A lot of people carry smart phones these days and these phones can be handy tools for travelers. They can be also be costly if you travel abroad and don’t take precautions.
I have heard of people racking up thousands of dollars in extra phone usage fees, so you need to be careful when you travel abroad. When I am out of the country, I keep my phone on airplane mode and this keeps me from getting charged for incoming calls and for roaming. When I’m in a known Wi-Fi spot, I use it for smart phone apps and maps and check my call log, but I don’t make calls from it unless it’s an emergency.
Even though I don’t plan on making calls from my cell phone, I still add an international calling plan to my phone, in case I need to use my phone in an emergency. I have AT&T and the fee is $6 a month, so I add it before I leave and take it off my plan when I return. The international calling plan lowers the per minute cost of a call, but it will still cost at least 99 cents per minute, depending on where I’m traveling, so I know to keep the call short. You can also add an international data plan to your phone if you think you will need to use data when you are not in a free Wi-Fi spot. It’s a good idea to check with your carrier before you leave to see what kind of plans it offers for international use.
I still do radio shows and media interviews when I am out of the country and I love using MagicJack for these calls and I use it to return any calls I have received. MagicJack is a small device that plugs into a USB port on your laptop and you plug a telephone handset into the device to make calls to the U.S. or Canada for free, as long as you have an Internet connection.
I like to be able to use a real phone handset and the clarity has been great. It costs $40 for the device, which includes one free year, and then it costs $20 per year after that. I have used this system for a number of years, using MagicJack for my outgoing calls. Before I get on the airplane I forward my cell phone number to my MagicJack number because there are many people who will call me not knowing I am out of the country. I can also check voicemails on MagicJack if I am not at the hotel when the call comes in. This has allowed me to keep my extra phone fees down to $10-$15 when I have gone on trips to South America and Europe. MagicJack is available at local retailers, or through the website at www.magicjack.com.
MagicJack also has an app that allows you to make calls from your cell phone or iPad to U.S. or Canada numbers or to any MagicJack number. If you are traveling with someone and you split up for the day, make sure you both have two different MagicJack numbers and you can keep in touch by finding aWi-Fi spot and using the MagicJack app to call each other free of charge.
While the MagicJack system works well for my needs, there are other options like Skype, which offers a phone plan to call U.S. and Canada numbers for $3 a month or $36 per year. I’m thinking about using Skype on my next trip abroad since it will allow me to do video calls for TV interviews. It also is a nice way to keep in touch with family members face to face. When I stay at a hotel, I make sure I have Wi-Fi in my room. Sometimes I get it for free and sometimes I have to pay for it. With Wi-Fi, I can use my MagicJack system and my Slingbox app on my phone and my laptop to watch hometown news and sports. If there was a tornado in Dallas, I want to know the details and I depending on the season, I don’t want to miss any Cowboys, Rangers and Mavericks games, so Slingbox allows me to keep up on local news and events. It also saves me from paying for in-room movies at the hotel. My Slingbox is hooked up at home to one of my satellite dishes and it is connected to my phone or laptop by the Internet.
I’ve used many helpful apps on my smart phone while traveling. Google Translate is a nice app that can help you communicate while abroad by offering translation into 60 different languages. The app also allows you to speak the text instead of typing, in 23 languages including English, and you can have the translations spoken aloud in many different languages. If you are in a restaurant and they have Wi-Fi, you can ask, “What the heck am I ordering?” If the translation comes back as escargot or snails, you may want to move onto another item.
I use my phone for maps at home and abroad and you can surf the web or use an app for things like public transportation, travel guides and more. I also really like to use a currency converter because it is a nice tool to help me figure out what I am actually spending on things. For all of you folks who are addicted to texting, you may want to look at Google Voice, which allows you to text for free. With any apps, you should get familiar with them before you leave so you have a full understanding of how they work and what they will do.
Remember that using cell phones abroad can be a big rip-off, so use the suggestions above to avoid an unpleasant surprise in your bill when you get home. Instead of worrying about refinancing your home to pay for your bill, you’ll have stress free options to keep in touch and use your smart phone during your trip. The last time I was in South America for 11 days, I did dozens of media interviews and called home multiple times using MagicJack and only paid $11 extra on my cell phone bill. Believe me, for the number of hours I spent on the phone for those 11 days, if it wasn’t for MagicJack and Wi-Fi, I promise you my cell phone bill would have been well over $4,000.
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