Pros and Cons of Having Two Phones: Digital Nomad Perspective

I often travel with two smartphones when I’m living abroad for an extended period of time. I used to think it was a waste, but actually, there are many benefits for doing this. Let me explain why I feel two smartphones can benefit even minimalistic digital nomads.

Here’s an interesting first world problem: how many phones should I travel with? You might ask why I might need more than one phone. It’s a valid question. Swapping a SIM is easy and if you travel in the European Union, you don’t even need to change SIM card. 

But I’ve found a number of reasons for travelling with a second phone, in particular, a second smartphone. It’s made travel easier and I think there are benefits (as well as minor downsides) for digital nomads

The Benefits

There are more pros than cons.

1. Hotspot

You can use the second phone as a hotspot. Many cafes don’t offer internet access. For some, it’s a policy of no phones. One of the reasons is that people tend to not linger as long in a cafe. And they might be forced to even talk with each other rather than stare at their phones.  For others, it’s because they’re behind the times.

If you find yourself in a cafe without wifi or a hotel with crappy internet speed (common), you can always use your secondary phone as a hotspot. You’ll still have your main phone for browsing, taking calls, etc. 

2. Separation of admin and business

You can receive access codes, authentication messages, and other important communications on your main phone while using the second smartphone for travel and in-country admin and business. 

3. 2nd Alarm

It can act as a backup alarm or notification device.

I’ve (almost) missed flights and had to pay really expensive taxi fares because my phone ran out of battery, I didn’t set the alarm properly, or the ring volume was too low. Having another phone set with an alarm for the same time or a few minutes either side, is perfect as a backup in case something goes wrong. Missing a flight can be one of the most expensive mistakes while on the road so I try my best to not let that happen. 

4. Backups

The other phone can act as an instant backup. Just dropped your cellphone off a cliff when taking that travel photo selfie? Well, not only is that seriously inconvenient, but it can be even more of a pain to get a new one. Remote parts of Kazakhstan or Borneo might not have cellphone stores with the model you want or need. You might have to spend money on some second rate device that you dump as soon as you can.

The backup phone gets you online as soon as you get a new SIM card, which you probably have already if you’re following my plan. 

5. Keep work and business separate

For remote workers and people that like to keep their business and their personal life separate, a second phone can make issues of security and distractions much easier to manage

One phone for socialising, sending personal emails, booking flights, Tinder, Facebook, etc.

One phone for connecting to the corporate network or logging on to your server, purchasing online with the company credit card, and receding business-related emails. 

By keeping the “work”phone as secure as possible, there’s less chance of being hacked or having some malicious software take it over. The personal phone, while just as important, can be used for entertainment and if it does get compromised, it’s less likely to affect your job or your business.

6. A second phone for work tasks

I do marketing and SEO for clients all over the world. Many of these clients are local businesses. Using Virtual Private Network (VPN) software on my second phone, I can simulate a search in the local area. Then I can see exactly what the search results look like as if I was a local searching for local businesses on a mobile phone.

7. Extra battery power

Power running down on one phone? Turn it off and use the other. 

8. Use the best of two worlds

This is really only suitable for people with money to splash on two expensive smartphones. 

If you want one phone for taking amazing photos (let’s say the iPhone) but another phone for it’s ability to load certain software (let’s say the Google Pixel), then you can switch between the two depending on your needs. 

I use an old iPhone as my secondary phone. It’s tiny, which is an advantage, and works very well. The camera is rubbish (compared to what’s available today) but I don’t need it for that. 

The downsides

There’s really only one downside and tat’s the weight. If you’re a one-bag traveller, this fact is even more important. If you check in luggage, it’s less important. Smartphones typically weigh around 180g (that’s the average weight these days) and that might not seem like much, but it’s almost 1/5th of a kilo. And every addition to your bag counts. 

And don’t forget the charger, cable, and case. Yep, it all ads up.

Alternative to having to phones?

There’s one way to have the flexibility of two phone numbers and plans with only one phone. And that’s to buy a dual SIM phone. These are becoming more popular and most of the top brands and models are dual SIM. Of course, it doesn’t cover everything.

The Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max has one of the most powerful cameras on the market (3 lenses), great battery performance, and all the other lovely Apple features. This is an eSIM phone – there’s only room for one physical SIM. The virtual SIM takes the place of a real physical card. Here’s why eSIMs are a good idea.

I’ve been using a Google Pixel for a few years and love it. You’ll need the 3rd generation of the Pixel to get two SIM slots. 

The Pixel 4a is a really good value phone (possibly the most bang for your buck at that price) that can be either your main phone or a super-powerful backup. The camera is also incredible. I use a Pixel 5, by the way.

Should you travel with two phones?

It comes down to your style of travel. If I’m travelling exclusively in Europe or only one country or zone where one phone company have coverage, I generally leave the 2nd phone behind. If I travel across multiple zones (including outside of Europe) and am on the road for a long time, the 2nd phone comes in very handy.

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