Today there are more options that ever to keep in touch with home, cheaply and on demand. We did a lot of research on this and I think have some great options for long or short term travelers. These aren’t all of them but all you’ll need, depending on the length of time you will be traveling will dictate some of the best options.
For 2 or 3 weeks the easiest option would be to just get an international add-on package through your cell phone provider, in Canada these are usually at about $5 per day. So 3 weeks would add up to $105 but if you are away longer this begins to get cost prohibitive. We are planning to be away for a year so this just wasn’t an option and we had to find more suitable means. For our 10 months away we had a cell phone for local calls, a Magic Jack for calling home (banking, business, social calls), an Ipad for Facetime with the kids and a laptop for Skypeing and using the Magic Jack with friends and family. Below is an explanation of these options.
For longer stays you need to look at communicating in two different ways; locally and for long distance to home. I’ll start with Local Calling;
- For local calls this can easily be handled by purchasing a new SIM card upon arrival at your destination. You’ll need to arrive with an unlocked phone so have it unlocked at home prior to departure, it usually costs about $50 through your phone provider. IPhones can be purchased unlocked from the Apple Store if you want to spend more money for a better phone. When we arrived at the airport in Glasgow I headed to one of the convenience shops to purchase a SIM card/plan and they are easy to find throughout Europe. I bought a SIM from O2, one of the UK cellular providers for £15. It comes with 2 GB of data, 750 minutes and 2000 texts for one month which is more than you should need for local calls. You simply pop in the SIM card (if you don’t know how, just Google a Youtube-how-to video) and follow the prompts to activate your phone. At the end of the month you can easily renew or top up your plan at anytime on your phone, you only have to buy the SIM once. Calling home would need international minutes, for those calls there are other options.
Following up, post trip: I had troubles with getting a SIM to work in Italy and there is lots of paperwork, hassle to get one. Next trip I’d try instead to purchase a cheap phone with a package from a cell provider if you are staying any length of time. I had no troubles in Scotland, Ireland, England… just popped in the SIM, activated and of to the races.
Options for calling Home;
- One of the easiest ways to send messages home is through Facebook Messenger, it costs nothing and is quick and easy to use. We had problems with getting Internet at our first AirBnB so Facebook was how we communicated and continues to be what we use most. You can use it on your cell phone as the data plan/ new SIM I mentioned covers its usage or on a laptop if you have Internet service.
- Another great option is Facetime if you and the people you want to communicate with have either an IPhone or IPAD. I brought my IPAD along and a few times already we’ve used it to talk with the kids, it has no lag while you talk face to face and its almost like being at home. It’s awesome and a big bonus of using Apple products.
- Just to make certain any of our friends or family could call us or vice versa we also purchased a Magic Jack for $65 at Best Buy (plus an additional $14 on setup to get a permanent Canadian phone number). This device is another miracle of modernization, The MagicJack device uses Voice Over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) to allow you to make local and long-distance calls to the U.S. and Canada using an existing internet connection. You can make and receive calls using your computer or regular telephone. No additional telephone service is required. The fee covers one year of usage with annual renewals at $35 or less if you sign for multiple years. You simply plug the device into your computer, a quick setup and you can start making or receiving calls to home as if you were on your home phone. You do need an internet connection though and a laptop or computer. I’m traveling with my laptop and it works great. You can also make international calls on it for a fee but the rates are better than conventional long distance. I got rid of my home land-line and this is going to be my home phone when we return, so it can save you a lot of money. With the Magic Jack you can also setup voice mail so when you’re out and about being a tourist, callers can leave you a message. You can also download the app on your cell phone and forward the incoming calls.
Followup: The Magic Jack was a godsend, on a long trip we used it often when we needed to call our bank for issues, our credit card company, the kids, staying in touch with family…It was like making a call at home and saved us from needing to know international call numbers to call anywhere in North America. PS. I still use the Magic Jack at home and got rid of my landline.
We’ve been using all of these options to stay in touch and it’s working brilliantly. I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to tell both my home phone company and my cell provider to STICKIT! when I canceled them. I don’t know how many times I was put on permanent hold trying to rectify a new fee that suddenly showed up on my bill or unexplained usage. Cutting them off from my bank account was so gratifying. Canadian communication companies are extortionists! Anyway we can fight back at the unreasonably high fees we have to pay, especially when comparing options in Europe and other parts of the world where the service is better and much cheaper. Hopefully you aren’t locked into a cellular plan when you depart as we were so you have options.
Staying in touch with home helps stave off the inevitable home sickness that comes with long journeys and today we are so privileged to have all these inexpensive options. If you have any questions, please comment on the blog and I’d be happy to reply!