Planning an overseas trip? Here are affordable ways to keep in touch with your friends and family.
Traveling to different countries can be a lot of fun, but if you start to miss your favorite people back home, then homesickness can really hinder the enjoyment of your trip. During a rough bout of Heimweh (German for “homesickness”) in my 6-month trip to Germany in 2012, just being able to hear my dog bark over a video chat from 5,000 miles away instantly cheered me up.
Nowadays there are even more sophisticated methods of contacting family and friends than the spotty audio chat I used a few years ago, such as HD video conferencing, unlimited text messages, and even calls to landlines from your laptop. Best of all, many of these services cost much less than a typical international calling and texting plan.
Are you traveling abroad soon? Check out these ways to contact your loved ones without dropping a fortune.
Pick a Provider with Affordable International Plans
If you’re not currently locked into a contract with a phone company or you’ve been considering switching to a new company with more international travel-friendly coverage plans, then comparing the best global roaming rates among the major carriers is a must.
Each company has different rates, depending on which country you’re visiting, what data speed you want and whether or not you want to make a single payment for coverage or pay incrementally based on data and minutes used. Although Virgin Wireless doesn’t offer international plans, other smaller networks such as MetroPCS and Cricket Wireless have their own global plans for folks who prefer not to use major companies like Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.
Personally, I’ve used T-Mobile while traveling in the Netherlands and Germany and it was so easy to send messages, make phone calls to the United States ($0.20 per minute), and access my data network at little extra cost that I plan on using T-Mobile again when I go to China this summer.
Free Messaging Apps
Did you know you can send text messages for free while you’re abroad? Even if you don’t have access to your data network, you can send messages through web-based apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and DingTone over Wi-Fi.
I personally use WhatsApp to stay in touch with my friends and family living in Germany because they have WhatsApp as well (most messaging apps require that both the sender and receiver have the app on their phones or tablets) and WhatsApp is incredibly easy to use. This green-icon app doesn’t take up much space on my phone, lists both individual and group messages, lets me send videos and pictures as well as text messages and offers notifications whenever I get a new message.
The other messaging apps I listed offer similar texting services with small differences like Facebook Messenger being more widely available to anyone who has an account on Facebook or DingTone because you can even send messages to people who do not have the DingTone app. I recommend experimenting with the different apps and finding one that works best for you.
If using your data while traveling abroad isn’t an affordable or feasible option, then finding Wi-Fi is a must. Two international chains that almost always have Wi-Fi hotspots available are Starbucks and McDonalds, though you can also specifically search for accommodations that offer free Wi-Fi to guests before you book your trip.
Are large chains not your thing? Then why not find a coworking space or independent coffee shop that offers Wi-Fi to customers? Just sit back, get a delicious latte or pastry and chat with your family without having to drop a chunk of change just for internet access.
Whether you’re staying in a small town or large city, you’ll probably be able to find Wi-Fi in public libraries as well. For instance, when I lived in Germany, my favorite place to work was a beautiful historic library called the Landes- und Murhardsche Bibliothek der Stadt Kassel. In addition to being unique places to study or work, libraries also usually have separate rooms in which you can make calls or simply email your friends back home.
Web-Based Calling Services
Why pay for expensive international calling cards when you can just download a free calling app and talk face-to-face or over the phone? I wholeheartedly do not recommend using these if you’re only using your data plan (video chat eats up data like Pac-Man eats up dots), but if you find access to good Wi-Fi using the above advice then apps like Skype, Google Voice, YouRoam and Viber can work wonders in keeping you in touch with your favorite people.
Skype is the most well-known calling app and lets you talk to friends and family via video chat. Or you can buy Skype credits to call cell phones and landlines internationally for as little as a few cents per minute.
YouRoam is also gaining massive popularity because unlike the other apps I’ve listed, YouRoam lets you make and receive calls using your own phone number (people have even started using this app for non-travel purposes like making calls in areas of little to no cell reception). Their website claims you can save 99% on long distance and roaming charges, so give it a shot!
Written by Kelly Kehoe