By MATT KEPNES
When I travel, I look for affordable ways to stay in touch with my friends and update my family back home. Thanks to the Internet, it’s much easier to stay in touch now than it was in the past, and the cost of doing so has plummeted.
For those who are looking to save a dime but stay in touch, here are a few suggestions and tips to consider.
Staying in touch: The basics
It’s no secret that one of the easiest way to touch base is via email. But if you don’t want to pay excessive roaming fees for your Blackberry or iPhone, and prefer not to lug your personal laptop around when you travel, what do you do?
First of all, scrap plans to use hotel-owned Internet terminals or pay-per-minute internet access cards (unless they’re free of course). Instead, head to an Internet cafe. These cafes have spread like crazy around the Continent and make it quick and cheap to access email accounts, check in on social networking sites (like Facebook and MySpace), and update Twitter.
Other Web Options
However, sometimes “quickie” web cafe visits are not enough, especially on longer trips. Sending e-mails and messages to your family and friends is wonderful, but you’ll probably also want to actually speak with them. A great solution is the Internet phone service Skype. Skype lets you call other Skype users around the world for free.
All you need to make a Skype call is an Internet connection and a headset. You then “dial” another Sype user, like you would on an instant messenger, and once the connection is made you can speak for as long as you like–for nothing. For a small fee you can also place a call to a land-line or mobile phone.
Using Mobile Phones Abroad
The obvious downside to Skype is that you’re reliant upon an Internet connection to make the call. One way to solve that problem is by using a mobile phone.
Mobile phones, of course, not only let you keep in touch with those back home but also help you connect with people you meet on the road. They also allow you to call hostels and hotels from the road, check on museum hours, and in emergencies, call for help. Yet, cell phones are never the cheapest option.
For Americans, one complicating factor is that most mobile phones run on a network that isn’t accessible in Europe and, furthermore, most American phones can’t be “unlocked,” allowing you to swap out SIM cards. Thus, you can’t simply buy a new SIM card for your phone abroad. You’ll have to either rent or buy a new phone when you arrive, or, if your phone does work in Europe, pay additional fees for foreign coverage (either an incremental monthly fee or an expensive per-minute fee).
Fortunately for non-Americans, it’s much easier. Most foreign phones can have their SIM cards replaced with cards purchased at convenience stores (and sometimes right on the street!). The cards come with their own phone number and rechargeable minutes.
One Other Consideration
Thanks to technology, it’s easier and more affordable then ever to stay connected while traveling. At the same time, you should at least consider staying “unconnected” while traveling through Europe. After all, will your mobile phone be a helpful tool or just a distraction?
What do you think?
Do you stay connected when traveling? Do you take your mobile phone? Rent a phone abroad? Chat in Internet cafes? Tell us below!