Staying Connected When Traveling


When you travel, one of the challenges you face is finding ways to communicate with your home and office.  A few days without phone or internet can be enjoyable but soon we find ourselves looking for a connection to the rest of the world.  The good news is it is getting easier and easier to stay connected when travelling.  Here’s a few of the ways I do it.


1. Carry an unlocked GSM cell phone


There are more countries that use GSM cell service than CDMA service.  An unlocked GSM phone can accept a new sim card from the country you are visiting.  Most countries allow the sale of prepaid sim cards so when you arrive at the airport, buy a prepaid sim card that offers international calling.  Put the new card in your phone and you now have a cell phone that you can use for both local and international calling and texting.  (If you have an iPhone 4S, it will accept a micro GSM sim card (offered in many countries) if you get your service provider to unlock it.)


2. Carry a wi-fi enabled device


Wi-fi services are available in more and more places throughout the world.  If you carry a phone, tablet or laptop that can use wi-fi, chances are good that you can get your emails and use the internet.  Wi-fi is much easier to find than getting cellular data services to work and in many places it’s free.


3. Carry a mobile broadband modem


In remote places where wi-fi is unavailable, you may be able to use a broadband modem with a prepaid sim card.  In fact, the one you bought for your cell phone may work in the modem too.  Be sure to ask if it supports data when you buy it.  Unlocked modems with USB connectors are very small and can be purchased online or at cell phone outlets throughout the world.  Just be sure the one you buy is not locked to a particular country’s network.  The one I use is a Zoom Model 4595 that supports 3 different bands of GSM networks.


4. Use Skype for phone calls


If you have a Skype account and software on your laptop, tablet or phone, you can use wi-fi service to connect to other Skype accounts for free.  You can also use it to call landlines and cell phones at reasonable rates.  If people need to be able to reach you, set up an online Skype phone number (this will be a local phone number in your home city).  Calls to this number are forwarded to your Skype account and can be left in voice mail or even forwarded to your local phone in another country.  It’s not a free service but the rates are much lower than using a phone with an international calling plan.


5. Get a gmail account


If you find yourself in a place that blocks your email server, try using gmail (Google’s email).  If you can get on the internet, you can set up a gmail account for free and forward all your email to it.  Gmail is rarely blocked and has several viewing modes so even if the wi-fi service is very slow, you can usually get your email.


6. Use an internet café


If all else fails, you can usually find an internet café.  If you have a gmail account, you will still be able to get your emails and if you have a Skype account you will still be able to get your phone messages and make calls.  What you don’t usually get is privacy so be careful entering financial or personal information.



There are many other ways to stay connected but the costs are much higher.  For example, if you add an international calling plan to your existing cell phone your calls will cost anywhere from 50 cents to $5 per minute vs. 2 – 20 cents a minute using a local phone with a prepaid sim card.  Hotel phones are very expensive to use as well and should be reserved for emergencies only.  Internet services can also be very expensive in some hotels so search for a free service when you can.  It’s one of the criteria I use to select hotels.


You don’t need to be ‘off the grid’ anymore when you travel.  So, if you’re worried that your family won’t be able to get in touch with you or you will miss an important event, try some of these suggestions and stay connected in more places.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


      Roger Nelson