Having data is definitely something I cannot live without in today’s day and age and in all my previous trips this and last year, I’ve always traveled with data when I’m overseas. You might think that I’m a social media addict (alright, kind of true) as I do feel uncomfortable without connectivity but more importantly, having data allows me to half my time required for planning a free and easy trip.
Img Cr: http://www.cagle.com/
In the past (thinking about my taiwan trip back in 2009), I planned and drafted out all routes and modes of transport from Point A to B to C.. There was very limited/almost uncommon (free) wifi coverage back then. We had to follow rather strictly to our plan as any de-tour might prevent us from getting to our destination (especially when the distance traveled is not via the metro). Back then, paper maps and guide books were your best friend, but do bear in mind that they can be unreliable at times (There was a new Bus terminal in a small city of Korea and this info was not in the guide book as it was newly opened few months ago. We found ourselves at a totally foreign and desserted place as the (old) bus terminal in the guide book was near the city centre.
Well, such worries are slowly becoming history as portable data is here to save the day!
1. Google Maps will be your best friend. TRUST IT, 99% OF THE TIME
You don’t have to worry about keeping to schedule as you can now use Google Maps to inform you on the fastest way to get to your destination based on your location. It is usually accurate and sometimes you should just trust it blindly.
When I was wandering around in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, I tried to outsmart Google Maps by refusing to believe that there is no through road from Yoyogi Park to Meiji temple. Google Maps instructed me to walk out of Yoyogi Park (back-trekking is something I always prefer to avoid), walk along the main road and enter Meiji temple from the main entrance. After circling the fenced boundary of Yoyogi Park trying to find some sort of secret pathway or hole in the fence, I gave up and started walking to the exit. Then, I chanced upon a sign which says “There are no ways from this park to Meiji Shrine directly.” *face palm*
2. USEFUL IN IDENTIFYING WHERE AND WHICH TRAIN TO BOARD
“Standing at the platform of the station and staring blankly at their display board.” sounds familiar? The complexity of Japanese trains is of a different understanding level for many. Trains arriving at the same platform can go to multiple destinations. Display board(s) do tell you information in English but it appears less frequently than the Japanese names. In this case, if you’re using google maps for direction, it will tell you exactly what time or which platform you should go to. In this case, I want to head towards Shinagawa but the sign board only tells me “Narita Airport”. Google map tells me that the 10:25 train goes to Narita Airport and that’s the correct train I should take. Train at 10:27 or 10:34 (same platform) might not lead me to Shingawa Station.
3. Using Google Translate as a communication tool
What do you do when you are lost in translation while trying to communicate? Keep calm and install the Google Translate app on your phone! While I was in the sushi place at Nijo Market, I walked in and said “English?” He smiled at me and walked behind the counter and took out his iPad and spoke to it in Japanese and the words get translated to English text. All I had to do was to speak back to the iPad and he gets to see what I spoke in Jap. I’m gonna try this the next time I’m at a zero-english restaurant.. Speaking is definitely faster than typing.. THANK YOU GOOGLE TRANSLATE. On the other hand, you might lose the joy of “anticipation” of random food you pointed out form the menu.
4. INSTANT COMMUNICATION WITH THE PEOPLE AT HOME
This is extremely useful when I see something that I think someone I know might like or want to have and all I have to do is snap a photo and whatsapp them the image. This is very helpful when the instructions that you receive to buy a certain item is unclear. E.g. My mum told me to buy dried scallops and when I reach the market, there were scallops of different sizes, grading and prices. <blanks> I just snapped photos of everything and just let her decide.
5. SOCIAL MEDIA UPDATES
Last but not the least, data will allow you to make constant/frequent social media updates to inform your timeline that you are having a fantastic time overseas. In my current trip, I dropped Facebook and focus on Instagram instead as Instagram has this annoying misfunction which only allows you to tag a location only if you are in that area/country. As a result, many people didn’t know I went overseas until after I’m back (as a result didn’t have to do a lot of shopping for others) and most of the reactions were like.. “You went Japan.. AGAIN?” Oh well, as much as I would like to stay connected with my friends and family even though I’m overseas, sometimes it would be good to put your phone away and admire the beauty of the country (happens quite a lot in Japan as it is simply too scenic).
HOW TO GET DATA IN JAPAN
In the past, connectivity was restricted only if there’s free wifi access but today, you can get wifi anywhere with Mobile Wifi or Data Sim.
In my March trip, I bought a docomo data sim card from Taobao and got it shipped to Singapore. It was a 7-day card with limit capped at 4G speed for 200mb/day.
However, in my June/July trip I was honoured to be approached by Ninja Wifi to test and review their mobile wifi device. I was really lucky as the email came 2 days before my trip.
Review of Ninja Wifi:
Convenient Pick-up location: I collected my device at Haneda Airport. Pick-up and return counter is right beside the Keiyu line.
Item is fully charged the moment you receive it. All you have to do is to press the power on button and look for the device name and password pasted at the back of the device and it is ready to use.
- Battery life – estimated 12 hours usage but there were days that it lasted more than 12 hours. The device was Huawei and it’s usually quite reliable. I’ve heard of a friend getting a mobile wifi from another brand and the battery life was terrible and they had to turn it off whenever it is not in use. For me, I left it on the whole day! 4 of us shared the same device and we used data quite a lot, especially on Google Maps when we were driving. When there’s a lot of usage, the device heats up but it doesn’t affect the speed or anything.
- Connectivity – I hardly had issues with connectivity throughout my travel in Tokyo and Hokkaido. The only rare times I had issue was when we were driving along the mountainous/more rural areas and connection was poor. Apart from this, all was good.
FYI – do note that some hotels only have free wifi in the lobby area and we had to depend on our own mobile wifi for connection in our rooms.
- Return location is also at the same place. All you have to do is drop off the device in the same pouch that you have received it.
Data SIM vs Mobile Wifi
- In my previous trip, I bought a data SIM which is cheaper as I was traveling alone. Mobile Wifi rental would be more worth if you’re traveling in pairs or as a group (assuming that the group would be together 90% of the time).
- If you plan to get 1 data SIM and share it as a hotspot for others, the battery of your phone will drain up like crazy =/ Most prob your phone will have to be charging on powerbank most of the time (which actually damages your phone’s battery).
- You need to download a profile if you are using a data sim to accustom your phone to the country’s sim card. For the docomo card which I used, several models like xiaomi is unsupported. iPhone and Samsung phones generally has no issue. However, if you’re using a mobile wifi, there will definitely be no issues as long as the phone can connect to wifi.
- If you’re planning to do some work on your laptop and you require internet, mobile wifi definitely makes more sense as such usage tend to be very heavy and using a phone as a hot spot ain’t too feasible.
Depending on the type and number of users and price, you will have to decide between data sim or mobile wifi and if you plan to get mobile wifi, i would strongly recommend Ninja Wifi (Do check website (Full English) for pricing and specs as it is ever-changing.. right now they have NO DATA LIMIT promo, previously when I was there, they capped it at 1gb/day which was almost impossible to exceed.) Click on my referral link below and receive 20% OFF your entire order!!