Staying connected to friends and family while you are overseas can help to keep everyone feeling safe and at ease. Though your cellular carrier may offer packages for international calls, these plans can still be quite costly and subject to varying rates based on what country you are communicating from. Additionally, messaging and tethering are often capped. Remember, some phones (like the iPhone) are designed to run their GPS without using data, but you will need a data connection for phone calls, video calls, messaging, and internet usage.
Today there are more ways than ever to affordably and reliably stay in touch with loved ones while you travel. Once are familiar with a few tested options, you will be better prepared to adapt to the different–and sometimes changing–conditions of communicating while you are overseas.
A good WiFi connection opens up several free or inexpensive options for communicating with people back home, as well as with travel companions, your host family, or friends you make along the way. Though your hostel or local cafe may advertise WiFi, there is no guarantee you will be able to access the WiFi easily, and you may find the connection rate too slow for many purposes such as Skype, sending photos, and sharing videos. For a modest investment, a mobile hotspot can be an easy answer to this challenge. A mobile hotspot is a small device that allows you to generate your own WiFi for phones and computers throughout your travels. This is a particularly cost-effective option for those traveling with a group, as the cost can be shared among several people.
Messaging applications can be a fast and easy way to check-in or share pictures with your loved ones. iMessage (iPhone), Google Hangouts, and Skype are popular choices for WiFi messaging. WhatsApp is an app that is popular with travelers because it can be used on a wide variety of phones. While the most popular smartphones generally work with nearly all messaging apps, older phones or devices like the Blackberry have fewer compatible options. WhatsApp works across all these.
Facebook has become one of the most popular means of communication for those traveling overseas. As the largest social media site in the world, it is used by people of all ages. Within Facebook, you can post general updates as text, photo, or video. You can also send private messages and chat in real time either with an individual or with a chosen group. Before leaving home, it can be helpful to review with your family the basic steps for using Facebook messaging and how to see general updates on your Facebook page, especially older members like grandparents who may not be as familiar with the social network. It is easy to start an account, so even those who are not already on Facebook can join to keep in touch while you travel overseas.
Popular video messaging applications, like Skype, allow face-to-face conversations, which may bring a deeper peace of mind to loved ones at home. These applications also allow you to share something happening in real time with people thousands of miles away. For better video and voice flow, video messaging works best when used with a strong internet connection. Google hangouts and Skype both can be used on a computer, or on-the-go on a smartphone giving you maximum mobility for video chatting during your travels.
If your smartphone is fully paid for, you can untether it from your carrier, acquire a SIM card specific to the country you’re traveling to, and set up service in that country. This option still ties the phone to a specific country, which presents communication challenges when visiting several different countries or taking a weekend trip away from your host country. For these reasons, those traveling in Europe may find other options more useful.
Google Hangouts and Skype offer free or low-cost phone calls over WiFi, and both can be used on either phone or computer. Calling someone who is also using the app will be a free call. To call landlines and cell numbers, you can use Google Hangouts for free or Skype for a low rate. This is particularly helpful for communicating with local businesses, travel friends, or host families.
Communicating while you are overseas does not have to be costly or complicated. Thinking through what your communication needs will be, planning ahead of time with you family, and possibly acquiring a mobile WiFi device can make staying in touch with your loved ones easy and inexpensive. While you are experiencing the world, you can share your experiences and easily stay connected to family and friends.
Carlos J. Barron
Salus Security Services