With the summer now well and truly upon us, the schools preparing for the long break and barbeques being fired up the second a crack in the clouds appears, it can only be time for millions of people to pack their bags and head to the airport for the great summer getaway.
But when you're sure you've got all the essentials crammed into your suitcase – sunscreen, swimwear, flip-flops all checked off the list – spare a thought for what you plan to use your phone for while you're away. You might want to use it to make sure you're not out of the loop with any goings-on back home via social media, for instance, or send back pics of you relaxing on the beach. But if you're not careful, this could come back to bite you when you get home.
Are you aware of bill shock?
Getting back into the everyday routine following a couple of weeks of sun and sangria can be tricky enough at the best of times, and getting a huge phone bill land on your doormat won't do anything to improve the post-holiday blues. Yet this is something millions of people across the country can be set to experience this summer.
New figures from Which? reveal that as many as one in six people who've been abroad in the past year have experienced 'bill shock' as a result of high-than-expected charges for using their phone overseas. In fact, a quarter of people ending up having to pay at least £40 more than their normal monthly usage.
Despite the potential for high expenses, the consumer group also found a lot of people don't have a clue about their possible bills, or how they can avoid them. While there was some awareness of price caps on roaming charges imposed by the EU, almost half of respondents thought this would apply to all countries in Europe – but actually this is not the case, as only EU member states are covered by these rules.
Smaller caps to make a difference
The survey comes as the EU imposes a new round of price caps on roaming charges to further cut the cost of internet browsing when abroad – something that will undoubtedly be welcomed by the hordes of UK tourists set to hit the beaches of Spain, Italy and Greece in the coming weeks.
From July 1st, price caps for data will be slashed by more than half – down from a maximum of 45 cents a megabyte to just 20 cents. Meanwhile, making a call will drop from 24 cents per minute to 19 cents, while text costs will fall from eight cents to six cents. And the European Commission is keen to make sure things don't stop there.
Vice-president of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, said: "This huge drop in data roaming prices will make a big difference to all of us this summer. But it is not enough. Why should we have roaming charges at all in a single market? By the end of this year I hope we see the complete end of roaming charges agreed – the parliament has done their part, now it is up to member states to seal the deal."
Avoiding the costs
While the latest cuts will play a big role in helping eliminate bill shock, holiday-makers still can't rely entirely on the legislation to protect them – ultimately, it will still be their responsibility not to let their costs go through the roof.
There are several things users can do to help with this, such as switching off data roaming on their smartphones – this will stop your apps sneakily downloading costly data in the background that you might not be aware of.
If you really can't go more than a couple of hours without checking in on Facebook, taking advantage of free Wi-Fi hotspots is a must, while it's also a good idea to load up your smartphone or tablets with all the apps, ebooks and tourist information details you'll need before you get to the airport.
Getting a local Sim card is also a smart plan if you know you're going to be unable to put your phone down – though to do this, you'll have to make sure your phone is unlocked and is compatible with networks at your destination.
And remember, the new price caps will still only apply to EU members, so if you're heading further afield, you could still be stung. Stories abound of unwitting holidaymakers in the US or Africa coming back to bills of hundreds or even thousands of pounds for comparatively small downloads, so always be aware of what the local costs are wherever you go to avoid the trip of a lifetime turning into a nightmare hangover.