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Google Goes High-Fi

By Maya Stanton
updated September 29, 2021
Google phone and Project Fi
Dennizn/Dreamstime
The tech giant's wireless plan expands coverage and introduces a travel-savvy feature for the peripatetic Android user.

International travelers looking to stay connected used to have limited options: buy an unlocked phone and switch out SIM cards from country to country, put a smartphone in airplane mode and take advantage of free wifi whenever possible, or suck it up and shell out for those insanely overpriced roaming fees. But with the introduction of Google’s wireless service, Project Fi (fi.google.com), in 2016, peripatetic Android users got an extra boost, receiving coverage in more than 135 countries for the same rates they pay domestically—including free texting, wifi calling, and reasonable data plans.

EASIER TO USE THAN EVER

Now Google has gone one step further, expanding coverage to even more countries and territories (170 and counting) and adding a new feature that takes the guesswork out of the planning process. Starting today, if a destination is covered, the international flight info in subscribers’ Gmail will automatically ping their Project Fi app with a notification detailing data costs for the upcoming trip—no more run-around calls with customer service or nasty surprises when you get home and open the bill

DOES YOUR SMARTPHONE SUPPORT PROJECT FI?

One caveat: You do need a smartphone that works with Project Fi (and the selection is fairly limited), but if you’re in the market for a new service provider and spend a lot of time overseas, it’s well worth a look.

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Travel Tips

3 Big Travel Trends for 2018

Short of consulting a crystal ball, tarot cards, or a fortune-teller, there’s no way to say for sure what 2018 will bring, but occult efforts aside, travel-industry intelligence brand Skift’s annual Megatrends report is as good a predictor as you’ll find. Thanks to a wealth of data-driven analysis and inside baseball–style information, the report considers the factors that will affect how we travel in 2018—and beyond. Here are three things to watch for in the months to come. 1. WEATHER THREATENS THE STATUS QUO From hurricanes to wildfires, last year saw a host of natural disasters, and extreme weather conditions show no signs of abating in 2018. With coastal cities at risk of flooding and temperatures changing permanently in regions once known for their steady climes, tourist destinations are adjusting their approach to global warming—and tourists themselves should do the same. That means establishing new routines in the planning stages of your trips: researching travel insurance before you buy and choosing “cancel for any reason” coverage, opting for accommodations with flexible cancellation policies, planning activities that aren’t solely weather dependent, and, when necessary, choosing alternate destinations entirely. The effects of global warming are wide-ranging and long-term, so this one is less of a trend and more of paradigm shift. Don’t expect things to get back to normal anytime soon. 2. DESTINATIONS ACCOMMODATE LOCALS AND VISITORS When a wave of anti-tourism protests swept across Europe last summer, it was the result of long-simmering local frustration with overdevelopment and the crowds that go hand in hand with unrestricted growth. Cities that once welcomed the tourist dollar—often at the expense of their own residents—are experiencing heavy backlash and scrambling to course-correct: Authorities in Barcelona, for example, are cracking down on everything from unlicensed Airbnb rentals to Segway tours in the city center, and cruise-ship ports such as Venice and Dubrovnik now restrict the number of visitors allowed at a local attraction or hot spot at a time. With these cities serving as a cautionary tale, many destinations are adopting a “share the wealth” policy to fix the congestion problem, funneling visitors from high-traffic urban areas to lesser-known pockets of the country—which is great news for travelers who prefer a more niche experience. This year, look for an increased focus on hyper-local culture, cuisine, and industry (think: sipping cava in the Spanish countryside instead of tooling around on a scooter in the streets of Barcelona). 3. RESTAURANTS OFFER AN IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE If you’d rather starve than patronize yet another cookie-cutter establishment with a predictable menu and cliched decor, have we got good news for you. The new crop of restaurants is moving away from the farmhouse-chic aesthetic, embracing maximalist design, and creating an atmosphere that highlights a sense of place and personality, from quirky, Instagrammable details like neon signage to full-on immersive experiences that turn a place a destination. In an increasingly crowded marketplace littered with eat-in and takeaway options, restaurants are looking for a leg up on the competition, and unique, inviting spaces provide just that. There’s never been a better time to be a destination diner—in 2018, expect to see even more restaurants aiming to be places where guests feel at home, put down their phones, and participate in every minute of their meal.

Travel Tips

Would You Pay Extra for First-Class Perks in Coach?

For many Budget Travelers, saving money on flights is not just a practical priority but a point of pride. We find a good deal, reserve it, then we try to beat it. We keep checked bags to a minimum, pack the right snacks, and, of course, resign ourselves to a narrow space in coach with minimal amenities. But some airlines are playing games with the whole concept of coach lately, as reported by Brian Sumers on Skift.com yesterday, offering first-class and business-class perks to coach passengers. For a price, of course. FIRST-CLASS FOOD IN COACH Many of the new perks are on flights to Europe. On British Airways, for instance, passengers can pay more than $20 for a “Taste of Britain” menu. If you’re flying Austrian Airlines and can’t wait till landing for your first bite of schnitzel, it can be yours, for a price. Air France takes things a step further, offering passengers from some U.S. cities an upscale menu similar to the one in business class, including real plates and stemware, for $25. PAY FOR YOUR PAJAMAS One airline is taking the pricey perks to an extreme: Etihad Airlines, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, will sell coach passengers a pair of pajamas just like those offered for free to passengers in its first-class “apartments,” for $35. Etihad is also selling coach passengers onboard amenity kits, Champagne, and, on the ground, access to its business- and first-class lounges. WHAT DO YOU THINK? Although we’re leaning firmly against the notion of paying extra (and not just extra, but an inflated price) for ephemeral perks that won’t really make our lives any better (why not spend that money at your destination instead of in the air?), we’re always curious to hear what you think. Have you ever paid for first-class perks in coach? Would you consider it?

