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One element of traveling which was gotten much much easier over recent years, is staying in touch overseas with family/friends. From the proliferation of WiFi hotspots, to the affordable roaming plans, keeping in touch hasn’t been easier. Here are a few things we do to make our lives easier while traveling.
We each have a smartphone (and iPhone 8 and a Pixel 2), and both of them are hooked up with the T-Mobile. T-Mobile has several great advantages for travelers. The first is that with the One Plus plan, you get roaming in 140+ countries at no additional coast! We’ve used this all over, from Sri Lanka to South Africa, Japan to Germany. We were even able to sneak a little free data while in Zimbabwe (which isn’t covered) due to the fact that we were close to the border with Zambia (which is).
The free roaming isn’t all encompassing however. On some of our trips there have been notable exceptions where we weren’t covered (Vietnam, Namibia, Botswana, Morocco, Fiji). When it does work, it’s great! Unlimited data (usually 2G), unlimited texting, and calls at $0.20 per minute. Can’t go wrong with that! While the data rate is pretty slow, it’s fine for getting directions in Google Maps, or looking up the details of a restaurant or museum (so longs as there aren’t too many pictures). With the addition of the data saver mode on an android phone, you won’t notice the lack of speed too much.
Another advantage of this plan is that on some flights in/out of the USA or domestically within the USA, you’ll have free access to any Gogo® enabled flights. This gives you unlimited texting, and at least one hour of any data, all while 35,000 feet in the air!
Finally for foreign visitors to the USA, T-Mobile has a great little prepaid tourist plan! For $30, you’ll get 3-weeks with 1,000 minutes of talk, unlimited text and data. You’ll get your first 2GB of data at 4G LTE speeds (where available), and after than you’ll have unlimited data at 2G speeds.
Have at Least One Unlocked Phone
Staying in touch overseas is much easier with roaming at no additional coast, but there are times where it leaves you in the lurch. We encountered this is Vietnam, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Fiji, and Morocco. At times like these you’ll be happy to have an unlocked phone with you.
In many countries, there are mobile phone carrier kiosks right after you gather you luggage. We’ve seen many of these offering free or discounted tourist SIM cards. The plans for data can vary in price, so we’ve found that the Prepaid Data Sim Card wiki is a great resource for getting a feel as to how much data will cost you at your destination.
Pro tip: When we’re traveling, I like to attach a paper clip to one of the zippers of my day pack. This way you’ll always have a tool in case you need to switch out your SIM.
Get a Data-only Messenger App
This will set you up for success. Whether you’re relying on public WiFi or you’ve got roaming data, you’ll be able to easily keep in touch with one of these, whether you can text or call regularly or not.
In our experience WhatsApp is the most widely used messenger app. Your hotel or AirBnb may even have a number that’s linked to WhatsApp, so we can contact them directly using only data. Not only that, we’ve found that the connection with our roaming 2G data is often good enough for a short phone call, WhatsApp to WhatsApp. Score!
Facebook Messenger is another widespread and popular option. Given WhatsApp isn’t as widespread in the USA as it is overseas, you might find Messenger a better option for keeping in touch with family there. Most people have a Facebook account, even if they don’t use it regularly, so there’s no need for the downloading and setting up of a new app.