but the instructions included a telephone number to call if there were any issues – thankfully that wasn’t needed. This is a hire service, so it came complete with a returns bag and label so that when I returned home after enjoying exploring Spain by motorbike, I could very easily send it back when the time came by dropping it off at my local post office.
A few days later, sat enjoying the sunshine in our first campsite of the trip after a lovely wild swim in the river, I set about turning the Cellhire Mifi on in order to plan our route for the following day. It was very simple to get going; turn it on, wait for the unit to find a 4G network, and then use the WiFi selector on my iPad to connect. From switch-on to WiFi network probably took a couple of minutes. It does come with a pre-set password so not just anyone in range can connect and use up all your data, which is displayed on the small but easy-to-read screen on the unit. That screen also includes a note of how much data you’ve used, what kind of connection and signal you have, and how many devices are connected to the MiFi. There’s a settings menu, too, but after looking through and seeing nothing I needed to change, I got on with using the data I’d been given and working out what lovely roads we could ride the following day.
We were able to connect all our devices to the MiFi, which between us including three phones, two iPads and a Microsoft Surface – not all at the same time, but almost always more than one at once. I am a very heavy internet user, especially when on a road trip; I am completely addicted to sharing photos on social media (do you follow me on instagram?!), and as mentioned above, we also use the internet for route planning and booking accommodation when we’re on the move – displaying maps you haven’t downloaded ahead of time uses lots of data. Even with all this, and having two other people using their devices also, the 10GB data included in the Cellhire MiFi hire lasted almost exactly two weeks. We did also have a bit of data on our normal phone plans, and used WiFi when in hotels, so we definitely used more than ten gig, but having the unit was an excellent way of making sure we didn’t have to rely on free WiFi or spend extra on our phones, which can be a bit stressful for this kind of trip. We did avoid streaming videos from YouTube or iPlayer, or listening to the radio, and I turned off Photo Stream on my iPad/phone just to be a bit careful with the data allowance, and if we were on a non-road-trip break that 10GB would have easily lasted much longer.
We were reasonably impressed with the speed (speed test shown above), and I was impressed with how it found a decent enough signal even in the most rural of locations. We didn’t always get 4G, but when we did, we got a decent download and upload speeds. When all three of us were using the unit it did slow a bit, but not to the point where it was unusable. I have absolutely no complaints about the speed, connection, or usability of the device.
Having the MiFi for our Spanish road trip was very handy, and I would consider hiring one for a future trip. If I was road tripping a lot, especially if I ever manage to get my hands on my own campervan, I would probably end up purchasing one, and if I was travelling to Spain regularly I would most likely buy a Spanish SIM to switch in and out of my other devices. But for the occasional trip, hiring a MiFi unit with data included is something I will consider. At £30 for the hire and 10GB data (which lasts up to one month), with the knowledge that I can easily connect several devices to it at the same time, it is worth the expense for those who rely on the internet when travelling. And Cellhire made it super easy to get the device when I wanted, and even easier to return it.
It is worth noting that York based Cellhire is predominantly a business to business service, ideal for anyone who travels for work. However, consumers like me who want to use one of the Cellhire MiFi and data SIM card bundles are invited to contact them to discuss their requirements. You can also go for just a data SIM card to put in your own device via their sister brand, Dataroam.
I was loaned a Cellhire MiFi with Spanish SIM and given 10GB of data to use on our Spain road trip in return for an honest review of the service here on Splodz Blogz. As always, I write based on my true experience.