Frugal Ways to Stay in Touch on the Road
When I left "home" for a life of travel and adventure, I needed a way for family and friends to stay in touch (and despite the internet age we live in, I have some family members who refuse to venture into cyberspace). I had a smokin' deal on my cellular service and was hesitant to give up my local cell phone number, but I also knew that roaming and long distance charges on the road would prohibit my ability to use that number while traveling.
After speaking to many people and spending way too much time online researching, I discovered the perfect way to stay in touch on the cheap while on the road.
1) Buy (or ensure you already own) a GSM Quad Band Phone.
Around the world cell phone network frequencies vary, and some phones have the ability to read these signals while others don't.
GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications. (You will rarely see it referred to as anything other than GSM though).
The frequency bands available are 850 and 1900 Mhz (used mainly in the Americas), and 900 / 1800 Mhz (for Europe & Asia).
Beware: Lots of phones claim to be quad band, but in fact are only tri band, omitting the GSM 900 band. Make sure all four bands are available and open on your phone for it to work everywhere.
2) Unlock your GSM phone (or buy it unlocked already).
Having an unlocked phone allows you to put any SIM card into it which in turn allows your one physical phone to be a portal to numerous telephone numbers and networks.
If you already own your phone and it was sold to you by your cell phone provider, it is probably not unlocked. Depending on the phone you have, there are inexpensive kits available on the net (usually under $10) you can order to unlock your phone. Other phones simply need you to enter a "secret" set of numbers on your phone to unlock it.
Since I'm not the most technologically savvy person, I chose to buy my phone unlocked already, from an independent cell phone seller. Ebay is a great resource for such things, as are places like Tiger Direct and Amazon.
3) Make sure your phone takes SIM Cards!
There are some providers in North America I know of who don't employ the use of SIM cards. (SIM stands for Security Information Management, by the way). It is a small plastic card usually stored under the battery which stores the information for your phone number. Consequently these phones will be ultimately useless for global travel with no place for the SIM cards to be inserted.
4) Hit the road and get a local SIM card.
Once you're on the road and settled in a country or geographic region for any period of time such that you want the ease and accessibility of a local number, you'll want a local SIM card. Depending on the country you are in, SIM cards can be purchased in different places. Visiting a cellular store is usually the best bet, but in some places you can get SIM cards in convenience stores and the airport.
You'll likely want to go with a pay-as-you-go service, and shouldn't have to pay much if anything for the SIM card itself.
5) Purchase a Long Distance Phone Card for calls home.
Since you have a local number now, you may want to get a long distance phone card to ensure any calls home are cheap. Again these can be bought in any number of places, and are quite prevalent all over the world. Be wary of the ones with expensive connection fees, and try to read the fine print before dropping a wad of cash on a card that may not be right for the types of calls you'll be making.
And now you're ready to go!
With this Five-Step system, you'll have the following advantages:
- You will have a local phone number wherever you are, which will make it easy for local new friends and businesses to contact you during your stay.
- Your family and friends back home can call you to keep in touch, and you will only pay local charges (your family of course will pay long distance, but hopefully they have a good plan with their land line).
- You can make long distance calls home for a deep discount by using a local number and long distance phone card, instead of paying costly roaming charges with your original phone number.
- You can use the same cell phone for multiple phone numbers by simply switching out the SIM cards.
- You can maintain your original home cell number and pick up messages from the friends and family members you forgot (or didn't want) to give you new number to.