The Best Ways to Communicate While Traveling
Communicating when you’re traveling abroad can be quite a hassle. It seems like the further we get from our home country, the more complicated—and expensive!—calling internationally becomes.
There’s an overwhelming array of ways to make calls, get online, and keep in touch with your loved ones back home; here’s a look at some of our favorite simple solutions for calling internationally while traveling abroad. Although they offer varying degrees of connectivity, all of them allow you to stay in touch so that you can make the most of your trip without stressing yourself or your loved ones.
Just remember to review your options, and be sure to establish a plan for how you’ll communicate before you hit the road. Some of these methods do require devices that you’ll want to purchase in advance!
WhatsApp is a messaging service that is growing much more popular among travelers. It allows you to send phone calls, text messages, videos, GIFs, and just about anything else you might send over your usual network, but it uses WiFi instead. Many Americans use WhatsApp, but its popularity seems to be much more pervasive elsewhere in the world, especially Europe and Latin America.
Facebook acquired WhatsApp back in 2014, but you don’t need to be on Facebook to use it. Its simple user interface makes it look and feel more like texting than most other social media-based messaging services, like Facebook Messenger or Google Chat. WhatsApp also syncs to your address book, so you automatically have access to your contacts who are also using it.
Recently, WhatsApp added a Snapchat-like feature called “WhatsApp Status.” It gives users a tab for posting images and text that disappear within 24 hours. But unlike Snapchat, WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, which gives users an added sense of privacy and security when messaging over their devices.
WhatsApp is available for both Android and iPhone users, and can also be accessed on your desktop.
GSM Networks & Unlocked Phones
Your cell phone runs on one of two different types of networks—CDMA or GSM (global system messaging). GSM-compatible phones use a SIM card, and the biggest US-based networks are AT&T and T-Mobile. SIM cards are those tiny, removable squares of plastic that store data used to identify the subscriber of the network.
Owning a GSM-connected phone with a SIM card makes it much easier to get your cell phone up and running overseas, without paying through the nose for calling internationally. You can simply purchase a new SIM card in the place where you’re traveling and switch them out.
Fans of Apple products are likely familiar with the term “locked phone,” as that’s how iPhones typically come. You can’t simply swap out a SIM card on these popular, high-tech devices, which can be a real pain when you’re traveling. There are plenty of perks to owning an iPhone, and it is possible to unlock them. But having a phone with an easily-switched SIM card can be a great advantage while traveling.
Connecting Devices Via Portable WiFi
A portable WiFi router is very similar to the box you use at home; the major difference is that it doesn’t need to be connected to a phone line, and uses a SIM card instead. Rather than hunting for WiFi hotspots, or over-caffeinating by spending too much time at Starbucks, many travelers choose to use a portable WiFi router to create their own hotspot.
Portable WiFi routers are very easy to use for calling internationally. You simply charge them up, connect them by inserting a SIM card from the country where you’re traveling, and you’ll be able to connect at least 10 devices at once.
When selecting a device, do consider the fact that not all countries support 4G technology, so a 4G provider may not be the best option. If you’re worried about plugging in for electric power, the Huawei E5787 4G+ gives you 600 hours on standby. That should be plenty of time to call home and check your email!
Skype is a great tool for making calls internationally or video chatting. The ever-popular program can be downloaded to your computer or your phone, and it allows you to make calls for free to anyone else who uses Skype’s software.
It does cost money to call landlines using Skype, but it’s considerably cheaper than using a roaming service. Skype’s Unlimited World option gives you free calls to landlines and mobile devices in the US, Canada, China, Thailand, and several other countries. There’s a list of over 40 other countries where Skype allows you unlimited calls to landlines only.
If you’re interested in trying out the service, you can use their free month offer of Skype Unlimited World to access free calls to landlines and mobile devices on your next trip.
Update on Social Media
WiFi is readily available in surprisingly remote places these days. And when you do have access, social media is another great way to keep in touch with everyone back home without taking the time to connect with each person individually.
A quick post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest will let you reach many of your close contacts at once. For example, you can use Facebook for “microblogging,” posting photos and quick stories about your day’s adventures. If you want to make sure someone in particular reads your status and knows that you’ve arrived safely in your next destination, you simply tag them in your post. Or you can shoot them a quick, private Facebook message.
Social media is making the world feel like an increasingly intimate and accessible place. By sharing your travels on social media, the fringe benefit is that you can convince more people to venture out of their comfort zones and go explore the world!
For those who wish to keep a more detailed journal of their travels for sharing with friends and family, blogging is a great way to make people feel like they’re traveling right alongside you.
While blogging takes a bit more time and effort than social media updates, it also gives you the space and the creative freedom to build something that is representative of your whole trip. This is something you can revisit in the future to remember and relive all of the stories you shared along the way.
Some people use blogging as a way to make money on the road as well. But don’t think that you need to be a professional in order to start a blog. You can set up a free blog at Wordpress.com or Tumblr account in minutes, and immediately start sharing your travel stories with the world!
You’ll need WiFi access to update your blog, and sometimes uploading photos can be tricky when you don’t have fast Internet. But if you’re willing to go the extra mile and blog while you travel, it’s a great way to keep track of your experiences for both yourself and your loved ones.
Britany Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, with bylines in The Washington Post, BBC Travel, Curbed, Green Global Travel, and many more. You can check out her full portfolio here.