In the first 15 minutes of the first episode of the BBC drama Shetland, viewers are treated to two choppy cell phone calls and multiple additional references to the lack of cell service on Bressay, the island to the east of Lerwick.
And thus the expectation is born that Shetland is so removed from the mainland that it must suffer from awful cell service.
Not so. Bressay actually has fast enough service that crofter Chris Dyer can stream tours of the island from his phone for people anywhere in the world.
That said, there are still areas on the islands where you will lose coverage, but that seems to be less and less of an issue as time passes.
But for foreign travellers, the concern isn’t necessarily about coverage so much as cost.
Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to your cell phone service while on the Makkin Our Way Through Shetland tours.
Contact Your Cellular Provider
The best, and essential, thing to do is to contact your current cell provider and let them know where you will be traveling. They will be able to talk you through the best option for your needs. It’s impossible to take everyone’s cell provider and plan agreements into account for a blog post, so you really should just go ahead and make the phone call.
That said, here is what we’ve done in the past:
Most, if not all, cell service providers will have a plan you can sign up for at a daily rate while you are abroad that will give you access to enough data for phone calls and basic internet browsing. With our provider, T-Mobile, as you land in a different country and turn your phone back on, they send you a text saying that they noticed you are overseas and ask if you want to sign up for their daily overseas plan. Enrolling is as easy as replying to the text, and you’re good to go.
Be sure to call and confirm that something like this will happen with your provider, though. Others may require to to enroll in their international service plan in advance.
The drawback of using an international data plan is that they are rarely unlimited, and sometimes the amount of data you can use is capped at an amount that is less than you need. If you hit your data cap, you won’t lose internet access completely, but your access will slow way, way down to the point that you may not be able to load a website.
Be WiFi Aware
To make the most of your cellular data, be sure to switch to wifi any time you are able. Typically museums, hotels, and restaurants have wifi for their guests. Make it a habit to look for a posted wifi password or ask a member of staff for help. Use those moments when you are connected to wifi to send photos back home, make your social media posts, and do any internet browsing you need to do. You can also use services like What’sApp and Facebook Messenger to make phone calls home using WiFi instead of your limited data.
An Alternative For High Data Usage
If you keep exceeding your data limits, you may want to consider purchasing a local SIM card for your phone. This can be done easily at the Tesco supermarket, just a short walk from the guesthouse we will be using for the 2022 tours.
If you are making the most of WiFi access when you can, it’s unlikely you will need to do this. But, if you are a post-a-holic or will be working part time while you are touring around, you may want to opt for this method.
The SIM cards come with instructions on how to install and activate them. When we needed to add a local SIM to my husband’s phone, the cashier at the supermarket actually did it for us.
Keep in mind, though, that some phones do not have SIM cards, so this wouldn’t be an option in that case.
You May Not Mind
Planning ahead will help you save a bit and still keep in touch with those back home while you are on the tour. And for those odd moments when you lose coverage as we move from one destination to another?
Well, is that really such a bad thing?