Getting the best coverage out of my mobile phone plan is a must when running a business on the road, so I’ve spent a good chunk of my 1.5 months in the “States” figuring out which is the best US cell phone plan for freelance writers. My process of elimination, as primitive as it may seem, has been something like this.
It’s 7pm and we’re fast approaching our camp for the night – recommended by Google – so it’s time to see if our current mobile plan for USA travel will allow us to stay in this quiet, remote woodland in Tennessee. Five miles out, and things are looking dim.
It’s 7pm and we’re fast approaching our camp for the night – recommended by Google – so it’s time to see if our current mobile plan for USA travel will allow us to stay in this quiet, remote woodland in Tennessee. 5 miles out, and things are looking dim.
“What’s the signal like, baby?” I ask my wife in the passenger seat. “1 bar of LTE,” she replies. “Wait… It’s gone over to E.”
Party’s over. For the next 4 miles down the dark, windy forest road, the cell phone signal continues to fluctuate, resting in the unusable “E” zone by the time we arrive. Looks like it’s going to be a short stay…
As my story goes, the downside of my digital nomad lifestyle in the US so far has been the time spent chasing cell phone coverage so I can combine my dream of crossing the border from city-scape to landscape, while growing a successful freelance writing business at the same time. This dream has been continually thwarted by over-optimistic cell phone coverage maps, and lack of a travellers mobile plan which actually suits my digital nomad lifestyle.
But over the 6 weeks that I’ve now spent travelling across the eastern US states – from Indiana to Alabama – I can now say that I’ve found the best phone carrier that suits my criteria and support the needs of my freelance writing business and location independence.
My Criteria for the Best Phone Carrier
Before diving into the best phone carrier, let’s first look at my criteria to find the best US cell phone plan for freelance writers. My requirements were simple:
- To be prepaid (I have no US credit to buy into a plan. Plus, I hate contracts)
- Have excellent network coverage to remote locations
- At least 5GB of high-speed data (4G LTE)
- The option for roaming to Mexico and Canada at reasonable rates (my future travel destinations).
As a professional freelance writer and with a wife who also runs an online math tutoring business, the criteria above give us enough data between our house sitting assignments to keep earning an income while we travel.
T Mobile: Nice Try
I had done the research before leaving Canada, and the plans offered by cell phone carrier T Mobile seemed to be a good option for a travellers mobile phone plan. But the company I actually went with was a new service provider, MetroPCS, a subsidiary company of T Mobile who use the same network.
With an irresistible prepaid plan, 28GB of high-speed LTE data, unlimited calling, and Mexico roaming for an extra $5/month, the $60/month plan seemed a dream come true. Add to that the promise of excellent coverage from a “Nationwide Network”, and the deal was done.
Unfortunately, the coverage map was a little optimistic. More often the outcome was excellent coverage around cities, larger towns, and interstate highways, then almost nothing in most rural areas that I traveled.
I wanted a mobile phone for USA travel that allowed me to go places away from these hotspots, and continue to keep my freelance writing business ticking away at the same time.
The search would continue…
AT&T to the Rescue
Now I’m not a sponsor for AT&T, but after going back to the drawing board, consulting my criteria, and sketching out a better idea of the US prepaid cell phone market, I have since settled on good old AT&T.
AT&T offers a new prepaid product called GoPhone which has been the best phone carrier option for my travel and business workings while in the US.
I started on the $45/month plan, as the first month of usage corresponded with a lengthy house sitting assignment with access to WiFi. But the beauty of prepaid is that I can swap and change as I need, so I will eventually use the $60/month option which, in my opinion, is the best cell phone plan for freelance writers and digital nomads traveling in North America.
This $60/month option gives me:
- 6GB high-speed LTE data (capped at 128kB/s thereafter) – plenty for all my photos, blogs, WordPress updates, and freelance writing gigs.
- WordPress updates, and freelance writing gigs.
- Unlimited calls and SMS across the US – not a big selling point, but nice to have.
- Free international data roaming in Mexico and Canada – a must for the next leg of my journey south of the border.
All this for $60/month. And if I sign up for automatic recharge (AutoPay), then I get a $5 discount. That’s $55/month for a great travellers mobile phone plan that I can use more places than T Mobile, and even while I sit sipping mock-tails on the beach in Mexico. What a dream!
Finally, a Cell Phone Plan for Freelance Writers That Really Delivers
I’m happy to say that a couple of weeks’ in, the AT&T setup has been quick and easy, and coverage is much better in remote areas. My freelancing business is more consistent, I’m working from stunning US locations I’ve been dreaming about (Smoky Mountains anyone?), and I’m meeting deadlines again now that I have greater reliability in cell phone coverage.
If you’re a fellow digital nomad traveling across the US, or a writer looking for the best cell phone plan for freelance writers, then you can either take my experience on board or test them out for yourself. Other carriers are out there – T Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, Virgin Mobile, US Cellular etc., so there’s no shortage of choice.
Over to you. What is your experience with US cell phone carriers? Have you found a better option?
Leave your tips in the comments below!