It's nearly automatic. Upon landing in a new destination, all in one motion we've unbuckled our seatbelt and pulled out our phone, running the full gamut from checking our voicemails and texts to reading emails to posting updates on Twitter and Facebook.
However, just a few minutes here and there of making phone calls, texting, and browsing the web can result in a high phone bill when you return home. You've probably heard countless stories of travelers who returned home to find phone bills waiting for them that were as high as several thousand dollars. You may have even have been a victim yourself.
Here are some tips to keep you from racking up an expensive phone bill abroad
The best way to assure you won't rack up an expensive phone bill is to leave your phone behind altogether. Many countries don't have an effective cell phone network as it is, so traveling with a cell phone isn't always feasible. However, many destinations make is accessible for travelers to call internationally for a decent rate and you may be able to find places that allow you to call for free. When I was traveling through Central America I found multiple bars and restaurants that had public areas for free computer and phone usage.
Skype has become one of the easiest ways to stay in touch with family and friends abroad. Best of all, it's free. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can use Skype to voice or video chat with people around the world. You can even do this on phones such as the Blackberry, Droid, or iPhone; however, make sure you're using a WiFi signal and not your data to make and receive calls. You can even pay to have your own Skype number if you want to be even more accessible, but most travelers find the free version of Skype to be enough to fit their needs.
Cell phone charges typically rack up when you're using your own cell phone and cell phone provider in another country. However, if you still need a cell phone, consider buying a prepaid phone abroad that is on that country's network. When I was in Costa Rica I bought a basic $30 phone and a $15 sim card that gave me enough minutes to last two months. I just used it to make local calls when I was away from my apartment and then used Skype on my laptop to call friends and family.
Similar to buying a prepaid phone, you can simply have an unlocked phone that you're able to use in multiple countries, simply by switching out sim cards. The most obvious choice for this is an unlocked iPhone. This comes in handy if you're visiting multiple countries at once and will have to get a new sim car in each country. This typically requires taking out the old sim card and buying and activating a new one. The iPhone is the obvious choice, especially since you can still use its WiFi capabilities to use Skype and not eat up all your minutes.
While it's not likely that you can cancel your current cell phone plan without paying expensive fees, some cell phone providers allow you to suspend parts or all of your plan while traveling. This may mean lowering the number of minutes or canceling the data portion of your plan while traveling. This is useful if you'll be traveling for more than just a couple weeks.
Part of the joy of travel is the opportunity to disconnect and to immerse yourself in a new culture. Embrace this and don't be so concerned with staying connected as much as you are at home. Many people run up their cell phone bills when they use their phone as much while traveling, or even more, then when they're at home. I've found that leaving my cell phone behind often catapults me into the culture so much more since I don't have that distraction. Instead of pulling out my cell phone to see if I've missed something, I find myself instigating new conversations and experiences.
About the Author
Spencer is a traveling writer, who currently calls San Francisco home after living on the east coast for most of his life. He writes regularly for Web and print publications. While Spencer has traveled around the world, Europe is his first love, a love that is sustained back home by micro brews, fish and chips, soccer and golf. You can find him at The Traveling Philosopher or on Twitter.
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