As an adventure sport and travel writer I invariably find myself relying entirely on my phone for my link to the outside world. Whether this is in a remote location in the UK, a city in Europe or some far flung corner of the  globe I find that as technology has improved so has my ability to stay connected.

This means that I’m now able to research articles, keep on top of potential jobs and perhaps most importantly send stories to my editors to wherever I happen to be in the world. Never has being a freelance journalist been freer and my ability to work from anywhere more easy.

However, this connectivity comes at a price and that price is commonly known as data usage. Not such a problem when on home turf with an ‘unlimited’ bandwidth but staying abreast of how much information I’m sucking off the world wide web depends on my device, what I’m asking it to do and how much I’m using it.

Speak to any customer services department of any of the big phone providers and when asked about data usage you’ll get the same default answer about webpage sizes, connecting to social network sites and streaming videos with differing estimates about how much of your data package this will actually get used. In short, they don’t know because the nature of what you’re connecting to varies massively from site to site and page to page.

I’ve been hammered twice on my phone bill in the last few months. The first time I was in the French Alps reporting on summer pursuits in the mountains and the second time I was touring through Poland writing city profiles. In France I was using a Blackberry 8320 and in Polski, a HTC Desire. Now without going into too much technical detail, just by having these phones on with the mobile internet function connected, I came back to hefty bills that were completely down to data.

I found that this was because all smart phones do a huge amount of background work that requires being connected to the web. All my own fault I hasten to add because I hadn’t been through the factory settings turning applications off. I certainly didn’t need to be synching weather forecasts, checking email and receiving Twitter updates every 6 minutes.

So how do you keep abreast of what data you’re using? After some careful research (10 minutes in the Android Market) I’ve since found that the best way to monitor how you’re burning through your allowance is by using an app. I’ve been using Phone Usage on my HTC Desire and it’s not only free, it’s really easy to use. It provides charts on daily, weekly and monthly consumption and a breakdown on where the data has been used. There in glorious techni-colour  in a lovely pie chart is Google Mail, Internet, Maps, Facebook and much, much more. So it’s possible to turn things off in a real time sense which is extremely useful when you know it’s costing you £3 / Meg whilst in foreign climes.

In one foul swoop, all of the problems that were associated with how much data I’ve been using have been solved as I can now see exactly what, where, when and how it’s being used. Of course, differing phones manipulate data in different ways, and different providers charge different amounts. But never again will I surreptitiously send an email whilst wondering whether I can really afford it!

Data Usage – Top Tips
1.    Check with your provider on what your monthly allowance is. ‘Unlimited’ very rarely means this and as data usage soars, caps are being put into contracts.
2.    If you’re going abroad turn off all the superfluous programmes that you don’t want or need. Checking email a few times a day is more than adequate and don’t download any attachments.
3.    Buy a data bundle for a fixed price for use oversees. That way you’ll know exactly what you’re paying per meg before you go.
4.    Install a data usage Application that will give you real-time monitoring. Try a few until you find one that suits you and your phone.
5.    Don’t upload hefty pictures or videos to social networking sites from your mobile.
6.    Don’t stream music or download songs.
7.    If in doubt, call your provider for an up to the minute data usage check.

Gary King is an action sports and travel writer, lover of live and motivational speaker. He regularly writes articles for the international press, specialist print and online publications. He is currently very much liking his HTC Desire.
Check out his blog at  www.gary-king.co.uk.