Travel Tips

Europe 2018: 5 Money-Saving Tips

From the jaw-dropping natural beauty of Iceland to the ancient ruins of Sicily, from the fjords of Norway to the late-night tapas feasts of Spain, Budget Travelers ask us all the time, “Can we afford Europe?” And we’re more than happy to answer, “Yes, you can.” Here, our five best tips for doing Europe on a budget. 1. BOOK A BARGAIN HOTEL Our hotel booking tool is showing reasonable rates across the continent this spring, including Dublin city center from under $150/night, a few London hotels well under $300/night (that’s an extraordinary savings for London, but do be careful not to book yourself too far from the points of interest you most want to visit), Paris hotels from under $200, and well-reviewed Rome lodging from under $150/night. 2. SAVE BIG ON AIRFARE Airfare will, of course, be your big-ticket purchase when visiting Europe, and our friends at Skyscanner (Skyscanner.com), who mine discount airfares to deliver the lowest of the low, are uncovering spring deals such as round-trip to Dublin from under $500, Paris from under $500, and Milan from under $600 (with one or two options under $500). We also recommend that you follow the major air carriers on social media and sign up for their e-newsletters, which can give you the inside track into flash promotions and other good deals. 3. TAKE THE TRAIN Speaking of Milan, Rail Europe (raileurope.com) is now offering direct service tickets between that Italian business and fashion capital with Frankfurt, Germany’s business capital, significantly shortening train travel time between those two countries. Rail Europe is one of the most efficient and affordable ways to explore, including Eurail One Country passes for 23 countries and Eurail Two Country passes for certain regions. New 2018 initiatives include One Country passes for Turkey and Serbia and a Two Country pass for the Czech Republic and Poland. 4. CONSIDER A PACKAGE TOUR It’s one of the open secrets of the travel business: Hotels and airlines are willing to offer rock-bottom rates in order to fill their inventory, but the best way for you to take advantage of those super-low rates is to participate in a package tour. Budget Travel contributors and readers have loved the European tour experiences offered by Monograms, Contiki, Friendly Planet, G Adventures, and other tour companies. Today's package tours are a world away from the "touristy" treks your grandparents may have undertaken. The best tour company's offer exceptional guest services, plenty of independent exploring time, some great group meals and celebrations, informative guided tour options, vibrant people-to-people cultural experiences, and much more. And if you briefly crunch the numbers to compare the overall price of a European package tour with a vacation that you book yourself “a la carte,” you’ll almost always find that you’ve saved big. 5. DOWNLOAD THIS TRIP-INSPIRING APP Our colleagues at Budget Travel's parent company, Lonely Planet, cover Europe like no other travel brand on earth, and we’re hooked on their Trips app, which allows you to browse a wealth of travel stories and images from Lonely Planet’s worldwide audience, editors, writers, and photographers. Of course you’ll find great intel on some of the popular European destinations we’ve touched on here, but you’ll also uncover hidden gems, locals-only secrets, and up-and-coming destinations where your travel dollar may stretch farther than you could ever imagine.

Travel Tips

5 Cheap Flights for Spring Break

Ready for a spring break? We are too. Whether you define the phrase as a 24/7 tropical party or something a little more laid-back, like a couple’s escape or family beach vacation, our friends at Skyscanner (skyscanner.com) have rounded up some of the most promising projected savings on spring flights to some of the most desirable locales. Here, a taste of the top destinations where you can save a bundle: 1. PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC Book your spring flights around 12 weeks in advance and you could save up to 45 percent on an escape to the famously gorgeous, delicious, and affordable DR, a quick flight from many U.S. hubs. 2. NASSAU, THE BAHAMAS We love the Bahamas for their proximity to U.S. coast, amazing seafood like conch fritters, and awesome outdoor markets. Book your flight around 11 weeks in advance to save up to 34 percent. 3. PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO You can save up to 34 percent on flights to this beautiful and historic Mexican hotspot on the Pacific coast when you book around 10 weeks in advance. 4. SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO We’ve been happy to report that more than 100 hotels are welcoming guests and more than 4,000 restaurants are cooking in Puerto Rico as it continues its comeback from Hurricane Maria. Choosing to spend your dollars in Puerto Rico is one of the best ways you can help, and if you book around 10 weeks in advance, you can save up to 20 percent on airfare. 5. CANCUN, MEXICO For those who want to combine warm beaches with significant cultural landmarks, Cancun is a place you can both play and learn in proximity to historic Mayan ruins. Book your flight around 10 weeks in advance to save up to 20 percent.