One of the most enjoyable things we do when on vacation is to let friends and family know how great it’s going. Sure, we may be relaxing on a sun-kissed beach, or sipping a coffee in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, but that doesn’t mean we’re trying to rub it in!

We’d soon be brought down to earth by the size of our phone bill when we get home!

A big mistake travelers make is to call home to tell people how great everything is. Modern modes of communication are certainly convenient, but if you are not fully aware of the pitfalls, they can also be extremely expensive. In 2014, NewYorkTimes.com published a good guide to “Being Smart About Phone Fees Overseas”, in which it detailed the sometimes outrageous charges that cell phone service providers apply even for relatively short calls. Downloading data on your Smartphone can be just as expensive. Learning the tricks and techniques to avoid creating high bills is essential.

In this chapter, I share some of the most effective ways to save money on connecting with home. There is plenty of advice out there, but I’ve narrowed them down to the three more significant in modern travel – reducing your telephone bill; finding free internet and Wi-Fi, and making the most of video calling (VoIP) technology. As always, I provide links to the best advice from the experts themselves, and I recommend that you click and read them to get the most balanced understanding of the topic. You’ll also notice a large number of apps links too but then this is 21st century!

If you have any more tips on how to save money on connecting with home, and you think they should be included in this book, please email me at info@FreeTravelIdeas.com.

Reduce Your Phone Charges

While there are many ways to stay in touch with home while on vacation (like emails and online chat), speaking over the phone remains a favorite option. But with cell phones, this can mean running up very high bills. The reason behind the high cost is down to the system. Charges to or from cell phones depend on things like the SIM card, your geographic location, and where the call originated. Forbes.com provides an enlightening explanation in their guide “How To Always Save Money On Overseas Mobile Calling”, which I recommend you read. Your service provider will be able to tell you the rates per minute when phoning from abroad, but there are several options to consider that can help to keep the overall cost down.

International Calling Plans

These can be set up on a month-by-month basis with some providers, allowing you to get the benefit of lower roaming rates for the duration of your vacation. You need to check with your provider, like:

  • AT&T International Roaming
  • Sprint International Services
  • T-Mobile International Services
  • Verizon International Services

Change Your SIM

Buying a local prepaid SIM card means local rates will be charged, but there are also international prepaid SIM cards available, such as WorldSIM Global Roaming card or Telestial International SIM cards. Your phone needs to be unlocked to facilitate a SIM card change, so check with your service provider that this is possible. Often, in Central and South America, you can purchase a used cell-phone and use pre-paid credit to make local calls and send text messages locally.

International Calling Cards

Not new but still ideal for keeping a tight cell phone budget, pre-paid international calling cards offer set minutes at low rates so you know exactly how much you are spending. For more on their pros and cons, read IndependentTraveler.com and its advice on “Phone Cards”.

Using Your Smartphone Smartphones

can cost you a small fortune when used abroad, mainly because they offer every communication service in one. Shut off unnecessary apps and features to avoid a high bill. I recommend you read the IndependentTraveler.com’s take on “Traveling With A Smartphone”.

Find Free Wi-Fi

We are told that Wi-Fi makes it possible to get online anywhere and anytime – but experience has taught us that Wi-Fi services are not always available.

So, when traveling in a country or city we’re not familiar with, it can become very frustrating to firstly find a signal and secondly to get the service for free. Your hotel or hostel is likely to offer Wi-Fi in their reception, if not in their rooms, but many hotels still charge extra to use it. HotelChatter.com published its own “Wi-Fi Report” identifying the hotel chains that still charge, adding an examination of the “5 Excuses Hotels Have Given Why…”.

According to PCWorld.com, it is possible to stay connected practically everywhere you go. In “How To Keep Your PC Connected On The Road”, it points out that if you need to use your laptop, you can tether it to your Smartphone (iPhone tethering, Android tethering) to effectively borrow the Wi-Fi signal from your service provider. LifeHacker.com shares some useful information too, showing how to get Wi-Fi at a location that doesn’t actually have any.

You can also search for free Wi-Fi locations online by simply entering “[city] free wi-fi hotspots/locations” into the Google search box, and scrolling through the results. Tripadvisor lists “Places With Free Wi-Fi” in most of its city reviews with information provided by travelers themselves.

There are also several websites and apps that can help you locate Wi-Fi hotspots, the most celebrated of which is WeFi. This tool highlights locations everywhere in the world, making use of Google Maps interface to ensure locations are easy to find.

Of course, it’s also important that you take care when using Wi-Fi, with security not always what it should be depending on your location. Forbes.com urges travelers (and people in general) “Don’t Make Yourself A Target”.

Video Calling and VoIP Services

VoIP stands for voice-over-IP, which means that you make video calls over the internet. And in many ways, this is the most cost effective way to communicate with folks at home – in fact, in almost all cases, the call is free.

These services are not completely free, of course, with different charges for connecting with landline phone networks networks and cell phone networks. But when you are calling someone who is also using the same service (for example Skype-to-Skype) then the service is free. So, when overseas, they practically remove the cost of communication completely. There are several VoIP services out there, including:

  • Skype
  • Google+ Hangouts
  • Magic Jack
  • Vonage

Check out this VoIP Service review on TopTenReviews.com for details on the various rates.

Other Websites & Apps

Getting in contact with home while traveling doesn’t have to cost the earth. In the tips above, I have already highlighted several websites and apps that can help you keep you cell phone and internet costs down while overseas. Below I list a few more worth looking into.

Websites

Cellular Abroad : cell phone and mobile internet services to international travelers. Either use your own cell phone using Wi-Fi mobile hotspot or stand alone SIM card, or rent or purchase an international cell phone.

Wifi Free Spot

provides basic visual informing where to find free Wi-Fi in thousands of locations around the world. ·

Calling Cards

source calling cards that provide lowest international calling rates, with toll free and local access numbers in over 50 countries. Avoid cell phone roaming fees and overage charges.

Apps

Hotspotio (Android) : lets you share and connect to WIFI with friends, by allowing you access their network and vice versa. ·

Free Wi-Fi Finder (Android, iOS) : search for the nearest free Wi-Fi locations in over 144 countries worldwide. Filter results by venue type. Easy locator with visual map.

FooCall (Android, iOS) : Low cost calls, to anyone, anywhere. Connects using Wi-Fi.

Local Phone (Android, iOS) :  get low-cost international calls on your iPhone. Check call and text rates first.

Free Zone (Android, iOS) : Wi-Fi Scanner the locates access Wi-Fi hotspots in bars, restaurants, malls and other public places. Database of 5 million hotspots.

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