May 13, 2013
How to Stay in Touch When You Travel Abroad
As some who enjoys international travel more than anything I am always on the hunt for ways to make communicating with people back home and in visiting countries easy and affordable. Over the years I've found simple and affordable solutions to this problem and thanks to things like iMessages, GoogleVoice and other methods there is no reason to have anyone worry about your whereabouts if you're traveling to a major international city.
1. Wi-Fi. Gotta love wifi. When I went to Paris in 2010 I was going to get an Orange sim card like I had in 2004 but my brother gave me the best words of advice I ever received while traveling: Find a McDonald's. Lucky for me the apt I rented was three blocks away from one that offered free wifi and I was able to let everyone know that I had made it before even dropping off my bags. I did have wifi at the apt I rented but it was nice to walk around the city, stop and upload photos every time I was near a McDonald's or Starbucks as well as keep in contact with my travel companion that was due to arrive a few days later.
2. Lebara Mobile. In London, as soon as I get off the train on St. Pancras I get myself a Lebara sim card. These allow me to have internet access while on the go while also allowing me to keep in constant contact with my friends while in the UK. Their little kiosk is my saving grace and I get 10mb of free data daily whenever I top up my card with 10£ or more. Not bad for basic usage but I wouldn't recommend constantly checking in on Facebook or Foursquare with such limited data that could best be used for maps or looking up train/bus schedules. Now they offer separate data charges but you don't travel to be glued to social media so I recommend what comes standard with any top up. Also included: Free incoming calls. If someone has a free VOIP like Talkatone then the call will be free for both parties. Not a bad deal.
3. Google Voice/Talkatone- Best combination for travelers that don't want to buy a sim card and only want to touch base with people back home. Getting a google voice number is free and along with the other perks that it comes with (texts get sent to email, voicemail transcriptions) it works swimmingly combined with Talkatone. Talkatone is a free app that allows you to makes calls via wifi unlike the standalone google voice app that requires data. I tested this method and haven't had a problem with it. The calls are clear, they don't drop (so long as there's a decent signal) and it gets the job done. Google voice does work well with text messages as well as Talktatone but I prefer to stick with Google's native app for that. Texting on Talktatone is a bit slow for me.
4. T-mobile. T-mobile now allows you to make calls using wifi. How awesome is that? I would have listed this as #1 but I realize that not everyone has T-mobile although a lot of people seem to be making the switch now that they finally got the iPhone! Not much to say about this other than it's pretty cool. About 10 years ago I had to practically beg them to let me use a different sim card when I was traveling to France. Oh how times change!
5. iMessages. If you have an iPhone then you can communicate with other iPhone users without needing to start a thread with a new number. This also works with data/wifi so it makes keeping in touch easy.
There you have it. Ideally an iPhone with T-mobile pretty much wins in that respect as long as you have wifi but I haven't come across it in the cities that I've frequented in Europe. The other options are great if you have an iPhone with another carrier or a different smart phone all together. I'd recommend setting everything up prior to leaving so that all you have to do when you arrive is buy a sim card and pop it in.