I hadn’t really thought about it much because other than remembering how many hours difference there are when you want to talk with someone, communication these days seems so effortless. We use a variety of ways to keep in touch, and they almost never involve phone calls. The best part though is that the ways we communicate with each other while we’re at home work just as well when we travel, even overseas. Gone are the days of prohibitive long distance fees while out of the country or even calling across the United States.
First, I have to give a big shout-out to our phone service provider, T-Mobile, and the very affordable phone plan we have with them. Everyone in the family has WiFi enabled phones with unlimited calls and texting (I have unlimited data – it came with the plan – and everyone else has 2 or 3 GB, which works for them), and it’s incredibly easy to stay in touch wherever we are in the U.S. – all we have to do is connect and we’re good to go. Plus, our plan provides free data and texting all over the world with no roaming charges, with just a few exceptions. Phone calls overseas run about 20c per minute, but since we rarely use the phone feature these days it’s an expense we can almost always avoid.
Our favorite platform for staying in touch at home and abroad is Facebook Messenger. We like it because besides messaging we can also do video and group video chats. I chat with Meiling three to four times a week, with WenYu and our son a little less frequently, and our daughter-in-law uses Messenger to send photos, videos, and other grandchildren updates. It’s also proven to be a good way to stay in touch and share information with friends (who are on Facebook). As long as we’re someplace we can connect to WiFi, Messenger is free and convenient. For safety reasons we always keep the location and notification features turned off, whenever we use our phone and for all platforms.
No matter what your favorite way is to communicate while you’re at home, here are some tips from Consumer Reports on how save with your smartphone when traveling abroad:
- Check out your carrier’s world plans: Sprint, like T-Mobile, also grants its users free data and texting in most locations overseas. Data speeds are typically only 2G, so if you want faster service you’ll need to pay for it. AT&T and Verizon have similar plans.
- Get a local SIM card when you arrive: You’ll have to let people know you have a different phone number while you’re in country, but having a local number will mean big savings if and when you need to make local reservations or travel plans. Be sure before you do this though that your phone will work with overseas networks. International SIM cards are available in both Europe and Asia, but cost more than a card that is country specific. Also, be sure your phone is unlocked by your carrier before you go – don’t wait until the last minute to do this either.
- Buy a budget smartphone: You can do this when you arrive at your destination, or from Amazon before you go – they have a good selection of low-cost Android phones.
- Turn off data and go WiFi only: This is what we did on our last visit to Japan – we linked up to the WiFi in our hotel room or at our son’s condo when we needed to be online, but we could have gone online as well for free at Starbucks and other locations around town. Many Airbnb rentals and hotels also offer pocket WiFi, either for free or a small charge. WiFi availability is something you should absolutely check up on before you go though – don’t wait until you’re at your destination only to find it doesn’t exist, or you can’t connect.
One final tip for communicating whenever and wherever you travel: be sure to back up your data before you go to either an external drive or cloud-based service. And, don’t forget your power adapters and charger!