As travellers we always promise to stay in touch when we are on the road, but the practicalities and cost often make it difficult. Here are a few of the cheapest and easiest ways we have found to make sure you don’t lose contact with the people that matter.
Get a smart device of some sort
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but a device that can fit in your pocket and connect to wifi will make staying in touch infinitely easier. An iPod Touch fits the bill here, as do a range of basic Android phones that start under $100. As long as the applications listed below can be installed on it you can take advantage of wifi anywhere to make a phone call, reply to email etc.
While you can do all of that from a laptop or internet cafe, the benefit of having a device with you at all times can’t be overstated. Take advantage of down time at restaurants and bars, in train stations and airports to stay in touch.
Teach people how to use chat programs
With an increasingly connected world text chat applications from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and dozens of others are in common use, but there are still plenty of people who have never used them. Now is the time to gently bring those friends and family members into the 21st century by creating them an account and showing them how to use one or more of these systems before you go on your trip. It’ll save you a fortune in phone calls at the very least.
Save money with Voice Over IP (VoIP)
Forget dodgy calling cards and expensive roaming charges – the days of being ripped off by phone companies are gone. Install Skype instead, throw a few dollars in a SkypeOut account and you can make calls to any phone in the world for hours. With a good internet connection it is hard to tell the difference from a normal call, and you can always talk and video chat for free to any other Skype user once the money runs out.
I use Skype as my primary means of communication when travelling and most of the time it works like a charm. It is usable over 3G and sometimes even EDGE cellular networks, making it a true replacement for standard mobile phone calls.
Skype is not the only game in town, however. If you are based in the US then Google Voice lets you have a dedicated number with voicemail and free SMS. Viber and WhatsApp let you swap messages and calls with anybody else in the world who has the same software installed, while Heytell has a simple push-to-talk voice model.
Whichever option you go with, using VoiP on your computer or mobile is by far the best option for budget conscious travellers.
Use local SIM cards
Contact your carrier to get your phone unlocked before you leave home, or buy an unlocked mobile phone to start with. This will make your life easier – and much cheaper – once you arrive at your destination, as you can usually pick up a local pre-pay SIM card to use while you are away.
Prices will be a fraction of international roaming, and reasonably cheap data plans are available for your smartphone in many countries as well. Try convenience stores and at the airport before looking for a dedicated phone store – you might be surprised what you find.
If you don’t – or can’t – unlock your phone before you go, find the cheapest pre-paid mobile that you can and use that for the duration of your stay. It won’t be particularly attractive or full of features, but will pay for itself quickly if you need to make (or receive) local calls.
How do you prefer to stay in touch while away from home?
[Image cc via Paul Keller]